‘Fall from grace with God’ is not a tragedy
THE first casualty of the new coalition, David Laws, became a victim not for his sexuality but because in trying to keep his relationship from his parents and his colleagues, he broke parliamentary rules over expenses.
There are those who may feel sorry for Laws and his broken career. To my mind, nobody should.
Over the years, David Laws – the newly appointed Financial Secretary of the Treasury – had paid �40,000 of taxpayers’ money to his landlord James Lundle, who was also his lover.
In 2006, parliamentary authorities made the rules perfectly clear: “Second-home allowances must not be used to meet the costs of a mortgage or for leasing accommodation from a partner or family member.” The same rule snared Harwich & Essex North MP Bernard Jenkin.
Yet in defiance of this edict, Laws continued claiming the rent he was paying to his lover. It would not have mattered if that lover was male or female, a spouse, heterosexual partner, or civil partner – the rules were broken.
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That it was not exposed in The Daily Telegraph’s expenses files last year is surprising, given all the detailed disclosures of moat cleaning and fraudulent mortgages.
But once the new government was formed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, the journalists started digging through detailed claims. And it was the Telegraph that won the race to publish first.
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That’s when all the cant mouthed by Liberal Democrat colleagues started. Up they popped on the television – from Lord Ashdown to Vince Cable – trying to excuse Laws’ malpractice.
Ashdown called him Mister Integrity. In the Commons this week, Conservative Michael Gove described Laws as “unfailingly honest, considerate, thoughtful and principled.’’
Regrettably not in respect of parliamentary claims.
As Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Laws was the second highest Liberal Democrat in the coalition Cabinet.
To him fell the role of axe man – the minister who had to stand up to colleagues and civil servants and tell them to hack their budgets, no matter what the consequences, as the government wrestles with the �162billion of debt bequeathed it by Gordon Brown.
How could a person claiming public money to which he was not entitled remain in his post and order budget cuts which could lead to the loss of thousands of jobs and the slashing of vital services thanks to Brown’s profligacy of the past 13 years?
Quite clearly he couldn’t. But in resigning, he had to tell his parents the secret he had hid from them all his adult life – that he was gay and also had been living as a couple with another man for nine years.
Yes, it’s terribly sad that in today’s relaxed climate towards homosexuality a person is unable to tell his parents that he is gay.
Keeping it quiet so as not to hurt them is a personal decision. It is difficult to admit what Roman Catholics would call “falling from grace with God”.
But when that deception leads to claiming money to which he was not entitled, it goes far beyond a personal dilemma.
Laws is a self-made millionaire from working in the get-rich-quick culture of the City of London before becoming Paddy Ashdown’s successor as MP for Yeovil
Shortly ahead of the General Election, Laws wrote an article for his local paper, the Western Gazette. It is still proudly displayed on the Yeovil Liberal Democrats’ web site (www.yeovil-libdems.org.uk).
Writing about MPs expenses, he said: “I won’t pretend that there haven’t been difficult times, not least during the months of gloomy and incessant publicity about the expense abuses of a significant minority of MPs.
“This was the only time when I have – for a few months – actually felt ashamed to be a Member of Parliament.
“Our new Parliament needs to clear up this mess for good, in the interest of the whole country.”
Such hypocrisy has been further underlined by the Tory candidate in Yeovil defeated by Laws.
Kevin Davis, the chief executive of a disability charity, has highlighted some of Laws’s campaign literature, which stated: “David was the lowest-claiming MP across Somerset and Dorset, while some MPs had to repay money for moat clearances and duck houses.”
In his campaign leaflets, Laws pointed out that his expense claims had been cleared by Sir Thomas Legg, the expenses auditor, and quoted a local newspaper headline, “Laws in clear over expenses.”
Said Davis: “I voluntarily gave three years of my life to the people of Yeovil hoping to fight a clean election and now discover the whole case for re-election he made for himself was based upon a pack of lies. Some will say ‘that’s politics’, but it shouldn’t be.”
As Nick Clegg was making a speech describing the resignation as a “tragedy”, Laws issued a statement saying that the past few days had been “the toughest of my life”.
“I have paid a high price for trying to keep my sexuality a secret. Losing your privacy, your Cabinet job and your perceived integrity within 48 hours isn’t very easy.
“But I accept that I should have been more open and should have set a better example as a public figure.”