Ain’t nothing going on but the rent

The David Laws story in the Telegraph is a difficult one… I can’t help but feel sorry for him, in that he clearly wanted to keep his private life private, and it seems neither his friends nor family knew he was gay. I was told by a Lib Dem a few years ago that he was, but obviously not my place to tell all those people who were tweeting about an all-white* all-heterosexual and nearly all male Cabinet that they’d got it wrong.  *Baroness Warsi is an unpaid Minister of State. They can call her a Cabinet Minister, but that doesn’t sound like one to me.

The Telegraph does make clear, however, that they had no wish to ‘out’ him, but it was impossible to tell the story about his expenses claims and payments to his landlord/ partner without doing so, and I think they are genuine in that regard. And although some people are saying on Twitter that it’s disgraceful the Telegraph outed Laws (perhaps that’s what the Outlawries Bill was about?!) I think the only way to deal with this story is to think how we’d react if it was a heterosexual relationship, and whether we think there is still an issue, and of course in this case there is.

The expenses allegation is clearly very damaging, not least because Laws is – as well as being in charge of the nation’s finances – a wealthy man, who arguably didn’t need to claim expenses in the first place, and because his partner is a lobbyist, which raises potential questions of a conflict of interest (because it was undeclared – indeed I’ve spoken tonight to someone who’s known Mr Lundie for years and didn’t have a clue). And his claim that he didn’t regard his long-term partner as a spouse or equivalent because they “had separate bank accounts and separate social lives” is, well, disingenuous in the extreme. I’d like to see that excuse used in court by people who are caught co-habitating by the benefits police!

It’s also highly embarrassing for Clegg, because his party always assumed the sanctimonious moral high ground on expenses, and because it will be Clegg’s job to steer the new Bill through Parliament which includes the right to recall MPs based on a petition from 10% of their constituents. (It was in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act we passed just before the election, but now the new Government is trumpeting that they’re doing it).

Some have suggested that this is the Tory right-wing swinging into action, as part of their campaign to defeat the Capital Gains Tax rise. It’s pretty silly of them if it is. They couldn’t possibly find a more right-wing Lib Dem to be Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Laws’ appointment was actually something of an act of genius by Cameron, although he may not have quite realised it at the time. Laws is the guy who’s making the cuts.

Wily Osborne did a disappearing act from the Commons the other day when Alistair Darling tabled an urgent question and it was left to Laws to defend the Government policy. He actually gave a pretty impressive performance, and the Tories loved it. (I mean impressive in that I didn’t agree with what he said but the ‘performance’ was good; he put up a good fight. As Bevan would say, stones not sponges).

So… I suspect Laws’ position will prove to be untenable and the Treasury pot plants may yet be reprieved. (He announced today he’d axed the budget).  I assume his replacement would have to be a Lib Dem, as the deal must have been that they’d have someone in the Treasury. And apparently the deal is that it’s Clegg who must back or sack, not Cameron. But who is there who could step up to the plate before the Budget on June 22nd? Step forward Stephen Williams, former tax inspector… your time has come!

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Comments

  • Genji Monogatari  On May 29, 2010 at 12:34 am

    I sincerely hope that this news enables (empowers?) him to feel a lot more comfortable with who he is and the sexuality side of doesn’t really require any further interest or comment.

    I can see why his wish to keep that side of his life quiet prevented him from declaring his financial interests, but he really should have declared it all last year and got it out of the way then.

    Now, being Chief S. to the Treasure, demanding cuts, public transport for ministers (while red boxes go by car) and austerity measures – it makes his position difficult at best, and that’s a shame.

    On the other hand, judging by the fact that Gideon sent Laws along to answer Darling’s emergency question t’other day instead of attending hisself, it might have started to look as if David was just Gideon’s whipping boy.

    “Outlawries Bill”… Nice one, Centurion. like it, like it. 😀

    For what it’s worth I’d like to see more gays in government, if only to shut the DoW&P SpAds up… no not only that. Sexuality has nothing to do with competence. It’s a pity that’s been dragged into the argument, which is really about him demanding cut backs in govt, the public sector and the economy as a whole whilst claiming rent on his partner’s gaff.

  • sirrontail  On May 29, 2010 at 12:57 am

    “I think the only way to deal with this story is to think how we’d react if it was a heterosexual relationship”

    No it isn’t. It involved outing him, and as such it needs to be dealt with in an entirely different manner. The Telegraph had absolutely no right to out him; as Barney Frank says the only time the media has the right to out somebody is if they use their position to hurt LGBT causes or people. If this means they don’t run the story, then they shouldn’t run the story.

  • kerrymccarthy  On May 29, 2010 at 1:14 am

    So are you saying that the Telegraph should have buried an entirely valid expenses story involving the Chief Sec to the Treasury because of that? I think attempts to out people against their will are reprehensible but I think this story was very clearly in the public interest. We can’t have one law for Laws and another for the rest of us.

    • sirrontail  On May 29, 2010 at 1:58 am

      It’s a matter of deciding which is more reprehensible: outing somebody; or claiming money for accommodation in a questionable manner with the intent, not of defrauding the public, but of protecting ones personal life. It is my belief that the former is much worse.
      Of course you can’t have one law for him, he broke the rules and it is right that he should pay the money back; but him breaking the rules doesn’t give the Telegraph the right to out him.

  • Lee Skevington  On May 29, 2010 at 1:21 am

    Dear Kerry,

    The fact that David Laws is homosexual will come as a suprise to few in Yeovil. However it is completely irrelevant as far as myself and others are concerned.

    I suspected that this ‘outing’ of him would be just around the corner as only the other day did I receive phone calls from the Daily Mail asking me questions about his sexuality which I absolutely refused to comment on. They claimed it was a matter of concern to people here. I fail to see how. But if so, I understand why he may be motivated to keep it secret.

    However I find this all suprising because just before the election David Laws sent every single person here a letter declaring how perfect his expenses were. It is obvious this was an active deception which couldn’t have come at a worst possible time with faith in politicians at an all time low.

    We have a minor council by-election coming up in Yeovil and it will be interesting to see in the polls the impact this has on the Lib Dems locally.

    Regards,
    Lee Skevington

    • Chris Paul  On May 31, 2010 at 10:55 am

      Is there any chance of getting some of the GE literature from the three main parties for this constituency up on the straight choice? Mmmm. Interesting etymology that one! There are no Yeovil leaflets at all uploaded.

  • GW  On May 29, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Nothing to do with his sexuality. Everything to do with his dishonerty and hypocracy.

    GW

  • Chris Paul  On May 29, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    I counted three out gay men in the cabinet/front bench (including Laws) *before* he was “outed”. I don’t think my gaydar is especially acute either.

    Presumably Mr Laws could have made a direct payment to the mortgage lender based on a calculation of mortgage interest for the actual or even some notional term arrangement (with agreement of he Fees Office) and been the right side of the law and guidelines? Even if his name were not on the mortgage paperwork?

    And he could have presented his arrangement as a house share between professionals so that there would have been no need whatsoever to undermine his privacy. And the Fees Office would in any case have redacted the papers – though not the Torygraph mole.

    Or he could have bought the house, taken over the mortgage, paid ALL the interest if he declared that he had a partner living there, or less rent income calculation if he treated it as a lodger situation.

    As with most of the people caught up in home related discrepancies they could have made slightly different arrangements and been fine. And the Fees Office may have cleared the arrangement anyway. For what that’s worth.

    Finally there is an issue with any friend-lover-share-partner relationship re how committed and permanent that is on the date when a claim is made. That is not only reality but also wriggle room.

    I suggested what Laws should do by twitter last night. Repeated this morning. And I think if he did so – including offering his resignation – Cameron and Clegg will be able to decline to accept it and come up reasonably in the clear. Slightly depending on the details, natch.

    They might also consider an amnesty for grey-area self reporting. As long as it doesn’t extend to serious offenders let’s say with imaginary main homes that might be a good thing.

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