David Laws Must Resign 81


I am among those who has been very impressed by David Laws’ performance in his brief ministerial career. And I have read carefully the Lib Dems blogs – which seem universally to be defending him, like this.

http://markreckons.blogspot.com/2010/05/david-laws-should-not-resign.html

http://www.libdemvoice.org/david-laws-issues-statement-on-his-expenses-and-sexuality-19728.html

The difficulty is that the Commons rules stated quite unequivocally that an MP could not claim to rent a room in a home owned by their partner. In 2006 a specific amendment was made to make that crystal clear. Laws does not deny he broke the rules, and is paying the money back.

The point made by Lib Dems throughout the blogosphere is that, if Laws and his partner had owned the homes jointly, he could have claimed the mortgage payments. That is of course true. But Laws did not do that, and the rules are explicit that the alternative of paying rent to your partner is not allowed.

Laws’ explanation for his behaviour is that he did not wish to come out as gay. That is his right. Had he therefore not made any second home expenses claims, he would have forfeited £40,000 and deserved great sympathy for the sacrifice made to his domestic privacy. Nobody would have launched an investigation into why the very wealthy David Laws did not make a second home claim.

To “protect your privacy” by making taxpayer funded rent payments to your partner against the rules, was always going to be counter-productive. It also involved what I presume (and I do not know) is a further little lie to the Commons that he was renting a bedroom in his partner’s house, when it is surely more likely that they share one.

It is, to say the least, extremely unfortunate that this revelation about David Laws should come out at this moment – and the Telegraph’s timing opens a whole raft of other questions. And what Laws has done is less bad, for example, than Michael Gove’s second home flipping. But there is no point to the Liberal Democrats if we do not aspire to higher standards than Labour and the Conservatives, and it is deeply disappointing to see the LibDem blogs’ tribal rally around Laws.

Laws has just announced a public sector pay freeze. He is the man who would have to announce cuts next year that will inflict very real pain upon public sector workers, benefit recipients and public service users. Having a millionaire to do that is already difficult. Having a millionaire, who broke the rules on expenses claims and trousered £40,000 he had to pay back, to do that is simply untenable.

Laws should do the decent thing now.


81 thoughts on “David Laws Must Resign

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  • writerman

    More sleeze oozing up between the cracks in the pristine foundation of the new politics edifice, are we surprised? I don’t think so, not if one was paying proper attention.

    Is this tawdry episode really an attempt by disgruntled elements on the Tory right to undermine the coalition and a crucial, key member of it, before coalition becomes too firmly established and effectively pushes the Thatcherite rump towards the margins and the dustbin of history?

    Craig’s correct, of course, he usually is, when he openly states, using his own words… “…that there is no point to the Liberal Democrats…”

  • Matt Keefe

    Laws has denied that he broke the rules.

    “At no point did I consider myself to be in breach of the rules…”

    So far as I can tell, he has accepted only that his actions, and the rules, are “open to interpretation”.

    (Full statement here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/politics/10188408.stm)

    He’ll have to go, of course. Any leniency now sets a precedent, and at this point, that would be an especially awful one.

  • JohnM

    @ writerman

    be brave and go launch you’re own blog rather than spread your fatuous bile around others.

    anyway well summed up by Craig. Laws is a great talent but that talent needs to stand down and repair his life and contribute from the backbench for a few years. No other way!

  • Craig

    Matt –

    Thanks for the clarification. Though that raises the puzzling question of why, if he says he neither broke the rules nor did anything wrong, he should be paying money back.

  • Neil

    Wouldn’t it be appropriate if this LibDem thief becomes the first MP to be “recalled” under the LibDem scheme for reforming politics?

  • Tom King

    He shouldn’t be paying money back, but owing to the cynical bile whipped up by stories like this in the Telegraph, he has done the decent thing.

    It’s important to remember that this whole story rests on the interpretation of the words ‘treat each other as ‘spouses”. Personally, I would not consider a person to whom I was paying rent a spouse. Clearly, neither did he.

    It’s also important to remember that every single other method of paying for his second home would both have cost the taxpayer more, and would inevitably have revealed his sexuality. The Telegraph has tried desperately to make this look like he has been caught out with his hand in the public purse, but in fact he has behaved in a very responsible manner, paying well below standard rents in London, and claiming only £40,000 over 6 years, compared to the £120,000+ he could have claimed.

    What the Telegraph have basically done here is to ‘out’ a very private man in a crassly cynical way. It amazes me that people still buy this rag, which is now no better than the Daily Mail.

  • brian

    for a minute there I thought I was going to get to 10am without slapping my forehead and rolling my eyes, luckily Tom King has come to my rescue.

  • Craig

    Tom,

    I am sorry – really, because I desperately wish this hadn’t happened – but I understnad he has lived with the man for nine years. To argue that he did not consider him his partner just sounds weird.

    I quite agree that this was not the kind of income maximising ploy that Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls indulged in. But it is still, on any normal interpretation, against the rules. If he were the deputy minister for transport it might be survivable. But as the front man for public spending cuts? Really?

    I think eighteen months on the back benches are needed to maintain the reputation of the government.

  • Tom King

    He lived with him before they were lovers. It is actually fairly commonplace for those sharing a house to end up romantically involved, and equally commonplace for them not to consider themselves ‘partners’ or ‘spouses’.

    This story merely encourages the perception that the Telegraph has a attitude towards ‘non-traditional’ lifestyles that could charitably be described as ‘prescriptive’.

  • brian

    Tom – in what way does the gender of his partner make any difference? He was paying his long term partner, whose home he shared, rent money courtesy of us the taxpayer. It doesn’t matter if his partner was male,female or even from Planet Vulcan, it was a scam.

  • Tom King

    It makes a difference because this was the only way he could maintain the level of privacy he wanted. And that’s why the gender of his partner makes a difference.

    It’s a strange sort of scam that takes less from the taxpayer than the alternative arrangement.

  • Craig

    Tom,

    I think the Telegraph plainly has a “break up the coalition” agenda, and has become more loopily right wing than ever. But I think it is much more motivated by a desire to protect its readers second homes from capital gains tax, than by homophobia.

    None of which is relevant to the facts of the case. The old common law definition of “sharing bed and board” is I think the one which chimes with people’s instincts. And they had been doing that for years.

    I honestly think Laws will do himself great harm if he resorts to technical arguments like this. If Lundy was not his partner, what description would you use? Landlord and occasional lover? Can’t you see that Laws defence is going to lead down a very sordid path and reinforce anti-gay sterotypes?

  • Tom King

    Why should he care about anti-gay stereotypes? In any case I don’t really think he lives up to many of them.

    I’m not sure we can say with any certainty whether they were ‘sharing bed and board’. It’s a strange sharing that has one person paying rent to the other person. There are semantic shades to all words in this context, but to quote from a blogpost I’ve just read:

    “To say ‘partner’ would beg the question of Laws’ innocence, since the rules used the term. ‘Lover’ doesn’t do it justice. ‘Long-term boyfriend’, perhaps: this was a long-term relationship but not one of a united household.”

  • Tom King

    brian – You’re right, he could have done that. But then he wouldn’t have maintained his privacy, would he? His sexuality would have been obvious to everyone.

  • brian

    Like your philosophy Tom.

    So according to your principle, even though I opt to live with my family and claim no benefits, because if I chose to live apart from them my family and myself could claim thousands, it’s OK for me to claim a few hundred I’m not entitled to.

    Nice one.

  • brian

    Sorry my mistake, I’d misunderstood Tom’s point.

    What you’re saying is it’s right for the taxpayer to cough up thousands of pounds so that someone’s sexuality can be hidden.

    Am sending an invoice to the DWP on Monday claiming for 15 years back rent owed to my partner so that my sexuality can be disguised.

  • Tom King

    brian – we clearly take different views on privacy and sexuality.

    But what I’m saying is that if his sexuality had been revealed it is likely that the taxpayer would have had to pay more.

    I don’t believe that MPs should have to fund their second home living arrangements out of their own pocket, whether they’re rich or poor. That way lies a return to a House of Commons full of people who have paid their way in. The barriers for entry should be low, or else the word ‘Commons’ becomes even more inappropriate.

    That does not mean I don’t think the expenses were exploited and abused. I just don’t think they were in this case. Laws is said to have put his own money into this house. Would you prefer he had claimed for the mortgage from the taxpayer?

  • brian

    Tom – why are our views on privacy and sexuality different? Why should I pay to keep his sexuality secret?

    He claimed when he had no right to claim, therefore he was dishonest and took money he was not entitled to.

    If he had taken out a mortgage he didn’t need to and then claimed within the rules then he’s not dishonest, just money-grabbing.

  • Jonathan Marriott

    As married people OR civil partners OR people living together as if in a relationship are unable to claim state benefits by hiding their relationship, which could lead to prosecution if they were found out, David Laws should be prosecuted and forced to resign.

    His excuse for hiding the circumstances is pathetic… I was born before him yet I live an openly gay lifestyle these days. The reason he hid his, I suspect, is that he and his partner had too much to gain from the mutually beneficial arrangement paid for by the taxpayer.

  • Matt Keefe

    Why is he paying the money back? Well, it’s same kind of financial flagellation many MPs have been engaging in to make tricky questions go away. It just shows the depth of the mire of the expenses scandal, really. There have been clear breaches of the rules, of course, but more than this there have been claims which were clearly spurious but seemingly justified within the rules. It’s these that MPs seem to be rushing to pay back. To me that just seems to dodge the big question of why did they do it in the first place? That’s the question we’re not having properly asked or answered in the midst of all this and I feel it’s a crucial question in understanding exactly what happens within institutional systems like this.

    Legg virtually codified the system of voluntary financial martyrdom by asking MPs to pay back money for claims which were seemingly justified within the rules. Again, this just avoids the question – if they’re so horrified at having claimed the money now, so penitently willing to return it, why did they claim it? Is it a sense of entitlement? A real feeling they are underpaid? I don’t know if I’m likely to agree with those sentiments, but if that’s how they feel, I want to know – we can’t discuss reform sensibly without knowing what it is that MPs think they need and are entitled to.

    David Laws has compounded the matter by raising the issue of privacy. Fair enough, but his suggestion that he didn’t think the other gentleman a spouse comes perilously close to suggesting a different definition of partner where homosexuals are concerned. At this point, I’d be most willing to believe that Laws knowingly twisted (or broke) the rules, to a minor degree, and a degree not then out of the ordinary, it seems, in order to protect his privacy. It would still constitute apallingly bad judgment on his part, and would be a resigning matter, but I could at least believe it was true. His explanation as is, as you say, just begs more questions. I’m not interested in a witch hunt, but let’s get it out in the open.

    Do these MPs think they’re entitled to the money or not? “Yes, but I’ll pay it back anyway,” is not an answer. Expediency is not truth.

  • Isobel

    Come on guys if this had been a ‘Labour’ MP you would of been cock a hoop, shouting from the rooftops ‘resign’. Because it is one of your ‘own’ you feel there is some justification in lying to receive not only housing expenses and all that goes with it protect his sexuality, something he is obviously not comfortable with, otherwise he would of been honest and disclosed this not only to the house but also to his electorate. To sit in the closet for years and come out ‘only’ when your caught out is no excuse. If you are in a ‘relationship’ under the same roof’ whether or not you share a ‘bedroom’ relates to a partner. Not having bank shared bank accounts is the norm – to disclose you re-morgaged your property to enable you partner to move is evidence enough that he was ‘sharing’ the costs, at our expense. This has got to stop – single parents are not allowed to have their partner or whatever stay overnight without losing their benefits, why should we be paying for the privaledge of him shacking up with his – sheesh you could not make it up, if you read his constituency web page you will see he is apt to change his mind quite regularly, so much for a upstanding respectable MP.

  • Jonathan Marriott

    Kaze no Kae is being very sympathetic indeed. Poor David having to pay out £950 a month rent from his basic meagre MPs salary would be too much…

    Why did he think the press wouldn’t be able to find him out?

    Being Gay in today’s world is not what it was, even if he is very shy about it.

    I earn a mere £21k a year, my partner has been unemployed 2.5 long years. We have had NOTHING in state aid, after the first 6 months Job Seekers’ Allowance ran out, to help us.

    As Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he MUST resign. He knew what he was doing is against the law. Ignorance of the law is no defence from its effects…

  • doug scorgie

    It seems that David Laws has been breaking laws! If one reads the Fraud Act 2006 it will become quite apparent to you that Mr Laws falls foul of that act in two ways. 1. Making a false representation for gain. 2. Failure to disclose information for gain. There may be mitigating circumstances but these are for a court of law to judge. He must be investigated by the police and, if there is sufficient evidence, which there appears to be, prosecuted. The House of Commons ‘Rules’ do not take precedence over the law.

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