Two and a half weeks on, the first scandal

It didn’t take long for our new government to face its first scandal and resignation of a minister. What’s more, after all the promise of a clean break with a new parliament, the MPs’ expenses saga has reared its ugly head again.

David Laws, a treasury minister, claimed £40,000 in rent for a second home which he was actually paying to his partner. What I find slightly bizarre is that he claims, “My motivation throughout has not been to maximise profit but to simply protect our privacy and my wish not to reveal my sexuality.” Why, in that case, did he use taxpayers’ money to rent a room from his secret lover, an expenses claim that would then be on record and subject to scrutiny? Had wealthy former-banker Mr Laws not used public money, he would have had every right to keep his private life secret, and it would be no-one’s business how much rent if any he was paying to the man whose home he shared.

We can’t have a situation where politicians can use the excuse of keeping their private life private in order to avoid scrutiny of their expenses claims. If we did, they could make all sorts of unacceptable claims for their partners of either gender. Entitled to keep their private lives private, yes. Entitled to keep details of what our money is being used for secret, no.

Laws also states (contradicting his other statement that he wanted to keep his relationship private) that he never considered he and Mr Lundie to be partners as they don’t have shared bank accounts and have separate social lives. I’m sure that’s no different from many married couples in the 21st century. If he’d been living with a woman for five years when the new rules came into effect in 2006, I doubt there would have been much question about whether they were “partners”, so what happened to equality irrespective of sexuality?

Finally, I have to pick up on Lembit Opik’s comment:

I think this is a national tragedy, not least because it suggests that – on matters which are nothing to do with a person’s personal competence to do a job – they can still be pushed out of Parliament.

Who is he referring to? Himself? David Laws has been pushed out of Government, not Parliament: he’s still an MP. Opik himself was pushed out of Parliament in an exceptionally large swing from the Lib Dems, presumably because of his antics, for example appearing on TV quiz shows and dating a Romanian singer 17 years his junior. So that sounds like sour grapes to me. I wouldn’t say the scandal has nothing to do with Laws’s competence to do the job. Ministers require a high standard of integrity, and £40,000 is up there with duck house MP Sir Peter Viggers’s dodgy claims. I’m afraid I don’t really think sending David Laws to the Back Benches is much of a tragedy.

One response to “Two and a half weeks on, the first scandal”

  1. Dave Brown

    Whilst I deplore with you the abuse of the expenses system there is an important distinction between the actions of David Laws and those of Sir Peter Viggers. Viggers cost the taxpayers money: Laws did not.

    David Laws was entitled to claim money for living in London. What he was not entitled to do was spend it in the way he did. Indeed if he had kept a personal establishment he would have been able legitimately to claim a considerably higher sum than that £40,000.

    On the other hand Vigger’s claim was entirely fraudulent. There is no provision in the blue book for claiming the cost animal shelters.

    Though whether wealthy men should be taking anything from the taxpayers in these straightened times is another question

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