Monday, 31 May 2010

The Curious Case of David Laws

Whilst not in any way condoning David Laws' misclaiming of expenses there are several things that have really angered me about the "revelations" of the past few days.

The first is the Telegraph's choice of timing, something which becomes even more questionable having seen their apparent headline for tomorrow about Danny Alexander. After all, the Telegraph first exposed what it claimed was the whole expenses scandal - albeit drip by drip - last summer. If the abuse of the rules made by David Laws was so deeply venal and shocking that it deserved his resignation then surely this should have been exposed then? And if the Telegraph genuinely felt it needed to play party politics with the story, rather than act "in the public interest", then surely it had the perfect opportunity to do so during the election campaign. This approach, whilst it would have been pretty grubby, would have effectively torpedoed the Liberal Democrats claim to the moral high ground. As the most right wing of the broadsheets and the traditional mouthpiece of the Tory right such an action would have been in their interest, bringing the election nearer to a normal two-way fight between Labour and the Conservatives - much more likely to deliver a Conservative majority. However, the fact that the Telegraph have sat on this until now suggests something more subtle going on. This is clearly an attempt to weaken the coalition, to work towards bringing down the government whilst the economic pain is still fresh and before it has a chance to enact any really radical social reform. A general election under these circumstances would only benefit one party - and it's not the Conservatives.

The other thing that upsets me about David Laws' situation is that he clearly got caught between obeying the rules and exposing his personal circumstances. Britain tends to see itself as a liberal (small L) society but attitudes to homosexuality are mixed at best. Given that consensual gay sex was only legalised in 1967 and the distinction between straight and gay relationships was only removed in law in 2004 this is I suppose hardly surprising. It is therefore possible to understand why a man such as David Laws would choose to keep his sexual orientation a secret and why to protect the public persona he had created he would make an error of judgement such as this. It's very easy to scoff and say "well this isn't about his sexuality - he cheated the taxpayer" but I can imagine very well the circumstances in which you would do anything to protect the people you love from pain. Of all the expenses stories that have circulated feverishly over the past year this is the one I find it genuinely hard to be indignant about - but ironically the one that may ultimately have the biggest impact on the country over the coming months and years.

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