Alex Massie

David Laws: A Problem of Folly, Not Corruption

Text settings

So, yes, as several commenters pointed out, the timing of this post about David Laws proved unfortunate. James and Fraser have said much of all that needs to be said on the matter. Perhaps if Laws had been in any other cabinet post he could have survived this firestorm - though the alacrity with which he resigned despite entreaties from David Cameron and Nick Clegg that he should stay - suggests otherwise frankly.

The impression given is of a man appalled by the consequences of his blunder and horrified by the impact of the fall-out on his housemate, family and friends. Contra Tom Harris and the opinions of some of my friends, this collapse was entirely about sexuality and barely concerned with money at all.

Not the press or public's view of homosexuality, but David Laws's relationship to his own personal life. If he were a heterosexual renting a room from his quasi-partner there'd have been little difficulty in his ceasing to do so when the rules governing this kind of (perfectly reasonable in my view) arrangemet changed in 2006. But that wasn't the case and, evidently, Laws must have felt that ceasing to make a claim for housing allowances would have been, effectively, to out himself at a time when he was not prepared to do so. Such are the traumas of life in the closet or of a semi-closeted life.

In one sense then, Laws was "living a lie" to employ a phrase too redolent by far of tabloid harpies, but, really, what we have here is a public figure wishing to keep his private life properly private. Perhaps that was a weakness, perhaps it was a mistake to presume that this situation could continue even as the Liberal Democrats entered government. But if so then this was an all too human failing and something, surely, that merits sympathy and understanding, not outrage or castigation.

If there's folly here there is nevertheless nothing venal about Laws's conduct. And when measured against extravagant claims for gardening expenses and the like - among others, we're looking at you David Miliband - it is hard for me at any rate to muster much indignation about Laws's domestic arrangements.

Even so, one may admit that it doesn't "look good". But while perceptions are important public life cannot, surely, always be dictated by how matters "play" in the press. The notion of a quasi-amnesty for all but the most egregious abuse of parliamentary expenses might not be popular with the public or press but one had hoped that the new parliament might offer the chance of a fresh start.

That's proved too much to hope for, however and so a vitally promising career has been cut short. In some technical sense this may be considered some rough form of "justice" but it is difficult to see what ends have been advanced by this sorry episode, far less who benefits from it apart from the nastier kind of media scold.

A bloody shame, then, and one hopes that David Laws will be strong enough to return to the government in due course and that David Cameron will be man enough to give him the opportunity to serve again. Foolishness is not necessarily corrupt just as corruption isn't necessarily foolish. One of those should disqualify an MP from government; the other need not.

UPDATE: Chris Cook has an excellent post over at the FT too. Well worth your time.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articlePoliticswestminster