>David Laws and I are about as far apart in our political thinking as it’s possible to get within the Liberal Democrats. The Orange Book, for which he was one of the prime authors, makes me shudder at its very mention as an old fashioned tax and spend liberal.
However I did rather warm to him last year – I never expected to write a blog post in his praise, but when he and Annette Brooke adopted an anti smacking policy stance, they made me proud.
Today it has been reported that he claimed rent on MP’s expenses which was paid to a landlord who is also his partner. Neither David’s nor his partner’s friends or family were aware that they were in a relationship. Liberal Democrat Voice has his full statement on the matter.
Bear in mind that David had been living with his partner for 5 years, unbeknownst to friends and family, when the House of Commons rules changed. What options did he have at that point? He could have:
a) declared the relationship, owned the property they lived in himself, and claimed the full costs of rent/mortgage or whatever, which would have been far in excess of the amount he actually did claim
b) moved out and rented a property on his own, again costing the taxpayer much more than he eventually claimed.
c)claimed nothing for the costs of running his second home which was necessary for his duties as an MP
d) continue to claim rent with his partner as landlord
I find it deeply disturbing that some people are saying that C is a realistic option. What if he wasn’t independently wealthy? That would have cut him and his undoubted talents out of public life because of his sexuality, which is just not on. In any event, I don’t think that an MP or their partner should have to subsidise their public duties.
Well, he could have gone with Option B, then, and rented his own property while still spending most of his time with his partner. What sort of waste would that have been? And it would have cost the public more?
Option A would have involved outing himself. Maybe that wasn’t an option for his partner. I stress I have absolutely no knowledge of David Laws’ or his partner’s circumstances so what I’m saying is pure conjecture, but could this have led to the break up of their relationship? Would that have been fair?
I understand why he went for D, and I think that there is an argument for justifying that if you interpret the rules in a particular way. I live openly and happily with my husband and our financial and social lives are hardwired together. That clearly wasn’t the case for David Laws and his partner. I’m far from convinced that he actually should pay the money back but I respect his decision to do so and to self refer to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.
Sara Bedford has written an absolutely brilliant article, as always saying what I think except better in which she argues that the change in the rules on partners by the House of Commons was by its nature likely to discriminate against people in same sex relationships:
Did David Laws break the letter of the law on MPs expenses? That seems to depend on how a spouse or partner is defined. Did he defraud the taxpayer? I would say not. He claimed the real costs of a second home in London, which he lived in. Did he or James make a profit on the arrangement? No. Should he repay the money? Probably not, but I understand his wish to do so and to offer himself up to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. But the rules do appear to discriminate against those who want to keep their private lives to themselves. And as that is far more likely to affect those who are lesbian, gay or bisexual, the rules themselves would appear to be prejudicial on the basis of sexuality.
Sara also makes the point that she thinks the revelations are more to do with Torygraph angst re Capital Gains Tax than anything else:
In the last couple of days, the Telegraph has launched a vigorous campaign to oppose the likely increase in rates of Capital Gains Tax, to align it more closely with income tax. Which party has promoted this policy? The Liberal Democrats. Who is the Liberal Democrat MP at the Treasury? David Laws. Go out and dig for dirt on Laws was the Telegraph’s rallying cry to its hacks – the addition of a little ’secret gay sex’ will have only whetted the enthusiasm of the paper and much of its readership further..
This is only a taster of a fabulous article – if you do nothing else today, read it.
I’ve been dismayed by the tweets which say that being gay isn’t big thing these days. Within the Liberal Democrats, being lesbian, gay or bisexual certainly isn’t a barrier. Although people do sacrifice a lot of time and money to the party, though, they also have lives outside it. The people in those lives may not share the same open and accepting attitude. As the mother of an 11 year old, I’ve been frequently dismayed by conversations with friends who say that they would find it really hard to accept if their child turned out to be gay, lesbian or bisexual. Those sorts of attitudes come from people from all sorts of backgrounds, religious and not.
Deciding whether or not to come out is an intensely personal matter. I know of a fair few people who have kept their sexuality a secret out of respect for parents or other family members. From my perspective as a parent, I would never want my daughter to have to go through that sort of agony. She will never have to choose between anything and having mine and her daddy’s love and full acceptance. How hard must it be though, as a child, to overhear a parent say that they couldn’t cope if their child turned out to be gay?
There is something especially hurtful about being rejected by the people who gave you life. Even if they are in the wrong and there isn’t a relationship worth preserving it is utterly horrible and can cause terrible emotional scars. Imagine if you do actually love and feel loved within your family. Would you take the risk of breaking the bonds which have sustained you throughout your life? Would you be able to deal with the pain? Would you want to cause pain, however unjustified, to perhaps frail or elderly loved ones? Every single family is different and has its own dynamics. Nobody can judge another person’s decision to stay quiet.
The major point about the Laws case is that he did not make the decisions he did for personal financial gain – and in fact, he could have claimed much more than he did had he been open about the relationship.
I hope that the Labour trolls and the press don’t force a good man out of office. I never ever expected to be saying that I wanted David Laws anywhere near a position where he controlled public spending, but he’s proved his worth in that post in the last 2 weeks. I think the country needs him to stay in that role. I think he deserves our human compassion and, hand on heart, I can say that had he been in any other party, I would give him my support. I hope that regular readers will recognise that I do try to be fair to everybody.
Update: my blogroll is full of posts in support of David Laws from Andrew, Mark and Jennie. Tory Alexander Ryland has sent a letter to the Torygraph, signed by lots of lovely people. Also Creative Tory has written in his support.