Something new’s been emerging in the reaction to the outing and resignation of Treasury Chief Secretary David Laws. It’s the progressives who are slating him, not for once the usual expenses crusaders of the commentariat – although it was the Daily Telegraph digging into their old CDs, who exposed him. ( Not the first of another spate of scoops surely). Thus Ben Summerskill of Stonewall says it was the money wot done it, not the sex.
Regrettably it’s not the rules, or even the naughty Daily Telegraph, which have forced Laws to reveal his sexual orientation this weekend. If he hadn’t claimed £40,000 to be paid to someone he concedes he’s been “in a relationship with since around 2001” none of this would be known now because there would have been no payment from public funds in the first place.
In a clear strategy to advance gay equality, Summerskill is obviously keen to find a shop window for dismissing easy ” it’s because I’m gay” alibis for error or failure. Barbara Ellen in the Observer would agree.
Laws’ argument fell apart in the manner of a badly made piñata. Look at his options: he could have declined to claim for rooms, period, or he could have rented from someone else, and in both instances kept his gayness completely secret..
In fact it was the massed ranks of politicos, gay and straight, who came out largely in sympathy, like John Rentoul in the Sunday Indy.
Had Laws been open about his relationship, he would have been entitled to claim up to the maximum for the cost of James Lundie’s London flat, which was more than he did, in fact, claim. Had he not been in a relationship with Lundie, he would have been entitled to claim the rent. As a rich man, he need not have claimed for it at all; presumably he wanted to support his partner, but did not want to give him money directly. All rather confused, emotionally fraught and foolish, but not a hanging offence.
So why did Laws not divert the expenses claim elsewhere? Because he was in a sort of denial to himself? We need to dig deeper with Iain Dale, Tory arch blogger and openly gay, who completely identifies with Law’s problem – like what it feels like to confess being gay to your unsuspecting parents. Dale condemns openly gay former Labour minister Ben Bradshaw’s uncharitable Tweet about Laws. ( Ben should take spelling lessons too)
Matthew d’Ancona coalition cheerleader, reports the reluctance to lose him – until they felt he had to go. To save the new politics, they had to use old politics.
Even yesterday afternoon, the Prime Minister and Nick Clegg were trying to hang on to Mr Laws, who I understand was less certain that he should or could stay in post. Mr Cameron believed that referring the matter to John Lyon, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, had bought the Government some time and protected it, in the short term at least, from the charge of dithering. But, in the course of the day, Andy Coulson, the PM’s communications chief, warned him of the gathering media storm and the likely scale of the onslaught on Mr Laws. The Chief Secretary and Mr Cameron spoke on the phone at around 3pm, by which time it was becoming increasingly clear that Mr Laws was going to have to go.
On that media storm, Mike White is outside the pack. Has the Telegraph missed a new zeitgeist?
…So I regret his going and hope the Telegraph’s more thoughtful readers are as unimpressed as I am. Perhaps the newspapers really are losing the plot in their – our – battle to retain sales share.
In recent months the Sun’s attack on Gordon Brown’s handwriting – in a letter to a soldier’s grieving mother – rebounded on the paper. Brown is half-blind, his handwriting appalling.
Only this month the Mail on Sunday’s exposé of pillow talk by the FA chief, David Triesman, about rival World Cup 2018 football bids seems to have rebounded too when fans realised it make have sunk England’s bid in the process.
Next up should be a steady campaign to cool it over MPs’ expenses. The feeding frenzy has gone on long enough. But probably not. Sex is one thing but money is forever.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London