Why the anti Laws ‘campaign’ was ill conceived and anti democratic

Brian did a good round up of the journalism surrounding the David Laws resignation. Now, after months and years even of devoting his column to fairly partisan electioneering, Matthew Parris has the best crack I’ve seen so far on what underlay what became a nasty piece of decapitation:

No, he did not have to go. No, it was not “always inevitable”. No, Mr Laws was not right to jump “with dignity”, “before he was pushed”. And who, pray, would have done the pushing? We, the media. What stinking hypocrisy, then, to call the fall inevitable, and then wring our hands in pious lament about what a tragedy this is for the individual and the nation, as though we were helpless witnesses to some kind of extreme weather event. We in the media have been the instruments, not just the chroniclers, of the fall of a good man.

P O’Neill reckons that the gay thing was instrumental to blasting Mr Laws out of his Treasury post:

So they were merely going to report mysterious rent payments to a “partner” and leave it at that? And as everyone recognises, Laws’ job was essentially Minister for expenditure cuts — zero relevance to his sexual orientation. In other words, the Telegraph was precisely on the kind of search and destroy mission that Sully [Andrew Sullivan] says he abhors.

Although as the Slog blog notes, Mr Winnett has played around with the gay thing in the past in an effort help dispatch an earlier target…  But it goes on to note that actually the problem may be the Telegraph’s in the end, since some of its writing staff appear not to have noticed that there was an election just three weeks ago

As to the offence, Iain Dale puts it clearly enough in his Mail on Sunday opinion piece:

Claiming up to £950 a month for renting a room in a flat in Kennington. I’d say that was very good value for the taxpayer. I tried to do the same thing last year and couldn’t find anything for less than £1,200.

What his critics are saying is that in 2006 he should have moved out of the flat he shared with his partner when the parliamentary rules changed to ban financial relationships between spouses or civil partners.

Laws and Lundie weren’t and aren’t spouses or civil partners, so why should Laws have moved out? If he had, it would have cost the taxpayer more money. [Emphasis added]

As Charlotte notes, the ‘killer’ clause in the regulation appears to be that MPs haven’t been allowed to make payments to their spouses since 2006. Reader Rory Carr raises another question: when is the person you live with a spouse, and when are they not? In respect of claimants of Housing Benefit, co-habitation is a ‘good enough’ standard. But what about House regulations?

‘Good enough’ standards for politicians, says Paul, but not for those low or non taxpaying elite who can afford, for instance, to have a Premiership footballer show up at a child’s birthday party for a cool £25k.

Andrew Sullivan may be right when he says that “lies, even white lies, even understandable lies, cannot last in today’s culture and today’s media.” And I agree with him, up to a point.

But when Government is compelled over and over to self scrutinise down to such fine granular detail, we should remember that there is more than just one fox on the loose out there and not all of us are locked up safely inside the chicken coop.

David Laws will now likely be consigned to the scrap heap of British parliamentary history (with the Orange Book as his primary footnote). Yet unless the UK wishes to be consigned to the same cynical ‘Let’s kick the bums out’ election cycle the US is current struggling to break out of, the chiefist lesson is next time it happens (for it surely will): inject some perspective these one eyed media campaigns into the public space.

But in the meantime the last word should go to John Ward at the Slog, who appeals directly to progenitors of this particular anti politics crusade:

There’s a rainbow-in-negative cacophony of bitterness at work in Britain today – and what a ghastly crock of shit lies at the end of it: Balls, Whelan, Farage, Tebbitt, and every other grumpy, out of line dinosaur from Rupert Murdoch to Piers Morgan.

If the Daily Telegraph wants to join that shower, then good riddance. But I certainly won’t be reading it. I am a friend of the Telegraph and all its fine traditions. I think Robert Winnett a fine journalist of enormous intellect and talent, and Brogan a political editor of rare insight. As a real friend, however, I don’t ask the DT team to live up to my standards: rather, I accuse them of falling below their own.

They are guilty on that count. And somehow, I think sane minds in the Telegraph building know it.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty