You know – there’s a distinctly unpleasant smell about many of the comments surrounding David Laws at the moment, accusations that ‘militant’ homosexuals (god alone knows what they look like) and ‘agenda pushers’ will keep him in his job: and you know what – maybe that’s a good thing? Not the keeping in his job because he’s a woofter, no – but keeping him in his job because he’s good at it, and if the Parliamentary Standards Commission finds his ‘crime’ to not be worth a reprimand why should rabid commentators thirsty for blood get a scalp just for the sake of it seeming ‘the decent’ thing to do (in best daily mail speak).
As I was saying yesterday, his expenses pale into insignificance compared to what others have taken, it’s his honesty over the nature of his relationship which you have to call into question. Of course if they were just friends with benefits then one can understand why it was treated as a landlord/tenant agreement, if they formalised the relationship in any other way however – then it’s an entirely different matter: and the money should be not only repaid, but investigated to the full extent of the law.
I’ve been saying for a long time that Parliamentary expenses should be simplified – this is yet another case where the rules were grey and we’re once again all pontificating on whether to hang David Laws out to dry or let him ‘get away’ with it. Of course this stems from our general assumption that most politicians are scum, movers and operators of the lowest order; which is unfair – many really, genuinely, aren’t – but while there is still not enough public transparency in the details of how they’re paid and how they claim work expenses, and indeed who presides over the ajudication of setting those fees and how they’re administered, we’re going to rub against this again and again.
It is of course, not just Parliament: Parliament is just an unfortunately public example. Expense fraud, if you want to be blunt about naming it, is rife in any business where expense accounts are the standard way of claiming back a significant proportions of outlaid income. Maybe that should be the argument for building a hotel with 650 rooms for MPs, setting a standard pay grade for all of them, giving them a free travel pass (as in the forces) to and from their nominated home to their nearest London terminal free on national rail or an airline of choice (in standard class) and doing away with all the expense and rigmarole of the IPSA and the fees office – Simplistic many in Westminster might scream, but you’ll never know until you actually give it a try.
This time last week I was talking about Expenses being the monster that just won’t die, and it seems that the sword of damocles is still dangling as the Telegraph reveal tonight that David Laws has claimed £40,000 in expenses to pay for a room – hang him, the tabloids predictably scream, while some of the broadsheets can barely control their sneers of revulsion that it’s ‘his boyfriends’ house.
But, please – first a little perspective, this is over eight years which comes to about £950 a month: that’s not expensive for London, my weekly rent is about half that – so I think we can safely say that there’s been no financial gain: and how much did it save on him renting or buying a place of his own – ultimately he’s most likely saved us all money.
But, it is a question of honesty, David Laws’ said he didn’t give the full detail because it wasn’t his spouse – that’s a grey area in the rules that the IPSA will want to be looking into: I think it’s probably fair to say if you’ve been with someone since 2001 then I think it’s not unfair to claim that you’re a ‘proper’ item: which of course brings us to the real reason it was kept quiet: David didn’t want to out either himself, his partner (a director at an international, politically connected PR firm) or his relationship in general. All credit to The Telegraph though, they didn’t out him – and they could have done: the really delicious irony of course being that climbing into the cabinet has rather forced him out of the closet.
I find it difficult to stand by the hang him and flog him brigade, but equally I find it difficult to support this idea that he was simply protecting his private life – he’s a public figure, a long term partner is a long term partner: and he should have been up front about that: most people would have made nothing of it… instead, he’s needlessly wounded his reputation and potentially his cabinet career. I think it’s unlikely Cameron or Clegg will want to be rid of him: but I expect you’ll be seeing less of him for the next few weeks.
It’s amusing, and at the same time scandalous, that Brown is set to impose a 3 line whip today with MP’s potentially facing sanctions if they break ranks against plans to obfuscate MP’s expenses at exactly the same time the government are asking, nay – demanding, businesses be transparent; it’s also further proof, if any were needed, that despite claims that Labour’s on the side of the hard working that they’ve got their noses stuffed in the trough deeper than anyone else.
MP’s expenses should be public, it’s outrageous that some are claiming that it would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to collate and scan receipts for instance, you try telling HMRC that when you do your tax return and they’ll send someone around to inspect you personally! MP’s that vote for this dirty new piece of legislation designed to hide what they’re doing with our taxpayers money should hang their heads in shame, one rule for the rulers, another for the people. It’s disgusting
Very glad to see Alan Duncan working hard in his new post with the party leadership to ensure the conservatives vote against this abuse of power, personally I’d welcome the leadership booting out any MP that refused to publish their expenses or indeed backing any grubby law that makes it easier for MP’s of any party to hide what they’re spend our money on: we need transparent politics and transparent politicians now more than ever, the hypocrisy of one rule for us has to stop to build trust with the people of this country that’s been so thoroughly trashed over the last few years.
UPDATE Brown has backed down, according to breaking news sources – expect MP’s expenses to be published ‘within weeks’.