If you've been reading this blog since day one - and, remarkably, have not yet become bored - you'll know that we originally put it together around the time that the Daily Telegraph broke the expenses scandal story, partly because we felt such outrage at what we still think of as the blatant, shameless money-grabbing behaviour of many MPs and partly because we felt that no mainstream newspaper was catching the gist of what the public were really feeling: the scandal did not create a belief that all politicians were in the job merely to line their own pockets - for many people, it finally confirmed that belief, one that has been held since at least the late 1970s. We took the decision then that we would endeavour not to allow our own voting preference to influence what we wrote here and although we have since allowed ourselves to display bias, for example during the General Election when we supported the Liberal Democrats and at other times when we have taken left-of-centre viewpoints, we still believe it is important not to show any favouritism towards any MP suspected of taking advantage of Parliamentary expenses for personal gain.
That said, we immediately felt that we should support Treasury Secretary David Laws now that he finds himself in expenses-related trouble. It's not that we particularly agree with his politics because for a LibDem, he's definitely a right-winger - however, for a right-winger he's also definitely a LibDem and a remarkably skilled politician too. Laws is, by all accounts, one of the sharpest and most quick-witted politicians around Westminster today. Nick Clegg is a clever politician - that much is obvious from the way that, although it ultimately counted for little and it was fate that handed him power, he achieved a remarkable victory in the Leaders' Debates; increasing public awareness of his party in a way that a month's worth of party election broadcasts could never do. Likewise Vince Cable, a man with a doctorate in economics and an almost clairvoyant ability to see what will happen with regard to future finance - he foresaw the current economic crisis as long ado as 2003 and is highly regarded as an expert in his field even by those who oppose his political beliefs. There are many others among the Liberal Democrat ranks - Sarah Teather, a Telegraph expenses saint and one of the most personable and popular politicians in recent years who is equipped with a formidable intelligence of her own, allowing her to take on political heavyweights without fear on Question Time where she is a regular and ever worthwhile guest; Chris Huhne - an Oxford-educated and highly successful politician who takes precisely the sort of stand on environmental matters that ensures continuing support from the beards, sandals and lentils brigade which, though a stereotype, the party nevertheless relies upon for a considerable percentage of its ballot box share.
However, fine politicians though all of these people are, they all suffer from the same problem the LibDems have had for decades now - they're just too damn nice. None of them have the aggression and thirst for blood that the party needs now it's swimming in a pool of Tory piranhas - David Laws, on the other hand, apparently has these qualities in spades. Now a very popular MP with a majority of over 13,000, Laws went into investment banking after leaving Cambridge with a double first in economics and by the age of just 27 was appointed the head of US Dollar and Sterling Treasuries at Barclays de Zoete Wedd. Aged 28, he earned his first million (what were you doing when you were 28? I was going to lots of gigs and earning £80 a week). LibDem MP, for the Scottish constituency of Gordon, Malcolm Bruce shared an office with Laws between 1992 and 1997. He told The Guardian: "I sat opposite him for five years but his desk never had any paper on it," he remembers, "I would say at the end of those five years the entire residual paperwork would amount to about three inches at most. He believed he could process all the important information and not need paper. Anything he needed again he could get another time."
There is something almost robotic about Laws, something almost cold and inhuman in his steely efficiency. His eyes glint like blades in a face that looks as though it doesn't smile much - all in all, he bears somewhat of a resemblance to Herr Otto Flick, the Gestapo officer in the long-running yet decidedly unfunny 1980s British sit-com 'Allo 'Allo (though it goes without saying that his politics, of course, are a million miles from those of the Nazis). I bet he's an absolute pain to work with, unwilling and unable to forgive the human failings of those around him - but, once again, this is what the LibDems need. Chancellor George Osborne is said to have rung reporters to boast of his own cleverness, saying that during the coalition discussions following the General Election, which he describes as being a high stakes game of paper, stone, scissors, he made sure Laws picked scissors. This may prove to be a bad choice of words - Laws, with his dislike for paper, has little need for scissors. What else might a man with his instincts do with a sharp, bladed instrument?
Laws goes for the throat and he's the most powerful tool his party has. At some point, perhaps soon and perhaps a long way off yet, the Conservatives are going to start wanting to stamp their authority over the funny little kids with whom they have formed not a friendship but a playground alliance which, as is always the case, will exist only so long as both parties have something to gain and when that happens Laws will be the only kid who can stand up to the bigger party and keep them from throwing their weight around. That's why, although we do not always support his policies, we know how valuable he is. Remember also that Laws has told his new Tory colleagues that were it not for Section 28, the notorious and controversial legislation that banned the "promotion of homosexuality" by local authorities and in the process effectively left teachers afraid to halt homophobic bullying and health centres afraid to provide sexual health advice to homosexuals, he would have been a member of their party rather than Clegg's. He knows how they work, because he shares 99% of their DNA.
As a result, when news broke that Laws was fighting for his political life after it emerged that he had claimed £40,000 over five years to cover the cost of renting a room in a property now known to belong to his partner James Lundie, we were inclined to look for a way in which his actions could be defended. After all, he immediately pledged to repay the amount in full and has referred himself to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, claiming that his intention has always been to "not maximise profit but to simply protect our privacy and my wish not to reval our sexuality." We felt a little sorry for him, because even politicians have the right to a private family life, and we felt angry at a world in which to this day homosexuals are made to feel uncomfortable about being who they are, as openly gay as heterosexuals are straight, for fear that it will tarnish their reputations and other people's opinions of them, damaging their career and, in the case of politicians, lessening their chances of re-election.
The MP claimed up to £950 a month between 2004 and 2007 to pay for the sub-let of a room in a flat in South London, where Mr. Lundie was registered as owner and co-occupant. This property was then sold, making Lundie a profit of £193,000, at which point he purchased a nearby house for £510,000 - Laws then registered a room at this new property as his second home, allowing him to claim expenses on it as he has a main residence in his Yeovil constituency in Somerset and received £920 per month up until September 2009, when he switched to a new flat which he designated as his official second home so that he could claim expenses for that one instead.
Parliamentary rules allow some degree of interpretation as to what defines an MP's partner, but according to Laws himself the official definition is "one of a couple...who although not married to each other or civil partners are living together and treat each other as spouses. Although we were living together, we did not treat each other as spouses. For example, we do not share bank accounts and indeed have separate social lives" (LibDemVoice) - and in the same article, he states that he and Lundie have been in a relationship since 2001. It doesn't matter how much of a degree of interpretation you allow, that sounds very much like the definition of a couple to us.
Since 2006, MPs have been banned from claiming expenses on property leased from a partner as the system was deemed too open to abuse even in the pre-scandal free-for-all (it's worth noting that unemployed people living in property belonging to their parents/siblings are not permitted to claim housing benefit to cover costs even if they are charged rent and have not been allowed to do so for many years - a friend at college who, in the early 1990s, was charged £30 per week rent by his mother from the £33 that the Government considered a sufficient amount for him to survive on, leaving him 42p a day to feed and clothe himself springs to mind).
Poor old David, eh? Forced to live a lie and risk his own honest reputation because of society's cruelty and still-present homophobia.
Hang on. Just a minute. Laws was a millionaire at 28, is now 44 and has been an MP earning a big, fat MP salary since 2001 - one would probably be quite correct in assuming he has a bank balance a fair bit greater than a million quid these days. Information on his personal wealth doesn't seem to be available (and quite rightly too, he has every bit as much right to keep that private as he does his personal life), but it's probably safe to say he'd doing alright for himself - not least of all as he is evidently perfectly capable of rustling up the £40k he's promised to pay back at a moment's notice. Mr. Lundie is employed by a public relations company and can probably be assumed to earn a pretty reasonable wage too.
"James and I are intensely private people," Laws says. "We made our decision to keep our relationship private and believed that was our right." It is indeed their right, but if they wanted it to be private would it not have been far more practical to pay their own way so that Laws' expenses were equally as private and not open to public scrutiny? Would it not have been better had Laws have gone straight to the Commissioner as soon as the scandal exploded into view last year?
We want to believe Laws because we've always liked him despite our disagreements with his right-wing politics, because we like knowing that a gay man (other than Lord of Darkness Mandelson) can hold a powerful government position in this day and age and most of all because the Liberal Democrat party needs him if it is not to be euthanised like an unwanted pet by the Conservatives once they tire of it.
Sadly, even though he stopped claiming expenses for the room in Lundie's house last year, we cannot believe him because it seems to us that he never needed this money and when he saw an opportunity to line his own pockets at our expense, he took it.