Well, there’s a title I never thought I’d find myself writing. I’d barely heard of Laws until he emerged first as a significant figure in the coalition negotiations and then as chief secretary to the Treasury, but what I had seen I hadn’t liked: someone who gave every appearance of being a dessicated calculating machine, outflanking even George Osborne in his eagerness to implement public spending cuts with what David Aaronovitch memorably described as “an avidity bordering on the erotic”.
And now his world has fallen apart. And to my considerable surprise I feel sorry for him, and for the first time find myself actually rather liking the guy. Suddenly it becomes apparent that the reason he appeared less than human was because he felt it necessary (tragically, unnecessarily) to hide a central part of his humanness from the world.
First off, even if one doesn’t find it particularly admirable for him to claim reimbursement for rent charged by his partner – and let’s face it, it’s not like Laws needed the money – it was clearly within the rules for him to do so when he started doing so.
When the rules changed to prevent MPs claiming for rent charged by their spouses, partners or close family members, I can imagine Laws finding himself in a terrible bind: should he stop claiming the rent – and thus reveal the true nature of his relationship to his colleagues and the outside world – or find some way to interpret the rules so that he could continue claiming? Well, he went for the latter option: and now he is facing the consequences of that decision.
But it’s still far from clear that his interpretation of the rules was invalid, let alone that he deliberately, even criminally, flouted them. If the rules have loopholes or are ambiguous, blame the people who wrote the rules.
In short, this isn’t a story of “snouts in the trough” or financial greed. This is a story of human complexity, of an intelligent but clearly very private man making what turn out to have been spectacularly counterproductive decisions to preserve a secret that surely didn’t need to be kept secret any more (as Tony Grew points out in his utterly superb, must-read post on the subject).
I don’t care for David Laws’s policies or his enthusiasm for cuts with barely any apparent recognition of the human consequences. But I certainly don’t want to see him become the victim of yet another self-righteous, media-driven, Twitter-fuelled, Girardian public lynching.
So I hope he survives this; I hope he can (as Tony Grew puts it) “step out into that new sunshine” created by the pro-gay policies of Tony Blair and New Labour and “escape his former life of concealment” – and I hope that it makes him a better, more human, politician. Because in the end that will benefit all of us, given the influence that will be wielded by him (or whoever holds his office) over the next year or two.
Update: regrettably (but perhaps inevitably), David Laws has now resigned. Here is his resignation letter. It seems to me to show real integrity – as well as real pain and anguish.