UK coalition's first sex/money scandal

Lib Dem policy and financial whiz-kid David Laws has become the shortest serving cabinet minister in modern British history.

He gained a double first in economics from Cambridge, was a vice president at JP Morgan aged 22 and a millionaire by 28. Aged 29 he gave all this up to become economic adviser and then Director of Policy and Research to the Liberal Democrats (likely to be rewarding neither in money or power), ultimately becoming an MP in 2001. He’s on the economically liberal right of the party, seen by some as giving them greater credibility in financial matters and was fundamental in negotiating the coalition and giving the Tories confidence in the Liberals. He became Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Cutmeister General) and though something of a Gladstonian liberal in favour of lower public spending, he describes himself as a progressive and when offered a job on the Conservative front bench a couple of years ago said “I am not a Tory, and if I merely wanted a fast track to a top job, I would have acted on this instinct a long time ago.”

Since 2006 it has been illegal to rent accommodation from partners.

Last week the Torygraph revealed that from 2004 to 2009 he’d claimed up to £40,000 in second home expenses for renting a room in his partner’s house in London, not declaring the relationship in order to keep his homosexuality a secret (from family as much as from the media, who probably all knew anyway), coming as he did from a conservative Catholic background. Apparently close friends and family didn’t know (officially) and this time last week he described himself as single in an interview with The Times. Apparently he moved in with his partner, a fellow Lib Dem adviser in about 1999 and only fell in love with him 2 years later.

He rightly, and wisely, resigned quickly and there has been speculation that if he wants to, there will be a route back before too long. He was described by someone as “smart, sharp, talented and born for the Treasury job”.

Had he not claimed, people may have asked why the other guy was putting him up for free. Had he rented or bought elsewhere, he could have claimed more. So it seems in order to remain in the closet, he allowed himself to believe that having separate bank accounts and separate social lives meant that they weren’t officially partners (that does for me and my wife!).

It’s a sad story. Personally, I believe his fear clouded his judgment in terms of the right and the expedient thing to do at an earlier point, for which I would not be overly judgmental. I don’t for one moment believe he was in it for the money.

However, the fact that the man who was going to be cutting all kinds of jobs and benefits was able to write a cheque for £40,000 at a moment’s notice, and that he was submitting utility expenses in round figures of £100 that suddenly dropped to under £37 once receipts were required. This doesn’t bother me so much a matter of probity as a matter of empathy with the people who would have been affected by his cuts.

As was the case with Cameron, it will be interesting to see how personal tragedy affects his politics. Unless he chooses to bow out (return to the City?), I think he’ll be back. He’s too talented and has a lot of people’s sympathy.

The question is, how bad was what he did?

£40,000 of public money bad. More than enough to deserve resignation.

Considering his affluent background, he didn’t even need to claim such expenses. I can understand people claiming expenses (not incorrectly mind you) when they come from modest backgrounds and need the money. But people that are independently wealthy? They should donate part of it to charity and not worry about billing the petty expenses.

His cheating sets a bad precedent for his finance-related position—he was correct to resign.

That is, £40,000 of public money he was entitled to, up until the point where his friend/boyfriend became his partner, which being in denial already, he found easy to deny to himself and keep quiet from everyone else.

He would have been entitled to at least this much if he’d rented from anyone else, or bought a second home. He used the expenses as a tool to stay in the closet, while at the same time living with his partner.

As for means testing MPs expenses, I’m not sure it could or should work, but he would have been a lot better off if they had been means tested - he wouldn’t have got any expenses and any financial arrangements with his landlord (and therefore his relationship) would have remained private.

The point of expenses is to allow an MP from the very north of Scotland (500 miles, twice a week), to get the same recompense as the MP for Westminster who can walk to work. Salaries are not means tested, nor are London Allowances. The question of whether social security benefits should be means tested is another question that should be looked at independently.

There are possible other solutions such as a flat rate allowance for MPs beyond 50 miles or so from London (but if MPs were commuting every day they’d have to change the working hours to more normal ones). Or a block of flats with each MP allocated one - though this would increase their isolation from the real world in the Westminster bubble.

I see no need for a means test for receiving a housing allowance, and good reason for equitable, across the board compensation.

[quote=“fruitloop”]That is, £40,000 of public money he was entitled to, up until the point where his friend/boyfriend became his partner, which being in denial already, he found easy to deny to himself and keep quiet from everyone else.

He would have been entitled to at least this much if he’d rented from anyone else, or bought a second home. He used the expenses as a tool to stay in the closet, while at the same time living with his partner.[/quote]
Excuses. All he need to do was stop cashing the cheques. He chose to improperly enrich his partner at public expense. That choice alone ought to disqualify him from government.

What is it with gay Liberal MPs and hung parliaments? (cf. Jeremy Thorpe)

A multi-millionaire politician claimed a pot of money from the public purse that he was not entitled to.

Sound familiar?

This sort of corruption only happens in Third World countries of course. Not dear old Blighty. Oh no.

Why aren’t these people being prosecuted under the Theft Act 1968, s.1?

[Anyone who] obtains property belonging to another with intention to permanently deprive thereof [shall be guilty of an offence under this Act], or somesuch blether.

obtains [check] property [money] belonging to another [the Treasury] with intention [he applied for it] to permanently [it’s not a loan] deprive thereof [check]

Open and shut case. It’s not even fraud. It’s straight theft. (Lying on your mortgage application is fraud. Isn’t that right, Lord Mendelaciousness?)

[quote=“Chewycorns”]Considering his affluent background, he didn’t even need to claim such expenses. I can understand people claiming expenses (not incorrectly mind you) when they come from modest backgrounds and need the money. But people that are independently wealthy? They should donate part of it to charity and not worry about billing the petty expenses.

His cheating sets a bad precedent for his finance-related position—he was correct to resign.[/quote]He was paid £65,738 as an MP, not a small amount. Ministers get £134,565, but he wasn’t one for long. Or do you mean they should use that for expenses like the rest of us do? Maggie Thatcher famously only drew an minister’s salary instead of a prime minister’s salary.

I suspect because it wouldn’t stand up, mainly because claiming for something you’re not entitled to is not theft.

Breaking parliamentary rules is not necessarily the same as breaking the law. It’s against the rules to call someone a liar in the House (for which I believe you can be barred) - but that’s certainly not a criminal offence. If there’s a criminal offence involved, expect an interested party, if not the DPP, to pursue it pretty quickly. In the meantime, he has referred himself to the independent Parliamentary Commissioner (presumably this means he’ll accept his judgment), said he did wrong, and resigned from his job.

At least a couple of MPs from the last parliament are being prosecuted for committing criminal offences. There is a difference between between committing criminal offences (which said MPs did) and breaking the rules (which many more did) and then again the fairly dodgy claims that were actually within the rules and OKed by the Fees Office (which even more did). That’s your answer.

What he did is fairly small beer compared to what some of the MPs were doing before the scandal broke last summer. The actions of others being worse is no defence of course and he has admitted it was wrong.

In the current atmosphere, he is more likely to be excessively harshly judged than let off lightly. That may be the price he pays for the excesses of the last House and the present one’s attempts to clean things up.

I hope that fiddling expenses, claiming for taxis, meals, whatever, on the company when not strictly justified, will now become socially unacceptable - it’s certainly not confined to the political classes.

[quote=“Big Fluffy Matthew”][quote=“Chewycorns”]Considering his affluent background, he didn’t even need to claim such expenses. I can understand people claiming expenses (not incorrectly mind you) when they come from modest backgrounds and need the money. But people that are independently wealthy? They should donate part of it to charity and not worry about billing the petty expenses.

His cheating sets a bad precedent for his finance-related position—he was correct to resign.[/quote]He was paid £65,738 as an MP, not a small amount. Ministers get £134,565, but he wasn’t one for long. Or do you mean they should use that for expenses like the rest of us do? Maggie Thatcher famously only drew an minister’s salary instead of a prime minister’s salary.[/quote]

I’m saying considering the money he already banked from his lucrative City job, why the need to even claim such an expense? These expenses were claimed when he was a backbencher, but I agree with giving them raises and then doing away with the whole expenses reporting, allowances etc. Too much room for abuse.

Have you seen how thick the book is on expenses they provide to new MPs in the UK? Thicker than a dictionary :laughing: And it’s not like politicians read everything that’s given to them, is it? :laughing: In any case, if you’ve got millions of pounds banked from private sector success, why be such a compartmentalized miser? If he cared so much about money, he should have stayed in the private sector. You enter public service to serve. The Roman elite knew it, but modern day Brits don’t?

Living in London, travelling hundreds of miles per week in order to do a job in two places and maintaining two homes is expensive. It’s reasonable that the transport and the minor (2nd) home should be paid for.

This would make London MPs considerably better off than those who travel hundreds of miles twice a week.

The point is, he didn’t care about the money. He did enter the public service to serve - on a £15,000 PA salary unlikely to ever gain power to do anything other than develop policy for a party with no power. Even within politics, if he was interested in power, he could have joined the Tories years ago.

The reason he claimed, is that not claiming anything for living in a friend/associate’s house might look particularly odd, and raise eyebrows he did not want to be raised. And I can accept that, in his paranoid state, he may not have acted quite as rationally as his famous intelligence suggests he should have.

[quote=“fruitloop”]The reason he claimed, is that not claiming anything for living in a friend/associate’s house might look particularly odd, and raise eyebrows he did not want to be raised. And I can accept that, in his paranoid state, he may not have acted quite as rationally as his famous intelligence suggests he should have.[/quote]All perfectly possible. But I tend to more readily accept such explanations when they don’t conveniently align with other possible, simpler explanations. Such as, “Eh, it’s a few quid out of the public purse. No one’s going to miss it. You might as well have a share.”

Incidentally, who here follows the letter of the tax law, declares every cash in hand private, puts the figures right when their school declares wages and hours inaccurately, doesn’t work in illegal kindergartens, etc?

Some might feel slightly bad about it but do nothing, some make excuses to themselves (bad government, not my country, everyone else does it), others may not care.

The law applies to all, not just the famous.

This guy was a multi-millionaire hedge fund manager, retired at 28. This makes his crime even more galling.

Margaret Thatcher was minted. Her hubby was a gazillionaire.

Cameron has two very expensive homes. His wife is the daughter of a baron. They are reckoned to be worth 40 million quid. He took out a mortgage on one home he had paid for previously in full and in cash simply to avail of the mortgage relief.

Millionaires with their noses in the trough. Their appalling greed makes it very hard for MPs who actually need those expenses to fulfil their duties as MPs.

The Theft Act 1968 defines the word “theft” in its first section. If it fits that definition, it is ipso facto, theft.

The issue here I suspect is “intention to permanently deprive thereof”. Anyway, let it go to court, I say.

[quote=“fruitloop”]Incidentally, who here follows the letter of the tax law, declares every cash in hand private, puts the figures right when their school declares wages and hours inaccurately, doesn’t work in illegal kindergartens, etc?

Some might feel slightly bad about it but do nothing, some make excuses to themselves (bad government, not my country, everyone else does it), others may not care.

The law applies to all, not just the famous.[/quote]
Come on, fruitloop, brush up on your justice literature.
“With great power, comes great responsibility.”
It’s entirely reasonable to hold the guardians and legislators of the public (which is the point, not fame or riches) to a stricter standard than Joe Blow.

So you’re justifying tax dodging by Joe Blow?

Then everyone is free to interpret themselves whether they are a regular Joe Blow. No one voluntarily promotes themself into the class of people who “are obliged to actually obey the law”.

That was part of David Laws problem. He made excuses to himself (not to others since he didn’t make it public or declare it) about the nature of the relationship, being more casual than it really was. He told himself he wasn’t making any money out of it, since he could claim more money by perfectly honest means (renting or buying somewhere himself, where presumably his partner would be quite free to stay).

Make no mistake, I do not excuse breaking the rules, and neither has he. I do however accept that there is moral complexity here and that few people have never claimed anything they weren’t entitled to. I also believe some sympathy for someone who has been carrying the “dirty secret of his sexuality” on his shoulders all his life, is in order.

Smoking pot is breaking the law. Full stop. It may be a wrong law, and it may not seriously harm others. But it is breaking the law. If you believe the law is utterly sacrosanct, then smoking pot makes you a hypocrite. Only alternative is to say the law is not utterly sacrosanct. I’ve smoked pot at some point in my life. I’ve broken the law. Therefore I either don’t believe the law is utterly sacrosanct or I’m a hypocrite. Same goes for taxes. In the case of taxes, there are difficult situations where you would end up out of a job if you declared what your employer actually paid you. This doesn’t go for cash in hand privates. Personally, I am not whiter than white and I’m not going to throw the first stone.

Anyone whose taxes are a grey area, should at very least be honest to themselves about it.

Nope, not justifying it. Merely recognizing that those with their hands on the levers of power need be prepared to come clean. The perception of illegality, or just the flaunting of rules, by legislators or enforcement officials is highly corrosive. As such, the effects of their actions have far more serious consequences than similar offences by private citizens.

Which is why he resigned pending investigation.

Any criticism should be made in the light of what he has to say.
http://www.thisissomerset.co.uk/news/Secret-brought-Treasury-star/article-2265585-detail/article.html

I think he comes out reasonably well and it is unfair to judge him without reading it.

It’s clear that he lived in a different world in various ways, thinking that they were only partners within the four walls of their home. But he was wrong.

It’s also clear that he wasn’t on the take because he moved into a room in this guy’s house and reasonably paid him rent, he (presumably) started sleeping with him and quite rightly, nothing changed with the rent, the relationship got more serious and it was still within the rules. Only when the rules changed in 2006 is he culpable. And by that time, fear and inertia got the better of him and he was in the wrong.

Similar violations in Canada. I wonder if Iggy will sanction his Liberal colleague. Definitely not–they’ll probably promote her within the party structure. :laughing:

Disagree with the Cons [Prentice] on this as well. I don’t think the system has been working…like the British system, too open for abuse.