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.