Friday, May 28, 2010

Breaking the Laws

The Telegraph has dropped an expenses bomb on David Laws in the first scandal of the Cameron years.
The Daily Telegraph’s Expenses Files show that between 2004 and 2007, Mr Laws claimed between £700 and £950 a month to sub-let a room in a flat in Kennington, south London. This flat was owned by the MP’s partner who was also registered as living at the property. The partner sold the flat for a profit of £193,000 in 2007.... Mr Laws’s partner then bought another house nearby for £510,000. The MP then began claiming to rent the “second bedroom” in this property. His claims increased to £920 a month. The partner also lived at the property. Mr Laws’s main home is in his Yeovil constituency. The arrangement continued until September 2009, when parliamentary records show that Mr Laws switched his designated second home and began renting another flat at taxpayers’ expense. His partner remained at the Kennington house.
Since 2006, the rules prohibited renting rooms from partners, but David has a defence to that - his partner wasn't his partner as defined by the rules.
At no point did I consider myself to be in breach of the rules which in 2009 defined partner as ‘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. However, I now accept that this was open to interpretation and will immediately pay back the costs of the rent and other housing costs I claimed from the time the rules changed until August 2009
This is splitting hairs. If Laws was claiming benefits, then he would have faced action to recover the money and potential charges for fraud. Let's look at the definitions used by HMRC, which ally closely to those used by the Benefits Agency
Membership of the same household - A couple are unlikely to live together as husband and wife unless they live in the same household. But absences caused by work, visits to relatives and the like do not mean they are not living together as husband and wife.
Stability of relationship - A couple are not living together as husband and wife if they have a very brief or occasional relationship... Life time bond is not essential.... It is enough if they intend to stay together for the foreseeable future

Financial support - In a marriage we normally find that one partner supports the other, or there is a sharing of household expenses. Where an unmarried couple also do this they are more likely to be living together as husband and wife. But the absence of these features does not prove the couple are not living together as husband and wife. After all, even a married couple can keep their financial affairs quite separate.
Sexual relationship - The couple's sexual relationship is of little help in deciding whether they live together as husband and wife. There are two reasons for this. First, there may be no sexual relations in a marriage; for example, where elderly persons marry for mutual comfort and support. Second, sexual relations occur outside marriage and outside any intention to live together as husband and wife. So their presence or absence proves little.
His defence is that
I have been involved in a relationship with James Lundie since around 2001 - about two years after first moving in with him. Our relationship has been unknown to both family and friends throughout that time.... My motivation throughout has not been to maximise profit but to simply protect our privacy and my wish not to reveal my sexuality
While it is sad that Laws has been outed in this way - and his sexuality is in no way relevant to this - this defence simply does not wash. He has gained a significant sum from the public purse and this is not acceptable. By any accepted standards, he was living with a partner and should not have claimed as he has done. If he had ceased to claim, would anyone have noticed? Would anyone have asked questions? Of course not, because who would have known and put two and two together?

So what next? There's been a very lukewarm holding statement from Downing Street:
The prime minister has been made aware of this situation and he agrees with David Laws' decision to self-refer to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.
Hardly a ringing declaration of support - I would deduce that Downing Street will see which way the media coverage goes on this story over the weekend and unless the arc of the story can be changed, David Laws needs to spend tomorrow crafting a letter of resignation. If Laws wants to save his career, he needs to sacrifice the privacy that we have paid for and start spinning, take control of the story to turn it to being about his sexuality - get an interview in a tame Sunday broadsheet about the emotional torment of concealing the reality of his feelings. That may be a step too far, a compromise too cynical for him. Scrapping the pot plants in the Treasury won't save him - his credibility in financial decision making is in tatters following this revelation and we can forgive Liam Byrne a wry smile tonight as the man who decided to make political capital from a personal letter is ho

During the election campaign, Nick Clegg painted the Liberal Democrats as whiter than white in regard to the expenses scandal, while Chris Huhne said that
"There clearly are instances where MPs have lost contact with the difference between right and wrong."
Paul Burstow, the Chief Whip commented in the past that
"The MPs’ expenses scandal is a symptom of our failed politics. Only the Liberal Democrats offer a real alternative to our failed politics."

Indeed, it is Liberal Democrat policy that MPs should work within the spirit, not just the letter of the policy and it is self-evident that this has not been the case with David Laws.

What we can be sure of is that if this had been a Labour minister, then the Tories and the Liberals would have been in full pursuit of the scalp.


phoenix said...

he partner also lived at the property. Mr Laws’s main home is in his Yeovil constituency. The arrangement continued until September 2009, when parliamentary records show that Mr Laws switched his designated second home and began renting another flat at taxpayers expense.
house rent

Anonymous said...

This story has nothing to do with Mr Laws' sexuality. The law was changed when civil partnership's were made legal. Same sex partners were given new rights but also have new responsibilities.

The real issue here is that a millionaire former investment banker claimed £40,000 illegally. he also fronts for the coalition governemtn as the mans who is slashing expenditure and telling us we have to face a era of austerity. This age of austerity was largely caused by the financial actions of millionaire investment bankers.

He should be sacked NOW. Not for being gay, not for attempting to keep is sexuality private but for being a crook.