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I fear Laws will be victim of Cameron ruthless streak

Posted on 29 May 2010 | 11:05am

I was rather hoping that we’d heard the last about MPs expenses. The election, and the huge influx of new members, alongside the new mood of ‘new politics,’ was a good break point.

So as well as being personally and politically difficult for David Laws and David Cameron, the revelations of the chief secretary’s expenses payback is an early blow in the new Parliament to politics. ‘They’re all the same’ is back in vogue rather too quickly.

I have not really looked into the detail and unlike my Christian namesake Sir Alistair Graham, who seems to pop up any time he’s asked on the back of press allegation, I don’t like piling in without knowing if all is genuinely as it seems.

So though I had my fun with Mr Laws (absence of) on Question Time, part of me is hoping there is some kind of explanation that will deny the press an early scalp, though it is hard to see what it may be.

There will be some sympathy for the notion that he did not want to be outed as gay, an open secret at Westminster but possibly something he did not want, and was entitled not to want, more widely known.

I remember when former Labour minister Nick Brown was outed by the News of the World, when ‘telling my mum’ was clearly as worrying as the political fallout. Gay rights activists may feel that people like Laws and Brown should have been open and campaigning, but I think on these really personal issues it is hard to judge without being in their shoes.

I think where Laws is in difficulty stems first from the feeling there will be that if he has given the money back, he must feel deep down he did something wrong; and even more so from the public posturing of his Prime Minister, including and indeed especially during the election campaign.

It has been hilarious to watch TweedleDave lecturing others about opportunism. The man who started yesterday making ‘the most important speech yet’ about the economy, and ended it diving into the news-leading story on the crossbow cannibal case.

The man who said his government would not be driven by the 24 hour news culture and whose comms team think they can dictate the make up of TV panels.

And the man – let us not forget this one – who in the midst of court case coverage of Labour MPs in trouble over their expenses applying for legal aid, ordered his campaign battlebus to stop, leapt off to tell a makeshift crowd (mainly of journalists) what a scandal it was and how if anything like this happened on his watch, he would deal with it prontissimo. Let’s see.

So he has his first so-called ‘scandal’ to deal with. My hunch is that the ruthless streak will prevail, and that he won’t mind too much, provided he can find a decent replacement for Laws, if people see that ruthless streak and he can present himself as a strong and decisive leader. He will see all too clearly the difficulties of two parallel tracks – a running investigation into millionaire banker Laws’ expenses, alongside Laws telling the nation to tighten its belt. He will be hearing the mutterings of Tories not too keen on Liberals, and not too liberal on homosexuality, telling him this is what happens when you jump into bed too quickly with people you don’t know too well.

A serious point here. The coalition government was put together pretty quickly. Can Cameron possibly have been aware of all the potential skeletons rattling around Lib Dem cupboards? Did TweedleNick tell him all he knew, or were the two of them just so excited to be walking down the aisle to the Downing Street rose garden?

Another problem for Laws is that he has slightly done the ‘holier than thou’ on expenses in the past; and that he looked too much like he was enjoying the hatchet role when he stood alongside George Osborne last Monday. Amid all the personal angst, over which I genuinely do sympathise, because it is horrible when personal life becomes political ‘fairgame’ he will also be feeling political hatchets being sharpened all around him.

These Tories are not the nicest people on the planet. If they judge he is damaging to their interests, he is gone. And if that is where Cameron thinks it will end, he’d be better getting on with it.

*** I’ve not read the Guardian coverage of my book yet but I do wonder why they’ve put that nine-year old Bond vilain photo on the front. It’s the one taken on the day TB postponed the 2001 election and if the photograper gets a tenner for every time it has been used, he’ll be living in Monaco by now. I imagine it has been so popular with editors because they think it makes me look a bit mean and devious. But interestingly both Fiona and my mum, without a mean or devious bone in her elderly body, rate it as one of their favourite pictures of me. I think they are better judges than most journos.

Anyway, I hope those who read it enjoy the Guardian and even more that those who get the book enjoy it too. Prelude to Power, on Amazon now, in the shops Tuesday. So they say. And am doing a slot on the Politics Show about it tomorrow.

I don’t think Andy Coulson will be asking for me to get bounced this time.

  • JC

    From a purely party political perspective (apologies for the accidental alliteration)isn’t it better for Laws to remain in place but seriously weakened? If Dick and Knave decide to jettison him then, notwithstanding the short-term embarrassmnet, they have been “tough on sleaze, tough on the casues of…etc”?.

  • Quietzapple

    Did you try to protect Jacqui Smith with so much assurance? She was driven from office and rubbished from parliament principally because she paid rent to her sister for use of a room as her home in London.

    Having his sex life unwontedly publicised isn’t even a partial exoneration of Laws’ thievery.

  • Eddy

    The conspiracy theorist inside of me wonders who could have possibly tipped the Telegraph off to this story? Surely not someone inside of Tories, eager to see off these all pesky LibDems getting in their way of total power?
    Surely not!

  • SQW@103

    Pity it wasn’t a Tory to be the first to go.

  • fugitive ink

    The reason the Grauniad went with the vintage Bond villain photo is that it’s simply a great photo – very much the Machiavellian spin-doctor arch-fiend whom we’re all supposed to think is totally deplorable, whereas in fact for many all of that has a distinct if rather transgressive appeal. Well, you did ask.

    More to the point, though, your account of l’affaire Laws is, in the main, both subtle and perceptive. One point on which I’d quibble, though. Haven’t you noticed how, when Cameron is allegedly at his most ‘ruthless’, what he’s actually doing is acquiescing with pathetic haste to whatever it is that the media tells him he must do? Real ruthlesness, I’d argue, involves sticking with your friends and your principles (hoping the two coincide at least now and then) – and as for the media, ‘publish and be damned’, as a better Tory prime minister once put it.

    And finally, roll on 1 June – I’m genuinely looking forward to ‘Prelude to Power’ in its non-Guardian-mediated form.

  • JC

    Laws IS a tory. It is alleged that Osborne almost converted him, and the irony was that he was cautious because of the Tories record on social matters, including gender and sexual orientation issues.

    I think Ac’s point about Laws being a millionaire, yet claiming didgy expenses, is well-made.

  • Dr Olu Ojedokun

    What rankles me is not the of revelation David Laws’ private life but how sanctimonious Nick Clegg and his party appeared when the expenses scandal hit.

    They made it seem the Labour Party and to the lesser extent the Tories were the guilty ones.

    At the end of the day, in the final analysis they are all broken and Clegg’s invitation for people to trust them was based on a false prospectus.

    As for the ‘condem’ coalition, sorry con-lib, people should soon be able to make up their minds as to whether they are indeed the radical alternative they have always claimed to be. But I wish them the best for the sake of this country.

  • Brian Tomkinson

    What humbug! Don’t try and pretend that you aren’t salivating at the prospect of this story running and Laws resigning. As for the Tories “not being the nicest people on the planet”, they are well behind you in that particular classification.

  • Jeff Peel

    The news that David Laws, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was ripping off the tax-payer by paying tens of thousands of pounds of rent to his partner, Jamie Lundie, takes political hypocrisy to a whole new level.

    On the one hand Laws was apparently living a lie – deliberately covering up his sexuality.

    On the other, he chose to lecture us and Whitehall on the need for fiscal prudence when he was lining his own nest with tax-payers’ money.

    However, the whole issue raises the question as to whether he was covering up his sexuality simply in order to cover-up the fact that there was rather more to the relationship with his landlord than he would have liked the fees office to have known.

    There is a sub-text within this coalition government that is all about populist “progressive” posturing – but, deep down, there is no substance or ideological decency about it.

    There is next to no social stigma associated with homosexuality any longer – especially in metrosexual Westminster. The fact that Laws chose to cover-up an important part of who he is as a person (possibly for the dubious reasons outlined above) highlights very clearly the populist/personality disconnect in modern politics. Decency and ethics are suppressed for the benefit of public perception – or to cover up inconvenient truths.

    Our political culture is now defined by people who should simply not be defining it. This 40-something, well-heeled, Metropolitan clique is suppressing all that is good about adversarial politics.

    David Laws should resign – and quickly.

  • David Brennan

    Why do you ‘fear’, Alastair?

    Protecting his private life or not, he used public finances illegally and he needs to go.

    This will of course add tensions to the coalition, Cameron sacking Laws will cause upset.

  • Sally

    Don’t waste your sympathy Alastair.
    If this was a single mum on benefits the current Govt would relish labelling her as a benefits cheat/scrounger if she was living with someone she had a sexual relationship with.
    People in glass houses…

  • Simon

    I don’t see that people can moan too much about this. We have knowingly re-elected a huge number of expense fiddlers thereby endorsing their corrupt behaviour. If you re-elect corrupt politicians you should hardly be surprised when you get more corruption.

  • 1_little_cloud

    it makes Clegg’s smug claims during the election that ‘only the Liberal Democrats remained untainted by the expenses scandal’ look foolish. While labour MPs were being hauled before the court Laws remained silent knowing all the time he had broken the rules. Laws an ass….

  • rhian

    What I don’t understand is that David Laws is always quoted as being a millionaire. Why then do these people need to claim back rent if they are already loaded? How foolish of him to risk his political career for a few thousand pounds a year if he is a millionaire…
    Am i missing something here?!

  • Alan Quinn

    A signed “Bond Villain” photo could be good fund raiser for Labour Ally! I’ll take the first one.

  • kathy

    Alistair, unfortunately this proves they are all the same. The Gay aspect does not come into it, I think he should resign at once.He is tainted forever now, which is a shame as I thought he was shaping up quite well in his new role.
    As for the comment on Jaqui Smith, she deserved everything she got. How anyone can attempt to defend her amazes me. She abused her expenses in every way and thought she could get away with it. Unfortunately she was no role model for Women in Cabinet posts either morally or on a capability level as she was one of the worst Home Secretarys we ever had.I’m sure the expenses scandal will rumble on for some time as more and more come to light. The outcome must be that politicians realise they are not elected to line their pockets at the taxpayers expense and if they do they are punished.

  • JAT

    The rules are far from clear cut. What is a “couple” short of marriage or civil partnership? What does “living together like spouses” mean ? The actual amounts claimed are bargain basement for London. The greater public good is that he stay – and that the journos should stay out of people’s bedrooms.

  • Man in Mosque

    Re David Laws : If Cameron doesn’t sack this man today , wihout fudge or allowing him to ‘step down’ , then we will be given the clearest possible signal that we are IDIOTS, TAX-SLAVES and SHEEPLE.

    How can the Police pursue a ‘single mum’ who claims a few quid on welfare with a live-in boyfriend , when LAWS claimed at least £40,000 ? And all his utility bills on top ?

    He should be sacked AND prosecuted for fraud and false-accounting.

  • olli issakainen

    It is true that markets are now sensible to government debt. The UK deficit in 2009 was £159.2bn, 11.4% of GDP. General government debt at the end of December 2009 was £950.4bn, 68% of GDP.
    The Maastricht Treaty sets deficit target of 3% and debt target of 60% in the EU countries. But debt-to-GDP ratio of over 90% is needed to slow the economic growth significantly.
    It is basic economic truth that deficit reduction is wrong when the unemployment is high. But as David Cameron outlined in his speech, deficit reduction is the focus of the new Con-Lib government. The £5.7bn cuts will slow the economic recovery. Recovery is not secure – there is a risk of a double-dip recession and second banking crisis.
    Raising taxes and cutting spending means pulling money out of the economy. This in turn means lower GDP and higher unemployment.
    Right policy should be to boost the economy and create jobs. This would result in lower unemployment and better growth in the future. Cutting jobs will not save much money. As a matter of fact, the £5.7bn cuts will cut the deficit only about £2bn.
    There is a danger that the Tories, for ideological reasons, will push for bigger cuts than necessary.
    Unregulated financial markets are not stable. Instability enables big players to make a lot of money by speculating. Sometimes instability is created on purpose. Profits of this game are always private, but when things go wrong the taxpayers pay the bill.
    And so the public debt is now a big problem. Banks caused the financial crisis. Governments had to pump money to them, and now the same banks are demanding the governments to cut public services!
    Regulation, taxes on financial sector and stability are needed. The state must have a new role to guarantee economic security. Global market forces should be harnessed to provide well-being to ordinary people. Otherwise we will see yet another meltdown in near future.
    Perhaps we need to change our entire way of life to prevent the collapse of human civilisation. Perhaps we must reject consumerism. It does not make people happy.
    It may not be enough just to rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic. The whole neoliberal paradigm must be replaced with new capitalism based on fairness. We must make a switch from a economically, politically, environmentally and morally unsustainable system to just and sustainable one.
    Neoliberalism has failed. Greed is not good. Gordon Gekko is not a hero.

    Ps. Is it wise for all the countries in Europe to implement austerity measures at the same time? Or are we in a Catch-22 situation when it comes to sovereign debt? I do understand that we cannot go back to Keynesianism because of the stagflation of the 1970s. Karl Marx appears to be a more relevant name now!

  • Boudicca

    I think Laws will survive. He is doing a good job as Chief Sec to the Treasury unlike the cretin Liam Byrne … ‘we’ve pissed all the nation’s money away (again) and are leaving you to fix the car-crash economy we’ve created.’

    Depending on the findings of the Independent Commissioner, he should offer his resignation and if offered, it should be refused.

  • Sandyman

    The scenario that seems most likely in all this is that you, Mr. Campbell, were going to “out” Mr. Laws on QT, hence the non-appearance. As to your “surprise” at the start of the programme, where did the picture at the end appear from? Perhaps you carry it with you all the time?
    More outing please….

  • Keith Nieland

    David Law’s comments on the age of austerity in relation to his personal expense claims has echos of the Msjor years of “do as I say and not as I do”. This helped undermine Major and the Dave and Nick Show could similar be undermined is the media runs with this and start digging further into the epxenses history of the coalition’s new faces.

    If I can borrow (badly) from George Orwell – we are all in the age of austerity but some of us are more in it than the rest!

  • Kieron Gavan

    The public is discovering that the LD’s are not the saintly custodians of all things pure and holy in the New Politics. They have just never faced proper scrutiny but we now know they are ‘all fur coat and dirty draws’ as they say! However, the ConDems collectively still benefit from traditional media thinking. For example, Question Time (who are to be praised for ‘outing’ the ConDem media machine) and the BBC in general, still take ‘balance’ to mean giving each of the three parties an equal ‘share of voice’. Now that two of those parties are one Government, the coalition should be given 50% share of voice collectively in BBC coverage. Continuing as before, gives Government two shots for the Opposition’s one, and given the natural media advantage a sitting government has, this is surely bad for democracy and against the BBC Charter?

    By the way … great double act from Alastair and Piers on Thursday!

  • Dan

    Big fan of yours AC, but I think you need to bear part responsibility for Laws’ no-show Thursday night. The expenses story which has just broken around Laws (along with the accompanying personal revelation) casts your blog post of 18th May in a new light. I’m talking about the piece ‘Humourless Laws facing both ways with ease’: a seemingly innocent title for the ill-informed, but a veiled nod-nudge-wink to Law’s sexuality for the political cognoscenti. I can’t imagine he’d see the funny side of this in-joke and could see the grudge easily escalating to a ‘I refuse to be on the same panel as that guy’ behind Number 10.

    That may be reading into it a touch too much. So here’s another paragraph from that blog piece:
    But there is something close to nauseating about the speed with which he has moved from arguing during the election campaign that we should not be bringing forward planned cuts to the public sector until we get proper growth in the private sector going, to his position now, that he got it all wrong and Boy George was right all along.”

    Boy George – brilliant! But clearly another little dig at Laws’ open secret, eh Alistair?

  • Baig

    Alastair, looks like there was something more to the revealing of the of the David Laws photo on Question Time.

    When I saw the news the following day I thought Alastair was trying to tell us something more!

    On a serious note, how can this man and his partners talk about “wasteful spending.” I am sick of politians treating us as fools. This should be dealt with in the most serious of ways. They are saying public sector jobs will be cut, instead of cutting someone on a £40,000 wage I think his job should be cut!

    I find it despicable that a millionaire could do this with our money. Only if they knew what life was like for those struggling.

    These guys want to be tough on single-mothers and people on sick pay for a few pounds, we should go down on them like a ton of bricks. There are two laws in this country, one for the poor and one for the rich.

  • Nicky

    @ Dan: yes, you are definitely reading too much into AC’s previous blog on David Laws. It seems pretty clear to me that what’s being referred to is Laws as simultaneously holier-than-thou LibDem, as well as the mad axeman of Tory cuts. As for the Boy George reference, that has been Gideon’s nickname for ages.

  • alan hardwick

    The reason Downing Street pulled Laws from BBC Question Time is now clear. Not because the panel included the “non-elected” Alastair Campblell but, knowing that the Laws expenses scandal was about to break at anytime, to protect Laws from the limelight.

  • SW

    * Alastair, that ‘Bond villain’ image is iconic because it sums up the public (well, media) perception of you as a schemer/puppet master. That said, it does make you look thoughtful, detached, and in control. There are worse images to be associated with!

  • Alan Dixon

    Can’t help feeling that the timing of these David Laws revalations on the front pages of the Daily Telegraph are likely connected with the anti Capital Gains Tax campagain being waged by certain Tory MPs via the pages of said Torygraph.

  • maxy

    What is shameful about this whole episode is that David Laws has used the excuse of his sexuality to cover up the deception. His holier than thou pose rings hollow now. Obviously he did not think he would be outed for this double dealing and I doubt whether he would have come clean had he not been exposed. Were he an income support claimant he would have been up before the magistrates on fraud charges. No amount of posturing by the Guardian, Ian Dale et al who have argued that David Law is far too clever to be sacked from high office, should be allowed to detract from the fact that he has lied and lied badly. He needs to go and he needs to go now. That is the honourable thing to do.

  • John

    My hunch is that Cameron will display the strong and decisive leadership, so sadly lacking in government for the last thirteen wearisome years, and suspend Laws whilst the Parliamentary Standards Committee is considering his case.

    Naturally you, AC, present this as the ruthless nature of Cameron while trotting out the specious nonsense about gay rights.

    Laws appears to have dipped his snout in the trough alongside so many of his colleagues in Parliament and if found guilty deserves to be the first M.P. sacked for misconduct.

    Incidently, were you aware of all the skeletons rattling in the cupboard when you were sctrambling around with Brown trying to hijack the Lib-Dems for your own coalition?

  • steve brundish

    Cameron will dump Laws as soon as he becomes a problem for the Tories. At present he is damaging the Lib Dems so its Clegg’s problem. Clegg stated that he was going to clean up politics and do things in a new way. Well it seems he was ether very naive or very cynical because this whole episode is very much old politics. If you add to this the leaking of the Queen’s speech, trying to bar you from question time and blaming all their cuts on the previous governement it gives a clear picture of a bunch of opportunist politians who will say anything to get into government. Clegg’s rash statements on cleaning up politics have already come to haunt him and when the cuts start to bite his boast about creating a fairer Britain will also look laughable.

  • Patrick James

    For me there are two stories in one with David Laws. I do believe him when he says that he wanted to keep his sexuality secret. Although we live in a very much more liberal society today it is true that many LGBT people still live like David Laws. This is because they have a difficulty telling the truth to their families.

    I am out to my family as a gay man but I do remember the huge hurdle that there was before telling them.

    The second part of the David Laws story is the expenses scandal of course. I think that surely he could have found some way of resolving this while at the same time not having to tell his family about his sexuality. After all his family are not surely looking into his financial affairs all the time.

    We know now that the Westminster village knew of David Laws relationship, so surely he could have said to the expenses administration people that he was living in the relationship but then asked them to keep quiet about that aspect of his life.

  • Graham Jones

    I just wonder if the Telegraph have been holding this snippet of a story back, and perhaps they have decided to take a calculated punt that the Tories won’t be damaged by this, but the Lib-dems will.
    The same way they judged, that a long serving Labour government would take the wrap for the whole expenses scandal, despite most of the house being on the fiddle. Law’s won’t survive this, because Clegg, perhaps more than Cameron, has most face to lose. The personal issues don’t cut it, not in 2010. Most people knew his sexuality, and rightly couldn’t care less. He shouldn’t be recovering expenses that he wasn’t entitled to, it’s as simple as that. If it was a genuine misunderstanding, then fair enough; but if there was any doubt he should have double checked. He must be bright enough to realise this, having got a top treasury position, but then he did work in banking, so maybe old habits die hard.

  • Trus Wrodbrochen

    Did you REALLY say:

    “The Tories have gone all cocky and decided they can start to dictate terms on which the impartial broadcasters go about their business”

    You WROTE the *** book on how to dictate terms to “impartial” broadcasters.
    Andrew Gilligan must have laughed himself to death.

    God Alastair. Do you ACTUALLY believe the s** you shovel? Surely not.

    By the way, events of the last 24 hours reveal that you were the least of David Laws’ problems.

  • George Hampshire

    Could there possibly be a link between Laws not appearing on Question Time and The Telegraph story. I wonder when he knew about the story, perhaps he was too distraught or thought Alastair might know and reveal it on air.

  • Johny C

    Alistair this blog is brillaint! Thanks for doing it, its great for all us people to get an inside line.
    Can’t wait for the new book, and by the way the photo is great, all the photos of you and TB are! Have great day, and any signings we can come too?

  • johny C

    Just looked again at that photo, got mixed up, it is brillaint!! My sister really thinks you look sexy you in it by the way!

  • Vernon Turner

    A simple thankyou Alastair for your representation of what ordinary, uncomplicated people would like from government. Just to get on with our lives, work, pay our taxes and feel protected by the State. Ignore the nonsense about an unelected Campbell. Your words are more representative for most of us than anything from Clamberon AKA Daftman and Robbin’ Thanks Alastair.

  • Teresa

    I think the pic makes you look charming, sweet-natured and a true asset to the Labour party. And indeed your mother.

  • Robert Crosby

    Yours is the most even-handed and soundest commentary on the events surrounding David Laws that I’ve read, Alastair. I agree with you both in your assessment of Laws and rent-a-quote Alistair Graham. I have heard both Matthew Parris and Iain Dale expressing their views that Laws should not have gone. I don’t think they get it at all.

  • Bar Bar of Oz

    Gawd, one can only hope public demand will get David Laws back into that job. btw – prostitution in Australia has been decriminilised for years – all by state Labor governments. I would have thought that even Mrs Rochester would have had this on the agenda if TB had squibbed it? But good to see Cameron seizing the opportunity to put the issue on the table. More Blair than Blair, apparently.

  • Steven

    Government honeymoons usually last a year or more. It feels like a years` worth of politics has happened in 3 weeks or so. Only the most genuine politicians will thrive in the next few years. That must be paramount when electing the next Labour leader.

  • Tim

    The reaction of some political commentators (and politicians) to the David Laws news is not exactly surprising, but it still annoys me. They’re so out of touch it is unreal.

    He never profited or sought to gain financially from this, we’re told, but he used the public purse to pay his partner rent, when they were living as a couple. I don’t believe his excuses for a moment. You don’t have a sexual relationship with someone for nine years without considering yourself part of a couple.

    His reason for doing this, he says, was to keep private his sexuality. Well.. the best way he could have hidden it, if he felt it necessary, was to claim nothing at all. He is a very rich man after all, who hardly needs the money.

    He’s not entitled to privacy paid for by the taxpayer and his partner is not entitled to a nice payoff from us either.

  • Paul Mellors

    I just keep replaying you winding up Adam Boulton and it gives me such joy….. Keep it up.

  • rhian777

    just thought about it some more and sorry but the conclusion is good riddance David Laws – another lying greedy toe-rag bites the dust – ah well..next?

  • John

    How refreshing! Alistair Campbell has had nothing to say since last month.