When ‘ethics’ is a county in the south of England

There’s an old joke about politics – politicians are people who think that:

  • Ethics is a county in the south of England
  • Morals are paintings on plaster
  • Scruples is the Russian currency

Unfortunately it seems that this joke is rapidly becoming a reality – within 48 hours we’ve had two Chief Secretaries to the Treasury who’ve had, shall we say,  slight incongruities in their financial backgrounds.  Ignoring the red-herrings that have been tossed around about David Laws’ sexuality, the bottom line of this is that it appears that the Liberal Democrats didn’t audit the financial backgrounds of their senior members – something that both Labour and the Tories did in the aftermath of the expenses scandal.  It shouldn’t have been rocket science for the Lib Dems to do this; indeed, I would have thought that it should have been pretty easy and straight forward to achieve; after all, there were not as many LD MPs as Tory or Labour MPs, and over the years we’ve often been regaled by the Liberals with how they represent honesty and integrity against the perfidy and entrenched privilege of the other two major parties.

Well, a quick exposure to power has revealed the the LD MPs have as many financial ‘D’OH’ moments to deal with as their blue and red colleagues.

Perhaps Nick Clegg honestly never believed his MPs would play fast and loose, perhaps they genuinely didn’t think they’d done anything wrong.  Perhaps they never expected to gain power and so come under public scrutiny – but the Lib Dems are now under the same sort of withering fire from the media as Labour and Tory MPs were at the start of the expenses row.  I’ve already suggested in a previous post that Laws has bought the Coalition in to disrepute and has carried over the issues surrounding the integrity and financial probity of MPs from the last parliament in to this one.  Now that Danny Alexander appears to have dropped the ball as well, it does begin to look like there is a systemic problem at the heart of the Liberal Party which needs sorting out if they’re to retain the moral high ground they’ve previously had.

I’ve found it interesting this evening to briefly debate the issue with Liberal Democrat apologists on Twitter, whose main argument has been to try and sidestep the allegations Alexander’s financial irregularities by trying to focus attention on the tax status of the Barclay Brothers who own the Daily Telegraph, who’re publishing the Alexander information.  The difference is that the Barclay Brothers did not get elected to Government on the back of people’s despair over MP’s expenses.  Neither do they run the country.

To all members of the Liberal Democrat Party.  Fix this mess.  Audit your people, come clean, accept that some of your folks have issues that need addressing and address them.  Don’t try and bullshit us with claims of homophobia (for Laws) or feeble attempts to blame the messenger (for Alexander).  I hope that the Alexander issue IS something out of nothing, and that the situation is satisfactorily explained to us over the next day or so.

But let’s just say I’m not holding my breath.  In the meantime, how many Liberal Democrat MPs are left who can take the job on?

Why I’m fucking furious with David Laws….

A little history.

One of the reasons why there has been radical political change in the UK in the last year is that the British people have finally started getting truly fed up with MPs on the ‘gravy train’ who seem to prosper whilst the rest of the country goes down the plughole.  Until 2006, it was legitimate for MPs to pay expenses / rents / fees etc. to their partners or family members.  A change in the rules then stated that you could no longer do that.

David Laws fell foul of this by virtue of the fact that between 2004 and 2009 Mr Laws claimed money back from the State – that is, us – to pay rent to his partner a total of around £40,000.  I think it’s safe to say that had this been a story involving a couple of jobless folks claiming benefits there wouldn’t be an issue of paying the money back right now – it would be more likely to be an issue of someone spending a year at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

At first glance, Laws appears to have either been incompetent with money (never good for someone tasked with the job of implementing Government cuts) or dishonest (equally a bit of a downer for someone in that job…)   And then it gets complicated – apparently the actual reason for the…misunderstanding….involving the expenses was that laws was actually gay, and he was trying to keep this quiet for respect of his and his partner’s privacy.

To date I’ve been impressed with the Coalition – both their politics and the way they’ve been implementing them. But the Coalition has come to power with a whole host of ‘issues’ around it – there are folks in both parties who don’t want it to work,  Labour are waiting for errors to exploit and people are expecting a lot from the new Government.  What folks are not wanting is a return to parliamentary expenses problems – especially when it features someone who’re responsible for implementing serious, albeit necessary, cuts.

  • Laws – this is why I am bloody angry with you.  I find it VERY difficult to believe that you:
  • Didn’t appreciate that your private life was going to be public at some point in the last year or so. 
  • Chanced your arm by carrying on claiming after the rule change.
  • Were hard-up enough to need to claim the rent back at all.
  • Didn’t realise that it would all come out if you became a frontbench Minister, especially in the Treasury.

It’s inevitable that whoever implements the Coalition’s Treasury policy needs to be pretty much whiter than white – or at least as white as any politician can be these days -for whatever reasons Laws didn’t meet this criterion. 

Whether he thought he was working within the rules or not, he wasn’t.  He’s now given an open-goal to opposition to the Coalition within the Tory Party, the Liberals and New Labour.  Personal hubris has yet again laid waste a political career, but with potentially bad implications for the country.

And that’s why I’m so fucking angry with Laws – he’s managed to drag the bad issues of the last Parliament through in to this one, distracting people away from the really major issues of getting the UK back on it’s feet after a decade of mis-rule.