So David Laws, architect of the Orange Book movement, believer in economic prudence and smaller state spending, and vociferous critic of those who abuse the expenses system, is having a week off work as punishment for claiming £56,000 dishonestly from the state on expenses.
Many of you may have recalled that I blogged on this last year when it became clear that Laws had indeed dishonestly claimed expenses. In my blog I called for him to go, and was greeted by Coalitionistas insisting he should stay. Though all the facts were there, they insisted there was no wrong doing.
What’s become clear in last 24 hours is that there has indeed been wrong-doing, and as a result David Laws has been punished by the parliamentary authorities. This was followed by Laws’ statement to the house where he admitted his wrong-doing and accepted full responsibility for his ‘mistakes’, though whether deception is a mistake is questionable. Regardless, Laws’ guilt is without question, he has been found to be dishonest and has admitted it.
My question is, does this cover the full extent of his wrong-doing?
Laws has claimed that he set up his finances in order to maintain his privacy. Any fool knows that anything you want kept private you keep off the books. However, I’m just not buying that argument anyway, the more I learn about this incident the more convinced I am that Laws has much more of a case to answer, as do those who conducted the investigation.
One of the primary defences of Laws is that he would have spent £30k more had he correctly claimed for his Yeovil home. However, this uses the mortgage repayments AFTER he had re-mortgaged his house in order to ‘gift’ his partner £99,000 in order to purchase a house, the same house Laws moved into and paid rent way over market value (as accepted by Laws) on the taxpayer’s tab. Talk about fudging the numbers.
What would that figure have been if Laws had not re-mortgaged in order to pay for the London property.
Regardless, does it sound to anyone else a lot like this was essentially a house that Laws truly shared with his partner but that he kept his name off the deeds to cook the books?
Laws wasn’t just paying his partner who he was staying with. Keeping his property down in Yeovil, he was able to build asset wealth within his relationship on the back of the taxpayer. Now I know a lot of MPs build asset wealth on expenses, the rights and wrongs are for another time, but don’t tell us that this is in any way the ‘honourable’ thing to do.
Does anyone actually believe that the deeds wouldn’t be changed once Laws had left politics? Or that financial reparations would not have been made were the couple to split? Let’s just think about the figure, £99,000.
This is the age-old trick of putting stuff in your partner’s name. It is a fiddle.
Also, the time-line doesn’t support his story. The rules changed in 2006 to prevent MPs renting from partners. According to the report by the Standards & Privileges committee, Laws re-mortgaged his Yeovil home in 2007 in order to buy the London property. Surely this was the point when they moved into the property, thereby giving him a perfectly reasonable juncture in order to change his stated 2nd home without raising any suspicion?
None of this adds up to supporting his reasoning for his deception, which is why I’m also keen to see a tax accountant’s evaluation of Laws’ finances, were there any ‘tax efficiencies’ of him working it this way? I think it’s already pretty clear that the £30k figure that he could have claimed doesn’t factor in his remortgaging, but I want to know if there are any tax burdens he has avoided or loopholes exploited.
He has already admitted his dishonesty so we need to see cold, hard proof that the taxpayer did indeed get a better deal (laughable as a defence anyway), because frankly I have a strong suspicion that if we looked at the couple’s finances over all, this is not the case.
I keep coming back to this point on twitter, but how would a benefit claimant be treated if they pulled off something even a 10th as dodgy?
I want to see Laws investigated and punished properly. This doesn’t mean jail, just because I’m a proper pinko liberal who hates the prospect of people going to jail (rather than a libertarian squatting in a formerly Liberal party). No, I can’t call for someone to be jailed, but Laws should be kicked out of politics for his dishonesty.
For it is here that UK politics is getting it wrong. The public see a man who fraudulently helped his partner pay off a mortgage, paid builders and phones bills by claiming £56,000 in expenses he shouldn’t be claiming, they see this man being given a punishment of a week off work, they see the entire Westminster establishment and political hacks telling them that this is an ‘honourable’ man. This is what Westminster calls an honourable man? How on earth are the public supposed to react to that?
They couldn’t do more to damage public trust in politics if they tried. The public see this as dirty politics, and it’s dealing with the likes of Laws in an appropriate fashion that would draw a line under the expenses scandal and begin to heal public perceptions of British politics, not daft referendums on voting systems no-one wants.
Let’s not forget the deceit, Laws was one of the most vociferous attackers of those involved in the expenses scandal, he made great gestures to prove he was better than Labour & the Tories. His tub-thumping has now been proven to be demonstrably not true, and Laws is now a major part of the chip-chip-chipping away at public trust in politics.
So in order to restore trust Laws must face a proper investigation, we must see his books, and he must be properly punished. Punishment should mean an end of a political career, or at very least a recall for his constituents. Indeed, thus far the CPS seem to be operating in a partisan fashion, surely the CPS need to take a look at this case, with Laws having admitted his wrong-doing, to see if he has charges to answer.
The political establishment needs to stop toadying around Laws, Labour (if you can call Frank Field that), Tories and Lib Dems need to stop making excuses and start looking at the facts and start condemning Laws. I’ve yet to see a Coalitionista condemn Laws yet, are we to believe that they all universally buy the privacy gambit, or is this tribal politics at its worst? So I call on Tories and Lib Dems reading this to open their minds and make an assessment based on the facts.
And finally, serious questions have to be asked of those responsible for the investigation. Why weren’t they looking at:
– The timeline that gave Laws the opportunity to maintain his privacy
– The £99,000 gift essentially making it Laws’ property in all but name
– The claim that Laws overpaid rent based on incompetence rather than greed
Finally, what kind of investigation accepts someone’s excuse that they wanted to protect their privacy, seemingly without any further digging.
This whole episode has left a very sour taste in the mouths of many, and whilst I’m sure the Coalition want this swept under the carpet so they can get their prodigal son back on the front-line, it’s clear that there’s no way this should be ‘case-closed’. Even my amateurish digging has thrown up a number of serious questions that need answering, what would a thorough investigation by those skilled throw up?
In order to save politics from complete indifference, or worse, total distrust, we need to see Laws and those like him who would abuse our system be properly investigated and handed appropriate punishments. The question is, is Westminster ‘New Politics’ enough to do it?