Category Archives: Liberals

The Laws of New Politics (have a decent excuse and fudge the numbers)

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?

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Filed under Activists, AV, Campaign, ConDems, Conservatives, David Laws, Election, Expenses, FibDems, Hompophobia, Labour, Lib Dems, Liberals, Libertarians

AV; a No Vote From a ‘Meh’ Man

This May the British electorate face a choice as to whether they want to keep FPTP or adopt the AV system of elections for members of the lower chamber. Overall this as exciting a decision as helping Ken Barlow choose a tie, but the campaign has become a bit heated lately and wherever I sense an argument I’m straight in, as regular readers will well know (all one of you – hello mum).

The whole premise of the debate is being framed by ‘Yessers’, they will to you that AV represents a ‘fairer’ vote. They will tell you that AV is fairer, it is more democratic and as we get closer to the vote in May, that you’ll be more attractive to the opposite sex (probably).
In 2011, after a year of abuse the word ‘fair’ has about as much meaning as the word ‘progressive’ and an apology from Richard Keys. ‘Fairness’ as a concept is bloodied, bruised and begging to be left left alone, but still Yessers can sometimes talk like they have a monopoly on fairness.

However, let’s look at it this way, if you give everyone of voting age one vote each, with the candidate that gets the most votes winning, that sounds like a pretty fair type of democracy to me.

Some people live in areas that have large populations of voters for a single party, but that is democracy. It does not mean a vote has less value, it just means that in democratic terms that constituency/region should return a candidate for that party. In fact, if we want fairness shouldn’t we be giving candidates with bigger majorities a larger vote in parliament? (No, of course we shouldn’t)

It’s simply not the case that AV is fairer, as there is no set definition of fairness. What AV is, is an attempt by those who don’t like the results they get to change the system in their favour. If voters are too bunched up do something about boundaries (more on that later), do not chuck away a perfectly democratic system.

We need also to think about the potential results that we could have. We could end up (indeed we will end up) in a situation where a candidate who has the most votes is beaten by candidate who has mopped up second & third choices etc. How is it fair that the candidate who is wanted by the most constituents does not win the seat to someone who is no.2?

This is the real reason the Lib Dems want AV, it is not for fairer votes or to be more democratic, it is because they know they will benefit the most from 2nd options at a national level. A Tory is unlikely to put Labour as their 2nd option, they are likely to put a Lib Dem, a Labourite is unlikely to put a Tory as their 2nd option, they are likely to put a Lib Dem (bit less now I assume). The Lib Dems will campaign hard for AV because they believe it is they who will benefit most by mopping up 2nd options and this must be prevented.

If it were about democracy, do we believe they’d be going for AV in the lower chamber? Like it or not, the lower chamber IS democratic. If the Lib Dems cared so much about democracy, if they cared about reform would they not have held out when they were in a massively strong position during the coalition negotiations to have forced through real reform?

Why tinker with the lower democratically elected chamber whilst we still have the House of Lords? Much as Yessers will tell you that anyone against AV is a dinosaur, I want real reform to our parliament. I want a fully elected upper house, I’d also like to see the monarchy replaced, or at least having all political power (even ceremonial) stripped away (the latter is unlikely I know). We live in a society where many of those who make our laws are unelected, but we want to mess around with the elected lower house? Someone’s taking the piss. This is a fop to reform, designed basically to somehow draw a line under the expenses scandal, designed to essentially keep everything the same in Westminster, keep the Lords sitting, keep the whole thing ticking along much as it was before, when in the electorate there is a real hunger for change. I’d go so far as to say that not only is AV no fairer, it’s actually an insult to the electorate to offer up such a miserly reform, to waste tax-payer’s money like this. AV is a clever distraction from the real problems of Westminster politics. A no vote is the only possible answer to such an insult.

‘But if you vote no there’ll not be any future reform’ the yessers will tell you. Real reform is already dead, for a parliament at least. Real reform died when it was allowed off the negotiating table when the coalition was being formed, it was so easily put to one side one has to wonder if it was ever a real objective for those negotiating. Does anyone believe after what looks set to be a spiteful campaign about something that the electorate simply don’t care about that the same electorate will have any stomach for another referendum? When the press go to town on what a huge waste of money the referendum has been will there be any politician who will stand up and say ‘encore’?

No, reform, for this parliament, has been killed stone dead, it’s in the ashes of the purple ‘revolution’ of the election and it makes me angry that we’ll have yet another few years of unelected cronies being given jobs for the boys and having a say on our lives.

(Obviously, the real reform many yessers want is full PR, the fact that FPTP has worked relatively well for hundreds of years, is democratic and has never returned some God-awful extremist government and by and large keeps extremist candidates out of parliament is to be ignored. No, yessers want full PR, because many yessers are Lib Dems and Lib Dems like PR because it would give them the constant balance of power. PR isn’t being discussed but I raise it because it’s part of the debate. One day I’ll write a fuller blog on it, one day, maybe…)

Let’s not forget that AV, this vast step forward in democracy has been bundled in with a direct and unhidden attack on democracy. The bill for the referendum has been bundled up with a guillotine of 50-odd MPs from parliament, the reason is vague, ‘we need to level out boundaries’ (why? Different constituencies are very different, even the geography can impact on the MP’s role) ‘we need to save money’ is the other one you’ll hear, whilst exactly 50 new unelected Lords were sworn into the other chamber (this is actually amazing in its breath-taking arrogance). I may be stupid but more representation feels more democratic to me.

It stinks doesn’t it?

What else stinks has been the nasty, spiteful Yes2AV campaign, which has not only had to fire people for making islamophobic jokes in support of AV (I shit you not) but the campaign has so far been a consistent barrage of abuse, making out that anyone who is against AV is against democracy, against fairness, against reform, is stuck in the past, is a dinosaur, even linking no2av with such shits as Nick Griffin (again, I’m not joking). The vote isn’t until May and the yessers have got to this phase already.

The effect of this negative campaigning has been very real, it has changed me from being a simple no to AV with a big ‘meh’ to the whole thing, to a firm campaigner for the no camp.

One of my other major problems with AV is that for many Westminster is already too consensual, many don’t feel they have any real options. AV will help make Westminster even more one-dimensional. It will mean that candidates will spend too much time playing to second option voters more than their core vote, whose votes they will feel they can count on. It’ll be the bland leading the bland (well, only leading once you’ve factored in 2nd and 3rd votes). This is the exact opposite of what we want right now. The major parties have to be able to display their differences or we are at real risk of seeing swathes of voters move to the fringes. AV could well lead to those extremists doing well in the longer term as mainstream candidates become more homogenised, more like eachother, more bland to avoid dropping 2nd votes. I think that’s pretty bad for democracy myself, and it’s another reason I’ll be voting no.

The final consideration is more of a happy accident really, voting no will give Clegg a bloody nose, it will take us closer to a world we once again have a socially liberal Lib Dem party and much as it’s no reason to vote against AV, it’s an enjoyable extra benefit.

Let’s not get too hysterical because the electorate frankly don’t care, but join me in May in voting No 2 AV. Join me in giving those who would insult the electorate with this fop, this sorry little compromise, a slow clap for throwing away the chance for real reform. But mostly join me in holding the whole thing in the disdain it deserves.

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Filed under Activists, AV, Cameron, Campaign, Civil Liberties, ConDems, Election, Expenses, Labour, Lib Dems, Liberals, Meh2AV, No2AV, Voting Reform, Yes2AV

I Fought The Laws…

Obviously, it’s imperative for the good of all mankind that I give my opinion on David Laws so I’m going to.

He has to go.

David Laws is in a long-term relationship and renting a room from his partner, this is against the rules, it’s dishonest, and I consider this to be fraudulent even if the law doesn’t agree with me.

£40,000 isn’t a huge amount of money in the grander scheme of things, but helping your partner pay their mortgage at the tax payer’s expense whilst literally millions of Londoners can’t afford to get on the property ladder is not acceptable.

Keeping one’s relationship a secret is no reason for financial dishonesty, and as many have pointed out, if he were claiming benefits he’d now find himself on the wrong side of the law with a fine and a prison sentence: http://benefitfraud.blogspot.com/2010/02/slow-investigation-of-single-person.html .  In his statement, he says that he was motivated by his desire for privacy, not greed, but surely if this was the case he would have simply not claimed? He could certainly afford not to claim.

His position as one of the key protagonists in government cuts is completely untenable, he now has no credibility to ask the British public to tighten their belts, and this level of financial irregularity should mean that he’s never let near any kind of budget again, let alone the giant excel spreadsheet of the UK Government.

What’s worse though, is that this was an MP who campaigned vociferously on a ‘clean politics’ ticket, as part of a Liberal Democrat party that claimed it was ‘different’, was ‘clean’,  and would introduce a ‘new politics’.  Laws himself claimed to be whiter than white, criticized other MPs and then even went on to use the Yoevil Lib Dems’ website to boast about the fact that, unlike other MPs, he had not had to pay back any of his expenses: http://www.yeovil-libdems.org.uk/news/press/1305.htm – a boast he made knowing that it was dishonest, knowing that he was breaking the rules.

Laws has failed the test of honesty, of probity and of transparency, his theft of £40,000 to line his partner’s pockets means he has to go.  If Cameron and Clegg fail to take action this will be a double failure of ‘new politics’, and will quickly take the shine off this coalition.

This brings me on to the ConDems.  It’s been interesting to see how cosy the cheerleaders are for both parties. Tories hacks and bloggers have rushed to Laws’ aid, even having the audacity to brand those criticising Laws as homophobic (in the same week that Grayling was elevated to the Privvy Council and IDS appointed Stroud as an aide). 

It’s the behaviour of the Lib Dem activists that has disappointed me most.  The Liberals bandy words like ‘tribalism’ around on a regular basis, particularly at Labour supporters. Yet I’ve not seen a single Liberal Democrat admit that Laws has done anything wrong.  Their defences of Laws have included the following:

Laws wanted to protect his privacy
I can understand that Laws may not have wanted to reveal details of his relationship to the public, or to some family and friends, and though society has moved on in terms of sexual equality (props to Labour deserved), even I know people who have kept their sexuality from family members.  So I do sympathise. But if you want to keep your partnership private you should keep your partner off the accounts.  You do not help him generate asset wealth by having the tax payer contribute towards his mortgage.

Also, the issue of privacy is one that everyone entering politics must surely consider? One of the reasons that I pause before throwing myself into a high profile political life is because I value my privacy (and because I’m a dislikeable twat).

And then consider the privacy of a benefit claimant? There isn’t a tick box for ‘private’ under living status on any of the benefits forms as far as I know.  The only solution for the plebs that may want to maintain privacy is to simply not claim, which brings me onto…

Laws Had To Do This So He Didn’t Out Himself
I’m absolutely convinced that this is not the case.  Firstly, he could simply have not claimed, he can certainly afford to and this would be the only way out for someone on the breadline living on benefits.  However, there must have been another solution, but none of these solutions would have seen him lining his partner’s pockets with £40,000.

Laws Was Saving Tax Payers Money
This is total and utter bunkum.  Laws was renting a room in Kennington from his partner for £950pcm.  In a 5 minute search I identified entire flats with gardens that were available for less, some of them even look quite nice such as this one: http://www.findaproperty.com/displayprop.aspx?edid=00&salerent=1&pid=721086 . So if this is his ideas of ‘saving money’ then there’s absolutely no way he is competent to hold the purse strings of the nation.

This Wasn’t Laws’ Partner
Well this would insinuate that a homosexual relationship is not equal to a straight one and is frankly offensive.

Economic Stability Depends On It
This ‘get out of jail free’ card has to be nipped in the bud right now.  Economic stability depends on having credible trustworthy people heading up the treasury, Laws’ behaviour has proven that he is neither.  Besides, I thought Vince Cable was the saviour?

And the one that the Liberals are turning to most: Well What About Labour?
So David Laws defrauds the tax payer of tens of thousand of pounds and what do the Liberals do?  Have a moan about Labour MPs.  How does £40,000 stand up next to Jacquie Smith’s £8 that it was claimed was spent by her husband which the Liberals were delirious about?  But their rhetoric has even included attacking the MPs receiving Legal Aid as a response.

What Liberals fail to understand is that many supporters of both Labour and the Conservatives were horrified by the expenses scandal. I was unable to campaign for Labour on principle for MPs that hadn’t even broken the rules, but had claimed second homes allowance even though they were representing London constituencies, and have praised Libs such as Sarah Teather, who didn’t claim second homes, and who even used public transport.  Many of us called for MPs to be deselected and Ministers to stand down.  I have yet to see a single Liberal do this for what is a massive abuse of the system and a breaking of the law.

The lesson the Liberals are going to have to learn is that being in government means being accountable, which is something they’ve had no experience of whilst heckling both sides.  Enjoy that accountability whilst it lasts.

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Filed under Activists, Cameron, ConDems, Conservatives, David Laws, Expenses, FibDems, Labour, Lib Dems, Liberals, Resign, Scandal