This could have been better for David Laws. The punishment imposed by the standards committee is at the worse end of expectations, at least among Lib Dems. One government figure told me he will not be returning as a minister “anytime soon”.
But, particularly in this case, it is important to define terms. If you start from the premise that the didn’t do anything seriously wrong and should be reappointed immediately, this is a terrible conclusion to the investigation.
But even Laws’ friends didn’t take that view. A sanction of some kind was always expected — after all he always admitted to wrongdoing. The trouble is that this is a tougher punishment than they thought he deserved. And it is tougher than the reprimands on other MPs who also played the system. Remember what happened to Jacqui Smith?
This will delay Laws’ return. But unless Laws has a change of heart and leaves politics, Cameron will have him back. My government source said it wouldn’t be this year. But Laws will be probably be serving as a minister in 2012. And if a Lib Dem falls by the wayside before then, it could even be 2011.