Even David Laws’ admirers would pause for thought before rushing to his defence before the report into his expenses is even published tomorrow. Laws has apparently been found guilty of six breaches of the rules and may have to pay back a huge sum of money, according to the Telegraph today. (Although he has already paid back £56,000, as his friend Olly Grender points out in the comments below.)
Sky is reporting that Laws will be suspended from the Commons for seven days and have to make an apology to the House.
But what makes his situation more painful is one simple fact – that the allegations against the Yeovil MP came out a year after the rest of the House of Commons. Had they emerged in May 2009 they may have been just one element of a whole jigsaw of claims that were daft, misjudged, foolish, venal, greedy and/or even criminal.
As a Lib Dem backbencher (at the time) he may not have made major headlines. Now, as a former chief secretary to the Treasury, he will.
Many of those MPs who made dodgy claims have escaped public censure because they were just one among 650 members of Parliament.
The accusations against Laws may be particularly serious depending on whether the Parliamentary standards commissioner decides that he deliberately withheld the information that his landlord was his boyfriend – which was banned under Commons’ rules. His defence is that he wanted to keep the relationship private and that he could have claimed far more than he did in rent. There are also questions about the size of his utility bills.
But it’s worth reminding readers of the wider context when his day of reckoning arrives on Thursday.
Just in case you have forgotten, David Cameron ordered many of his front bench to pay back large sums: Andrew Lansley £2,600, Michael Gove £7,000, Alan Duncan £5,000, Oliver Letwin £2,000 and so on.
When Sir Thomas Legg went through the entire Commons and asked MPs for repayments there were other large sums from senior Tories who are now in the cabinet. Liam Fox paid back £20,583, Jeremy Hunt paid back £9,558 and George Osborne repaid £1,666. David Willetts also returned £4,390.