There’s going to be a short interruption of service on the FT Westminster blog.

The first reason is that Jim is on holiday. He’ll be back next week; if you see a Pickard post before then don’t mention it to his wife. 

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. 

The coalition is entering a dangerous period and it is probably no surprise that Paddy Ashdown is one of the first to reach for his knife.

In some extraordinary remarks to the Guardian, the Captain accuses Cameron of a breach of faith and warns that there will be “consequences”. He claims the prime minister “panicked in the face of his right-wingers” and helped propagate a “regiment of lies” during the AV campaign.

The remarks appear to have the backing of the Lib Dem command. Here are the Ashdown quotes – given to Patrick Wintour at the Guardian — in full:

“So far the coalition has been lubricrated by a large element of goodwill and trust. It is not any longer. The consequence is that when it comes to the bonhomie of the Downing Street rose garden, that has gone. It will never again be glad confident morning.”

After only partially quoting Robert Browning, he goes on to explain that the coalition is to become more “transactional”. Great news for the lawyers. 

The question of whether Gaddafi is a target for airstrikes has hung over the Libya campaign. The convoluted explanations from ministers can appear dry and legalistic. That’s because they are. But it is worth imagining the terrible indigestion this causes Foreign Office lawyers.

The problems started the moment General Sir David Richards said the Colonel was “absolutely not” a target under the UN resolution.

Since then, there have been strikes on command and control facilities in Tripoli. In public ministers have been opening up a bit, offering a slightly less legalistic response to questions. Take this quote from Liam Fox from an interview on the PBS NewsHour on Tuesday:

“If you look at it from Gadhafi’s point of view, [this] has been something happening at arm’s length, something happening in Misurata, something happening in Ajdabiya or out towards Benghazi.

What we’ve seen in recent days [is] attacks on Tripoli to increase the psychological pressure, apart from anything else, on Gadhafi, to make him realize that this is something that he is involved in.”

Sounds rather targeted to me. 

When David Cameron dispatched “military advisers” to Libya, he crossed an important line. It is a relatively small military contribution that carries with it a heavy burden of extra responsibility.

The prime minister is taking part-ownership of rebel actions, whether he likes it or not. The barbarity of the Gaddafi regime is well documented. But small wars like that in Libya usually involve both sides committing atrocities. Now that British officers are involved in helping the rebels, Britain will be more answerable for what they do.

William Hague insists the officers won’t be involved in planning or executing operations. But when they are providing advice on “military organisational structures, communications and logistics” they are bound to find out more about rebel military preparations.

What happens if they discover something unsavoury is afoot? This will be a question taxing the minds of lawyers in Whitehall. Should they attempt to stop them? Withdraw support and defence materiel that has been provided? Inform Nato so strikes can be prepared to protect civilians? 

Norman Lamb’s intervention on the NHS posed a tricky dilemma for Nick Clegg. In responding to the strong criticisms made by his closest aide, Clegg was likely to reveal his own thinking on how to fix NHS reforms.

Yet, if you read the papers today, you’ll see two very different interpretations of what Clegg wants. The clashing theories go something like this: 

Politicians do love to share their views on Oxbridge admissions. This time around David Cameron has taken a pop at Oxford over the number of black students, using some pretty forthright language.

“I saw figures the other day that showed that only one black person went to Oxford last year. I think that is disgraceful, we have got to do better than that.”

It’s a startling statistic — and almost true. Cameron would be advised to check his facts before picking this fight.

Here’s a rebuttal from Oxford, which they put out a few weeks ago:

On a related point, much has been made of the ‘one black Caribbean student’ admitted to Oxford in 2009. Not one black student, but one black Caribbean student – in one year, looking at only UK candidates, and only undergraduates.

As Oxford has pointed out before, this is very selective use of data. In that year, there were actually 27 black UK students admitted to Oxford. Beyond black students alone, 22% of Oxford’s overall student body is non-white (BME).

As this BBC story shows, Oxford have put some effort into attracting black students over the years. Their campaign has not been a resounding success. But the issues are certainly more complicated than Cameron suggests.

UPDATE: Oxford have put out an official response to Cameron’s comments. Apparently they’ve been in touch with Downing Street to correct his figures. Full statement below: 

If this remarkable poll is correct, Nick Clegg should be the one refusing to share a platform with Ed Miliband.

The Ipsos-Mori research turns conventional wisdom on its head and shows that Clegg is actually more liked than Miliband, scoring 40 per cent against the Labour leader’s 36. 

What does David Cameron stand for on Libya? That’s less clear than it should be. Cameron is facing his first foreign policy crisis and wants to be seen driving a concerted international response. But he is in danger of appearing diplomatically marooned.

1) Isolated over a no fly zone: Cameron was one of the first to signal his support for this option. But the effectiveness of such action is being questioned by most of Nato, Baroness Ashton, the US defence secretary, his own defence chiefs, the list goes on. Meanwhile events on the ground seem to be outpacing the diplomatic response. 

The coverage of Prince Andrew’s ties with Kazakhstan has reminded me of another high-profile Brit with a fondness for trips to Astana: Tony Blair.

When we investigated Blair’s business and charity empire, we were puzzled by the former prime minister’s meeting in 2008 with Nursultan Nazarbayev, the longtime ruler of Kazakhstan. 

Without plunging in the dagger to its hilt, Vince Cable made clear this morning that Prince Andrew should be carefully reflecting on whether to carry on as a UK trade envoy.

“He is a volunteer, he has offered to perform these roles. I think it’s down to him, essentially, to judge the position he wants to be in.” 

The Ministry of Defence is always strapped for cash but never short of intrigue.

Remember the urgent police inquiry that Liam Fox launched after a mole gave the Daily Telegraph his letter warning David Cameron about “draconian” cuts?