As any fan of the Who will know, the next line from Won’t Get Fooled Again is, “Same as the old boss”.
And reading the news over the past couple of days that is exactly how many people will be feeling about our new coalition government.
We are told that politics has been cleaned up. That there will be no more duck houses or bills for moat cleaning. And we were assured that all the wrongly claimed expenses had been paid back.
The new parliament was supposed to be a new start for British politics. A cleaned up, more accountable and transparent version. A House of Commons 2.0.
But only four weeks after the election we already have our first expenses scandal. And the man at the heart of it is a senior cabinet minister: the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws.
Few people outside those of us who take a keen interest in politics will know a great deal about the Liberal Democrat MP for Yeovil. His background, like much of the new cabinet, is private school and Oxbridge. A former investment banker and economic policy expert, he was always seen to be on the right of his party, and he led the coalition talks for his party after the election.
But his political career has now been rocked by revelations in the media.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Laws claimed between £700 and £950 a month from 2004 and 2007 to sub-let a room in a London flat owned and lived in by his partner. After the flat was sold in 2007, Laws’ partner bought a house. Laws then began claiming to rent the “second bedroom” in this property, at a cost of £920 a month, until September 2009.
Why is this an issue?
Well, parliamentary rules ban MPs from leasing accommodation from a partner. Makes sense doesn’t it? Or else every MP could claim that their house is actually owned by their partner and then charge taxpayers a large monthly rent for living in it.
Which is exactly what Laws appears to have done.
In a statement David Laws said, “At no point did I consider myself to be in breach of the rules,” going on to explain that, “Although we were living together we did not treat each other as spouses – for example, we do not share bank accounts and indeed have separate social lives. However, I now accept that this was open to interpretation.”
Open to interpretation? You were in a relationship with someone and lived together but did not think you were partners? And you actually rented the second bedroom? Hardly a credible explanation, Minister.
“However, I regret this situation deeply, accept that I should not have claimed my expenses in this way and apologise fully,” Laws concluded.
So he didn’t break the rules? But realises the game is up because he has now been caught out. And he will have to pay back some £40,000 by the Telegraph’s estimate.
But it’s not just his rent payments that are under scrutiny. The Telegraph has also discovered that Laws submitted regular claims, in rounded figures, for service and maintenance, repairs, utilities and other items.
Before 2008, MPs did not have to submit expenses for these expenses. Laws typically claimed between £50 and £150 a month for utility bills alone. Yet when rules were changed he submitted receipts for only £37 a month. And other bills appeared to be vastly reduced too.
Draw your own conclusions.
Messrs Cameron and Clegg must be seething at these revelations, which embarrass their new coalition just three weeks into the job. The old politics is alive and well it seems, and at the very heart of government too.
David Laws, as number two to Chancellor George Osborne, is in charge of making cuts in public services. For any Cabinet minister to be in this situation is bad enough, but for a man trusted with public finances it is doubly embarrassing.
His credibility is now fatally damaged. David Laws has shown that he is a man of poor judgement and dubious integrity.
All MPs must surely realise that after the scandals of the past few years they have to be scrupulously honest. And it’s not as if millionaire Laws actually needs the money.
Frankly this is just one more example of greed, dishonesty and hypocrisy. And it demonstrates clearly the contempt by which some of our parliamentarians continue to treat the British people.
There will be a Parliamentary enquiry, which could take several months to report. But if Laws has any decency left, his course of action is surely very clear. He must realise that his position is quite simply untenable.
A Cabinet Minister showing such incredible lack of judgement has to resign immediately. Laws must go now.
And if he doesn’t then the Prime Minister simply has to sack him.