British coalition honeymoon rocked by gay Laws’ payments (Lead)

May 30th, 2010 - 8:10 pm ICT by IANS  

David Cameron London, May 30 (DPA) Just 18 days after an official launch in the Downing Street rose garden that prompted comparisons with a happy marriage, Britain’s landmark Conservative-Liberal coalition has had the shortest of political honeymoons.
It came down to earth with a bump late Saturday with the embarrassing departure of David Laws, a rising star of the Liberal Democrats and co-architect of the coalition, over allegations that he abused the parliamentary expenses system.

Laws’ predicament is given added spice by the revelation that the landlord to whom he paid rent on two properties, totalling 40,000 pounds ($57,800) over eight years, was his long-term male partner.

Initially, those defending him argued that the word “partner” did not mean the same as “spouse”, a term used in expenses regulations applicable since 2006, which specifically bar payments to spouses.

“I do not see how I can carry on my crucial work on the budget and spending review while I have to deal with the private and public implications of the recent revelations,” Laws, 44, said in his resignation letter.

“The problems were caused by my desire to keep my sexuality secret,” he wrote.

As Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Laws was a key figure behind the implementation of the government’s massive deficit reduction package to be presented in an emergency budget June 22.

Considered a deficit hawk, Laws had wasted no time outlining six billion pounds of immediate cuts during his first week in office.

As the right-hand man of George Osborne, the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, he was seen as having made his mark as the type of “ruthlessly effective” operator required in tough economic times.

But as if the loss of expertise was not enough of a blow, Laws’ alleged abuse of the parliamentary expenses system seems to fly in the face of the “new politics” of honesty and fairness proclaimed by the coalition leaders, David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

Indeed, during the election campaign, it was Clegg’s call to “clean up parliament” that enhanced his popularity, as he boasted that “no Liberal Democrat” had been implicated in last year’s widespread scandal over the abuse of parliamentary expenses.

But while Cameron and Clegg may both have been reluctant to agree to Laws’ departure, commentators had been unequivocal from the start.

“It becomes a of question of credibility. You cannot have someone

telling the nation to cut back when you are yourself accused of using taxpayers’ money for private gain,” said one analyst.

For Prime Minister David Cameron, hanging on to Laws would have ensured that the expenses scandal would have hung over his administration like the sword of Damocles.

Nonetheless, acknowledging the loss, Cameron described Laws as a “good and honourable man” who could, “in time” perhaps return to the government benches.

Laws, was, by all accounts, an outstanding political talent. Equipped with a double first in economics from Cambridge University, he became vice-president of Morgan Stanley bank at the age of 22.

He left banking in 1994 and entered politics in 2001. Laws was seen as a new breed of Liberral Demcorat whose promotion of free market politics collided with the overwhelmingly left-leaning traditions of his party.

As such, he was seen as a political figure able to assuage the concerns held by many Conservatives about their new partners in the government coalition.

Laws was instrumental in hammering out the coalition’s government programme, and was one of four Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers.

He is succeeded by Danny Alexander, 38, who, while a rising star in the Liberal Democrat party, is seen as having none of the experience Laws brought into the job.

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