Saturday, May 29, 2010

Will David Laws go while Nadine Dorries stays?

Over 20 years ago I was at a training course about work with young women organised by the NYA (National Youth Agency). It was in the days when "anti-oppressive practice" was high on the agenda - and a debate ensued about whether it was right for the two male members of the course to even be there. Inevitably the debate turned to who was most oppressed and the difference between sexism and racism. One of the participants turned to the colleague she had came with and said "but when you walk into the room I don't even notice that you are black" - her colleague's response has stayed with me ever since - "but I do" said she.

Those of us who regard ourselves as reasonably "right on" (sorry a blast from the past when my local newspaper used to refer to me as the most "right on" councillor!) when it comes to issues of discrimination can all to often forget that we firstly do not always really understand the discrimination and oppression others face, but also just how rich the seam of discrimination is, that despite legislation, still runs through our enlightened society.

This was brought home to me during the hustings for Mid Beds when all my opponents (Nadine Dorries I expected but the Labour candidate I was rather shocked at) appeared to be vying in playing to the gallery on the issue of whether or not it was right for Relate counsellor Gary McFarlane to have been sacked - the article by that bastion of liberal sensibilities Melanie Phillips more than sums up the attitudes expressed here. Some members of the audience were incandescent and saw all this as further evidence of Christianity being undermined. As I pointed out, there are some jobs that people cannot in all conscience do because of their faith - I personally wouldn't be able to work in a betting shop - so in my view, Gary McFarlane had chosen the wrong career path, it wasn't good enough to say it was OK for him to discriminate, so was he checking the marriage certificates of all the couples he counselled, would it have been OK for him to refuse to counsel a couple of different ethnic origin because he personally didn't believe in "mixed" marriage?

I only cite these examples because for some who are very quick to condemn David Laws are equally quick to forget that despite legislation, despite protestations that someone's sexuality in this day and age shouldn't be an issue, it clearly is. Just as the dismal lack of women and BME MPs in our modern parliament demonstrates, regardless of what we claim about equality in our country - in reality we don't live it out (or are we saying that women and BME candidates aren't as good as white middle class men and that is why they are underrepresented?).

I think Sarah Bedford has brilliantly summed up the issues here, so I just had a couple of other perspectives to add.

Let's look at the facts as we know them. It seems David rented a room from his partner before he was his partner. He didn't do what others have done and take out a mortgage in order to make a nice profit in the future, he rented (at what by any standards was a reasonable rent in central London and certainly a lot less than my MP is paying for her so called second home in rural Bedfordshire) a room. Now it is not unheard of for tenants to end up in relationships with their landlord - according to David this is what happened a couple of years later. So first question - when does a "relationship" become a "partnership"? 3 months? 6 months? A year? After all - lets not forget this was David's home when he was in Westminster - it wasn't nearly as straightforward as someone meeting, and ultimately deciding to move in together. And also it seems it is fair to say this relationship did not have the other hallmarks of a "partnership" - otherwise his partner would have been sharing the house in Somerset as well surely? But, I forget, the crucial ingredient, which is why I have banged on about it so much earlier - this was a relationship that David like so many before him and so many sadly in the future, felt unable to share with his friends and family. Having gone through the pain of losing half my family when I chose inconsiderately to marry someone I loved but who happened to have a different colour skin to me, I know how real the fear of losing those you love because of the one you love, is. I have a friend who, because he married someone of a different faith has never been able to tell his father. His father doesn't even know he has five grandchildren. So those of us who think the world is such an enlightened place because of our more enlightened legislation, should seriously think again.

So my second question is - for those who are simplistically looking at this as David Laws having wrongfully claimed money for rent - what are they saying should have happened? Clearly his landlord rented a room in his home in order to recoup some of the costs of his home - something many many people do. Should he have been expected then, having entered into a relationship with David, to foot the bill and lose out on the contribution to his costs? I know many of my friends who rent rooms have to in order to meet the cost of their mortgage. Should we have expected David to move out? The irony is that if they had entered into a more formal civil partnership, sharing everything they had, presumably David would have been able to claim for the whole cost of maintaining that home as his second home. And this is where for me the true absurdity lies and why it for me is SO linked to the underlying homophobia. When I got married I moved into my husband's home. He had a high mortgage and we split all the bills - I didn't pay him rent, I contributed to the costs. So at the very minimum, if David had felt able to declare his relationship he would have been quite within his rights to claim for half. But I doubt that Sam Cam has been paying half towards the cost of the Cameron second home? The hypocrisy is palpable.

But, the reality is that for all this, it doesn't look good - and I come back to what I said about David Laws yesterday - he has a brilliant mind but intelligence and wisdom are not necessarily co terminus. Given not only the expenses scandal, but also the way others of his colleagues have been mercilessly outed, did he not think this was something he should have taken advice about? Did he really think that when he took on such a high profile and controversial role, the press would not be digging around in his private life? Maybe he sadly confused cleverness for wisdom and thought he was clever enough to outwit them. I may not agree with his politics - the reason the Tories love him is the reason I always used to wish he would run along and join them - but over the years as I said yesterday, I have come to respect him as a man who is a true liberal and deeply committed to making our country fairer and more equal - even if I don't approve of his methodology in doing so. I can't help but compare David Laws' alleged sins with those alleged of my erstwhile opponent in Mid Beds, Nadine Dorries. She who can't decide where her second home is - is it the poky 1 bedroom jobby in Gloucestershire or is it her farmhouse mansion in Bedfordshire for which we are paying a fortune? Did she produce an annual report costing nearly £10,000 and which she published on her now defunct blog, or was she confused and didn't actually produce anything, paying the money back because of a mayoral election that took place months before? Did she take her Twitter and Blog down due to police advice and because of what happened to Stephen Timms a week afterwards? Will her daughter have time to work for her full time at a nice little income of £28,000, or may she be distracted studying for her degree? Bizarrely I think the allegations surrounding Ms Dorries are far more serious, potentially criminal, and yet she is still sitting pretty in the house of contradictions.

So, getting back to David Laws, I sadly fear he has no choice but to resign and allow the Standards Commissioner to adjudicate and on a personal level, I trust he will find that his family and friends still love him, just as Simon Hughes discovered a few short years ago.


Ms Humphrey Cushion said...

Sorry Linda but there has to be the same rules for Government as for the people they represent. Should Laws have been claiming housing benefit for example whilst living with a partner, he would be not only have to repay but would have a criminal record to boot.

We are not in the 1950s anymore and being gay wouldnt have harmed his career so his arguments dont add up. He intentionally mislead, no matter what money he "may have saved" the country by not declaring his true status.

It is sad, as I have no doubt that David Laws is a good politician, however he should do the decent thing and resign from the Cabinet immediately. If he does not, the Coallition government will become even more farcical and hypocritical than it already is.

"Oh what a tangled web we weave when we first set out to deceive"

Ms Humphrey Cushion said...

This link sets out Government rules for reporting changes of circumstances in regard to benefits claims:

Catherine said...

I agree wholeheartedly with every bit of your article, except the last paragraph. I would be disgusted if he were forced to resign over this. And I don't think he will - I think this is a bit like the Ecclestone affair in that it's early enough in the new government that it'll blow over and be forgotten. (The only difference, of course, being that in the Ecclestone case Blair actually did something wrong.)

Catherine said...

These comparisons with benefits claimants seem to come from people who have little knowledge of the workings of the system... There are many cases where ambiguous relationships are judged NOT to constitute genuine "partnership" / common law marriage for benefits purposes. One woman recently won an appeal against a ruling that she qualified as the dependent of a man she had a sexual relationship with. Just because two people live together or sleep together doesn't make them partners. I'm not saying the benefits system is perfect (far from it!), but it's not quite so hopeless that it fails to recognise that human relationships are complex.

The real issue is did David seek to milk the taxpayer for more money than he was entitled to? The obvious answer is absolutely not. If he'd bought the house next door and claimed £1,700 per month for the mortgage nobody would even be discussing this. But £950 per month in rent to a man he later became involved with is somehow out of order? What do people expect, that once you begin sleeping with someone they'll waive your rent? If that's the normal rule, then I'm obviously doing something wrong - none of my partners has ever offered me rent-free accomodation...

Ms Humphrey Cushion said...

Good Blog post from Kerry McCarthy MP, who knows the Parliamentary rules far better than you or I Catherine...

Catherine said...

Mm, yes, excellent post by a completely impartial Labour MP, the sum total of whose argument seems to be "yes I know he didn't profit from it, yes I know he wasn't trying to milk the system, and actually he could easily have claimed more money if he'd wanted to, but still he broke the rules".

I once picked up a newspaper in WHSmith. There was no one at the counter and I didn't have time to wait so I just put a £2 coin on the ledge behind the counter and left. Guess I should be done for shoplifting.

Ms Humphrey Cushion said...

Catherine.. you are just being ridiculous now.

It matters not which party he is from, this goverment promised us change. David Laws intentionally mislead and signed documents fraudently. He also made this statement on his website:

Now, I have a party to host so Adios, Adieu, Goodbye.

thehoatzin said...

He was caught

He should go

He said how wonderful he was in his campaign, all the while taking £1000 a month from us, for his boyfriend, the lobbyist. It might be more interesting to find out what strings he pulled to make money for his lobbyist partner and what the second flat is for.

Quite why a millionaire (in charge of cutting unnecessary expenditure) needs our money to fund his shagging partner for several years and then thinks he can weasel out of it by redefining 'partner' to us as if we're all fucknuts, and pretending he's the only gay in the world, is beyond me.


I said this coalition would be hilarious.

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志文 said...

It is no use crying over spilt milk.......................................................

Jen said...

Hi Linda,

In my view I think he was right to claim for rent at the start if that was his reason for moving in and he had his own bedroom and didn't share a bed with the other guy.

At the time they began to share a bed he should have stopped claiming. Any contribution to the home should have been from his own income. He's independently wealthy and didn't need to claim in order to do his job. If he didn't want to be outed then this would have kept things hidden.

Also having claimed the money against the rules he should have come clean at the time the expenses scandal broke, his repayment then and his relationship would probably have gone unnoticed. Then he could have been given a job in government with no problems. As it is having taken a job in government the press were bound to go digging about the new people. As the third party before many Lib-Dems virtually passed unnoticed.


Bolivia Newton-John said...

I'm a huge David Laws fan, an anti-homophobia hawk, and someone who got bored of the expenses scandal coverage ULTRA-quick, and even I think he was in the wrong. It's nothing to do with his difficulties coming out, it's nothing to do with whether this guy was his partner/relation/friend/lover whatever. David Laws is a millionaire, and the idea of just *not* claiming shitloads of money off the taxpayer never entered his head, apparently, or he would have seen that could have solved his privacy issues while maintaining his preferred circumstances. Impossible for him to wield the crucial axe under those circumstances, and it's a tragedy for the country, as he seemed to be the only one with the wherewithal to clean-up Gordon's economic diarrhoea.

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