Trying to find a bright spot among the depression of David Laws’ downfall

by Stephen Tall on May 30, 2010

Well that was a depressing 24 hours, depressing in so many different ways.

I don’t think I’d describe David Laws’s forced resignation as either right, or wrong: it was quite simply inevitable. There was no way he personally, nor the coalition politically, could withstand the clamour for his head. Eventually he would have been dragged down by the explosion of self-righteousness that the right-wing press and Labour tribalists have let rip over the past two days. I find that depressing.

It is one of the ironies of coalition government that, as it brings together two different, competing parties – two parties which until a few weeks ago would have declared themselves to be utterly incompatible political enemies – so those who feel excluded from this government (Labour and the right-wing press) grow ever more vitriolic, ever more determined to fight it by whatever means they can. I find that depressing.

I won’t re-hash the defence of David Laws yet again. That he made a mistake is not in dispute; the interpretation of it, whether you view it as benign or malign, appears to depend upon your political colours. I find that depressing.

Those who have seized on Laws’ error of judgement have displayed an anger and outrage utterly at odds with the mundanely tangled facts of the case. Hack-journalists like the Telegraph’s Andrew Pierce have tritely tossed off allegations of “fiddling” and “fleecing” the taxpayer, even though they know Laws’ expenses claims were low, spent only on his living costs, and would have been perfectly legitimate if he were in a publicly open relationship. I find that depressing.

Most depressing of all, though, has been the lack of common humanity shown by Laws’ denouncers, such as the preening Ben Bradshaw. His mistake was self evidently driven not by any attempt for personal gain – else he would have claimed far more than he did – but by a desperately all-consuming desire to keep his sexuality private. Misguided? Almost certainly. Understandable? By anyone with an ounce of compassion.

The last 24 hours has shown parts of this country at their illiberal, mean-spirited, self-righteous worst. There is one bright spot, maybe: that David Laws will have the opportunity now to live his life without always having to look nervously over his shoulder. Let’s hope that means it’s a question of when, not if, he will be available to serve in government with distinction once again.