I debated this situation on LBC yesterday with Peter Oborne chaired by the presenter, former Sunday Express political editor Julia Hartley-Brewer. You can listen to it below:
I tried to argue that David claimed in the way he did in order to protect the fact of his sexuality. Julia did not accept this and even went so far as to agree with a caller later on who used the term "thief" when describing him. I just simply think this is not right. I will try and explain why.
When David Laws first moved into the house for which he made the claims, the person he rented the house off was his landlord. There was nothing wrong with him claiming at that time. At some point in the next few years he began a relationship with his landlord. At first this was OK as well but in 2006 a new rule was brought in which meant that MPs were not allowed to claim through this mechanism if the person they were paying was their partner. It is from this point onwards that the fact that he continued to claim was a breach of the rules.
It is worth pointing out that there is another legitimate mechanism through which David could have claimed if he had declared that his landlord was his partner and would have been entitled to even more than he actually claimed. But of course if he had done this he would have been outing himself. David was not out at the time and did not wish to be for his own personal reasons*. So he decided not to use this other mechanism.
I have seen people also say that he could have simply stopped claiming. That is indeed true, he could have done. But the big, big problem then is that suddenly, when the rules about partners change he would have instantly stopped claiming. He might as well have painted a big sign outside his house saying "I am in a relationship with my landlord.". I fully expect that several tabloid newspapers would have taken this as a green light to publish stories to out David Laws.
The inquiry into David's conduct agreed that he was motivated by his wish to protect his privacy. He was in a no-win situation after his circumstances and then the rules changed in 2006. It is clear that he was in breach of the rules. He resigned and paid back the money. He has been on the back benches for nearly two and a half years.
I think the fact that he could have claimed more through a different mechanism speaks volumes about what was really going on here. I know some people will never be persuaded but I really would be saying this if it was an MP of any party in the situation.
I welcome the reappointment of David Laws to the government.
*Julia repeatedly said on the radio yesterday that she could not understand why someone in this day and age would want to protect their privacy about their sexuality. With all due respect, Julia does not have direct insight into the pressures individual people can be under from e.g. family and friends. Just because the circles she moves in are accepting does not mean everyone else is and it is not up to any of us to judge who should and shouldn't reveal private details about this facet of their lives.