LibLink: Tim Leunig – Was David Laws’s resignation necessary?

Over at The Guardian, Dr Tim Leunig, a Lib Dem member and economist, argues for speedy due process to determine any future MPs’ expenses controversies to avoid unnecessary ministerial resignations driven by the demands of rolling news:

The public need the independent parliamentary commissioner for standards, John Lyon, to judge MPs’ conduct. But the public also need the best people in government. Rules must apply to ministers, but we need the parliamentary commissioner to act expeditiously when a minister is referred. … When the facts are clear, should it really take more than 24 hours to make a decision? … If John Lyon finds, in weeks to come, that Laws acted in good faith, we must ask whether it was necessary to interrupt his time as minister, or whether a judgment could have been made more quickly. When ministers are accused, we, the people, need a speedy resolution, because we, the people, need good government.

You can read Tim’s article in full here.

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This entry was posted in LibLink.


  • Andrea Gill 1st Jun '10 - 7:17pm

    I think he felt he needed time to deal with things personally and didn’t feel up to the job while being distracted by dealing with what Nick Clegg rightly described as his privacy being shattered.

  • ROB SHEFFIELD 1st Jun '10 - 8:22pm

    In short- and as is the consensus now in both the media and opnion polls- YES.

  • Andrew Suffield 1st Jun '10 - 8:48pm

    consensus now in both the media

    The media story to which you are responding disagrees with you. Nice “consensus” there.

    opnion polls

    The only one I’ve seen – here – also disagrees with you.

  • ROB SHEFFIELD 1st Jun '10 - 9:12pm

    @Andrew suffield

    There is a YouGov poll on David Law’s resignation today. Overall 72% of respondents thought that Laws was right to resign, and 34% said he should also resign as a Member of Parliament.

    The media line shows the same.

    Those who think he should not have resigned are in a clear minority.

  • There are two related issues here. First, David may well have felt the need to resign even had Lyon declared that his error was not substantive. Be that as it may, the system would still be improved were Lyon’s decision to be prompt. Some politicians would be willing to go on in those circumstances, and if they are, the country will benefit. Second, the opinion poll tells us that many people think that he should have resigned. But that, surely, would be affected by Lyon’s decision? If Lyon says that what matters is that the overall claim was far lower than it could have been, then the proportion favouring resignation would fall. If in contrast Lyon says that David is a thief and it should be referred to the CPS, then presumably the proprtion favouring resignation would rise. A quick decision from someone who has the evidence would give a strong basis for public opinion, rather than a newspaper investigation. That would improve politics.

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 2nd Jun '10 - 9:29am

    The public view on this seems fairly clear and damning. It was my view over the weekend.

    But then I actually looked at and considered the rules. And I’m not at all sure he broke either the letter or the spirit of the rules.

    The rules seem to me to be designed to prevent you effectively from trousering the housing allowance as a form of pay, either by paying yourself, a business you control or a spouse or partner who is effectively a spouse. The last element has been read by the media as a polite way of saying “somebody you are screwing”. But it isn’t at all clear to me that is correct. The key is the financial connection – is it so close that by paying them, you are effectively paying yourself. And that appears unlikely for Laws and Lundie – both men of independent means who would not have owed each other anything had they split.

    The raw politics of it probably meant he was doomed. But people – me included to my shame – might well have rushed to judgement rather too quickly with hindsight.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 2nd Jun '10 - 10:36am

    “And that appears unlikely for Laws and Lundie – both men of independent means who would not have owed each other anything had they split.”

    The problem with that argument is that Laws put up part of the money for Lundie to purchase a property in 2007. It may well be that they saw it as jointly owned, without wishing to formalise the arrangement.

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 2nd Jun '10 - 10:54am

    I’ve lent money to friends, Anthony, without our finances really being inter-twinned in the manner of spouses (indeed, to people who certainly wouldn’t be covered under the rules).

    I agree it was messy, though, and am surprised Laws put himself so close to the line. What I query is whether, on reflection, he actually crossed the line. And if he didn’t, it does seem rather unfair that the court of public opinion has judged him guilty so quickly.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 2nd Jun '10 - 11:25am

    Yes, but it obviously puts a hole in the argument that they “would not have owed each other anything had they split”!

    When you put together the facts that they had been living together for a long period and “in a relationship” for a long period, and also during the 2007-2009 period sharing accommodation that Laws had helped Lundie to buy, to my mind it becomes difficult to conclude that this was not the sort of relationship the rules were meant to cover.

  • Anthony Dunn 2nd Jun '10 - 12:38pm

    Tim set out the arguments with his usual clarity of thought (yes, we have worked with each other in the past!).

    It is regrettable that in the current febrile state of affairs regarding MPs expenses and with the utterly contemptible Torygraph continuing to drip. drip their bile about expenses at the most potentially damaging moments, there is almost no chance of a considered and reasonable response from most of the public. Sadly, a large proportion of the electorate would appear to believe that politics should be done for free, that public service is entirely its own reward and that we (that is those of us who stand for election) ought to be paying them for the privilege of being elected. They appear to have forgotten (or never understood) that the Great Reform Act in 1832 (and reforms since) have intended to overcome the exclusive control over Parliament that inherited wealth and the monied interest had enjoyed up until then.

    It is perfectly reasonable to expect, once he had full possession of the facts, that the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner made a judgement and published this. Does this take five weeks? Would you or I be allowed that long to determine an issue at work and make a judgement?

  • David Allen 2nd Jun '10 - 1:25pm

    This article is calling for summary justice to be dispensed within a time limit of 24 hours. With a host of potentially complex issues that might need to be investigated, this is just asking for trouble.

    No MP found “guilty” by such a process would do other than yell blue murder about how unfair it all was and how the evidence had not been properly looked at!

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jun '10 - 1:39pm

    The key is the financial connection – is it so close that by paying them, you are effectively paying yourself. And that appears unlikely for Laws and Lundie – both men of independent means who would not have owed each other anything had they split.

    The argument here seems to be that while for normal people claiming rent as needs-benefit when the rent actually goes to someone you have a non-financial relationship with is fraudulent, for very rich people that rule does not apply. What next – if someone is caught burgling your house the person can be let off from the charge if he’s very rich on account of the fact he didn’t need the money?

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 2nd Jun '10 - 2:51pm

    That’s not my argument, Matthew, and I perhaps could have expressed it more clearly.

    The rules are intended to prevent you paying yourself, for example where you own a property already. You can argue whether that rule is right – there’s a lot to be said for just raising the salary and that’s that… but that’s the rule as it is.

    There are two obvious ways of circumventing that rule. One is by paying the money to a company you own or business partner. That’s specifically covered. The other is to pay the money to a spouse or somebody you treat like a spouse. The key there seems to be being financially intertwinned in the way most spouses are (whether deliberately through joint accounts etc or simply by operation of the law). The media has treated it as if the issue is whether the two people are having sex – but I think that isn’t the purpose of the rule.

    All I meant by saying Laws and Lundie where of “independent means” was not that they were rich (although Laws at least clearly is) but that they appear to have been genuinely financially independent from one another and unlikely to have had any joint property to split should their relationship end, which does make them different from 95% of spouses.

    Anthony raises the issue of a separate loan from Laws to Lundie – a fair point and one which would have to go into the assessment depending on the details of that.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jun '10 - 10:54pm

    “Sir Norfolk Passmore”

    Yes, that is what I said – Mr Laws is lucky enough to be a very rich man so should he separate from his friend, he could happily wave away that £40,000. So your argument is that it is fine for him to claim that from the public purse, whereas a poorer man claiming it as “rent” but actually paid to his wife on whom he might one day rely should he lose his job should be treated as a criminal, as he would had he done this under the Housing Benefit system.

    Is that not an indication of all that is wrong with this country, that the very rich and those who suck up to them just suppose they have a natural right to snaffle way huge sums of money while they would regard it as an outrage for the poor to steal pennies? Isn’t this the same sort of sick mentality where when a man who sweats his life away in hard work has to pay tax on his wages for it, and another man gets the same money for doing nothing but sit owning something, our big newspapers and many of our leading MPs come out on support of that man who did nothing but sell an asset he owned paying lower tax on the money? And they have the damned hypocritical cheek to claim that merely asking the man who did not work for his money to pay the same tax as the man who did is somehow an “attack on hard work”.

    Mr Laws had the honesty early on to recognise he did wrong and to resign from his post of chief maker of cuts. It would be better for his cause if everyone else shut up about him and let him go quietly instead of trying to defend him in a way that only makes it worse.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 2nd Jun '10 - 11:48pm

    Yes – let’s all shut up and wait until the Commissioner tells us what he thinks about it.


    Of Laws what is writ?
    The hubris of a banker
    Preaching public thrift?
    What of the watchman
    o’er the nation’s treasure
    Who took from the hoard
    To steal private pleasure?

    Fools may proclaim
    A Britain ingrate
    To waste the talents
    Of this Man of State.
    Yet much better gone is he
    who took his heavy duties light
    to waste our talents on a sodomite.

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