Yesterday I wrote about the sophistry of certain Lib Dem MPs in defending David Laws; today, certain media commentators seem to have caught the bug – people like Matthew Parris in The Times, Julian Glover, and Michael White in The Guardian. I don’t know if this is because Westminster correspondents have decided to close ranks with the MPs in order to try and draw an line under the whole expenses affair (after all, this isn’t a party political matter: whilst Parris and Glover are Tory-boys, White clearly isn’t), but their attempts to downplay the extent of Laws’ culpability simply don’t pass muster.
One argument is a kind of twist on the privacy argument put forward by Laws. I wrote yesterday why this argument simply doesn’t make sense, but this version seeks to offer mitigating circumstances by suggesting that his offence was not that serious because the rules about claiming accommodation expenses are unclear: had he declared his relationship, he could, they argue, have claimed far more than the £40k he did claim. Thus, because he felt he could not declare his relationship, the rules denied him expenses other MPs were more than entitled to; though it may have been an error of judgment to claim this money anyway, this breach of the rules is hardly egregious. This sort of makes out that Laws was a tragic vicitm of unfair rules rather than a transgressor.
It’s sad that Laws felt he could not declare his relationship with his lover, but that is a matter for him. The fact is, he knew the rules and he broke them. He could either declare his relationship and claim the expenses, or he could keep his relationship private and not claim. He could not do both; the fact that he chose to do so was a breach of the rules and an ethical failure. He must have known what he was doing was wrong. His sexuality had nothing to do with it.