Cabinet reshuffle: David Laws back as a minister after expenses scandal

 

David Laws was the first ministerial casualty of the coalition Government, resigning after just 17 days amid a scandal over his parliamentary expenses.

But he remained a close adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who has never made any secret of his wish for a swift return to the frontline for an MP who is seen as one of the Liberal Democrats' biggest talents.

His appointment today as education minister risks reviving controversy over his expenses claims, which saw him suspended from the Commons for seven days in 2011 when a parliamentary inquiry found that he had committed "a series of serious breaches of rules".

Mr Laws apologised to Parliament and voluntarily repaid more than £56,000 after it was revealed that he claimed allowances to pay his partner James Lundie rent for the London flat where they lived. The Yeovil MP argued that his motive was to avoid outing himself as gay, rather than profit.

His resignation as Chief Secretary to the Treasury on May 29, 2010, was the first bombshell to hit the coalition administration.

A key member of the Lib Dems' team during negotiations over the formation of the coalition with Conservatives in the wake of the inconclusive 2010 general election, he had been lined up for the crucial job of working with Chancellor George Osborne on the deficit reduction programme. His resignation meant that the less experienced Danny Alexander had to be drafted in to take on the sensitive role.

A former investment banker, 46-year-old Mr Laws has always been on the right of the Liberal Democrats and was expected to take to the task of reining in public spending with more relish than many of his colleagues.

He was a driving force behind the Orange Book, which signalled a resurgence in the party's free-market wing in 2004, using his contribution to deride "soggy socialism and corporatism" in favour of the "traditional building blocks of liberalism".

And, more recently, he used an interview in June this year to call for radically deeper cuts to public spending and taxes, arguing that the share of the economy accounted for by the state should be trimmed from around 40 per cent to 35 per cent.

Born in Surrey in 1965, Laws was educated at the Roman Catholic fee-paying school St George's College in Weybridge before gaining a double first in economics at King's College, Cambridge.

This in turn led to a stint in the City, working as an investment banker at both JP Morgan and Barclays de Zoete Wedd.

But in 1994 he left the City behind him to become an economic adviser for the Liberal Democrats.

Following a failed attempt to unseat Conservative minister and future leader Michael Howard in Folkestone and Hythe in 1997, he was elected to Parliament in the 2001 general election, succeeding Paddy Ashdown as MP for Yeovil.

His rise through the Lib Dem ranks was rapid, beginning with a post as junior Treasury spokesman in 2002 and taking in work and pensions in 2005 before eventually being appointed schools spokesman two years later.

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