David Laws set for return to frontline politics in new Cabinet role


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Indy Politics

The former Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister David Laws is being lined up to take on a newly created frontbench role at the heart of government.

Nick Clegg and David Cameron have had private discussions about appointing Mr Laws to work alongside Oliver Letwin and Francis Maude in the Cabinet Office, The Independent understands. The new position, which would almost certainly come with the right to attend Cabinet, would increase Liberal Democrat representation in the Coalition.

Senior Conservatives support the plan as they are also keen for Mr Laws to return to frontline politics and a new job would negate the need for a Cabinet reshuffle.

Under the proposal, Mr Laws would, alongside Mr Letwin, be responsible for co-ordinating and driving through all aspects of the Coalition's policy agenda. The job is currently performed by Danny Alexander, who is also the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury. But there is a growing acknowledgement in Government that he and Mr Clegg have become too thinly spread as they try to keep on top of what every government department is doing. Appointing Mr Laws would allow Mr Alexander to concentrate on his work in the Treasury. It would also ease the burden on Mr Clegg.

"Contrary to the false reports of Nick going home at three o'clock every day, he is actually working like a dog," said one senior Liberal Democrat source. "Being the junior partner in the Coalition is incredibly tough. We don't have the ministerial firepower of the Conservatives but we still have to be across all areas of what the Government is doing.

"Having David in the Cabinet Office would free Nick up to spend more time on House of Lords reform and trying to get a deal on party funding, both of which are significant priorities for us."

Another senior Liberal Democrat MP added: "There have certainly been discussions... it would be an extremely good idea. He would be an invaluable addition to our ministerial team."

Any comeback would be dependent on Mr Laws being cleared by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards who is investigating whether Mr Laws broke expenses rules. Mr Laws was the first Coalition minister to resign when it emerged he had claimed expenses to pay rent to his partner, the lobbyist James Lundie.

Yet Mr Laws has remained in close contact with Mr Clegg and was recently charged with devising fresh policies for his party. Regardless of the commissioner's decision, Mr Laws will certainly play a key role in drawing up the party's Coalition "exit strategy" as the next election approaches.

The Liberal Democrats will this weekend head to Sheffield for what is expected to be a difficult spring conference. Rebellions are expected on the Coalition's NHS policy, and unions and student demonstrations are anticipated outside the conference hall. Many of the delegates will be facing difficult fights to hold on to their seats in May's council elections and some in the leadership expect discontent to spill on to the conference floor.

Party organisers will hand every delegate a pocket-sized "achievements card" for the party in Government. It will highlight the £200 tax cut for those on low incomes, the £4.50 rise in the basic state pensions and the extra £2.5bn being spent on the pupil premium.

Norman Lamb, Nick Clegg's Parliamentary Private Secretary, said: "This is the party's chance to have its say and we are determined for them to have that opportunity."