Andrew Grice: Suddenly the coalition's star is not in control of his destiny

Analysis
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The Independent Online

On his website David Laws has made repeated claims about being given a clean bill of health over his parliamentary expenses and being the first to disclose them to the public.

One entry by the Liberal Democrat MP for Yeovil says: "David's claims since 2002 have been the second lowest out of the 17 MPs for Somerset and Dorset." Another says: "David has the second lowest claim for London living costs of the 17 MPs for the Somerset and Dorset area – last year he spent just £15,962 out of the permitted budget of £24,006. While many MPs have claimed the maximum 'second homes' allowance each year, David has under-claimed on this allowance by £29,500 since his election in 2001. He has never changed the designation of his main home or 'flipped' this designation for financial benefit." It adds: "David does not own a property in London – he rents a home in London so he can be in the capital when Parliament is sitting. He has therefore made no capital gains or profits on property paid for with public money. He has done nothing to avoid any tax liabilities."

These statements take on a different light given the revelations in today's Daily Telegraph. Mr Laws is about to find out whether the Parliamentary authorities still believe he deserves a clean bill of health.

He has acted quickly by agreeing to repay the claims and referring his own case to the standards watchdog. Self-referral has almost become the norm when such revelations are made and does not guarantee lenient treatment.

At best this is an embarrassing episode for the coalition Government, a reminder that despite talk of a "new politics" and the arrival of 227 new MPs at the election, the "old politics" has not yet been left behind. At worst, it could be the Government's first scandal and, depending on Mr Lyon's verdict, could even cost Mr Laws his seat at the Cabinet table.

The irony is that he has been one of the brightest stars of the new administration. Some observers even thought he outshone his boss, the Chancellor George Osborne, when they jointly announced £6.2bn of spending cuts on Monday. He won plaudits from all sides – including Labour – for his feisty defence of the cuts in the Commons chamber on Wednesday. He looked in total command of his brief, not like a man making his debut at the dispatch box.

His departure would be a great loss to the coalition, and a huge setback to the Lib Dems' attempts to show they can be trusted with power. But whether he can remain in the Cabinet is suddenly no longer under his control.

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