Michael Brown: In government you can't expect to protect your privacy

Mr Cameron has shown a steely determination to re-shape ministerial appointments with a minimum of fuss
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The Independent Online

Nobody died. Get over it David, the world hasn't ended – and neither has yours. The papers may scream that you're broken. But if you are made of stern stuff you will actually enjoy your rebirth. Anyway, you're a millionaire and everybody still loves you. Tell them all to stop feeling sorry for you – and the sooner you stop feeling sorry for yourself, the sooner you'll recover. If I sound callous, I'm not. As someone who lived with the "open secret" of being gay when I became an MP over 30 years ago I know, even now, that "coming out" is a painful business, in the eyes of parents and relatives, for those of us born in the 50s and 60s.

The best advice given to me, however, when I was "outed" by Piers Morgan's News of the World "fake sheikh" entrapping an under-age gay boy, 16 years ago, was from my Cleethorpes predecessor (Lord) Jeffrey Archer who resigned from Parliament in disgrace in 1974. "Michael, there is something out there you might do better than that which you wanted to do." My own career in politics finally ended in defeat in 1997 and yet here I am haunting the world of politics, reasonably successfully, from the political grave.

David Laws is a far more brilliant figure than I was – he might even be able to return to frontline politics if (a big "if") he wants to. The moral of this story is that whether they like it or not, members of the new coalition government, will not be able to protect their privacy. It may be unfair, but since David Cameron and Nick Clegg have set the bar of probity so high, their government has sacrificed its rights to privacy.

There is little point in rehearsing further the whys and wherefores of Mr Laws situation. He did wrong and was less than truthful. The killer fact is that his brain is currently disabled from dealing with matters of state. Imagine the piles of red boxes, awaiting his attention, that he took home this weekend. Even if he had stayed in post, his mind would be elsewhere. That was the simple reason why I could not continue in government. My mind was utterly distracted from the daily grind of whipping through Maastricht and rail privatisation. The media were, legitimately, on my case and, like Mr Laws, I was anyway more concerned about the impact of events on my friends and family.

Brilliant though Mr Laws may have been, the coalition will survive. Danny Alexander, his successor, needs only ever to say "no" and make sure he has an unending supply of red ink. Even I could do the job of chief secretary in the current economic environment. (Actually my adherence to Mrs Thatcher's "handbag economics" – don't spend what you haven't got – suggests I could do a better job.)

When Mr Cameron said, last week: "We're going to rip off that cloak of secrecy and extend transparency as far and wide as possible", I knew that hubris would follow. What I cannot understand is why Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron did not sit down and eyeball every proposed appointee to the government and ask them to "fess up" on past embarrassments.

The coalition will, however, survive this crisis and I am glad that the honeymoon has ended. Indeed, the Government might be stronger now that it has lost the unrealistic shiny sheen with which its two principals applied polish in the Downing Street rose garden. Like all its predecessors it will inevitably suffer bumps and scrapes along the way. The Prime Minister and Mr Clegg have shown understanding to Mr Laws but their first responsibility is to the reputation of government and their reaction to the events of the past 48 hours has been coolly decisive.

Every challenge posed by events unplanned provides an opportunity. Mr Cameron has shown a steely determination to re-shape the consequential ministerial appointments with speed and a minimum of fuss. The future bodes well for his reputation for decisiveness when a real crisis hits, not just his government, but the country.

Beyond Westminster there is post election, the normal healthy scepticism among voters who accept that politicians are not "whiter than white". But as Vince Cable remarked, yesterday, there is still goodwill among the public for the general policy of the coalition that the press have, so far, failed to acknowledge.