Letters: David Laws

The tragic fall of David Laws
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The Independent Online


I heard David Laws's neighbouring MP, Jeremy Browne, on Radio 4, defending Mr Laws and his £40,000 expenses on two rather odd grounds, first, that Mr Laws wanted to keep his personal life private, and second, that Mr Laws could easily have claimed more than £40,000.

Apart from the peculiar notion that Mr Browne could not grasp that Mr Laws and the person he was living with were partners in a sense that just about everyone else would understand, his defence of Mr Laws show clearly how MPs still don't get it when it comes to public contempt for their actions.

We all have personal lives, and no doubt some of us lead lifestyles that, while perfectly legal, we don't want widely known. What we don't do is take public money to cover it up. There is no reason why Mr Laws had to pay his partner rent. How many of us pay our husbands, wives or civil partners money to live with them?

On Jeremy Browne's second line of defence, are we to applaud a thief for smashing the window of a jeweller's and only taking one diamond bracelet, not the whole lot?

I look forward to Mr Browne's support if I get caught shoplifting on my next trip to the supermarket on the grounds that I could have stolen more but didn't and that I stole to save money to pay my wife rent on the house that I took out the mortgage on.

Geoff James

London E10



For David Laws to claim that he merely wanted to "protect our privacy" and that they "did not treat each other as spouses" is disingenuous in the extreme; not paying £40,000 to his lover would have protected their privacy.

His judgement is now suspect; like David Mellor in 1992, he has besmirched the government within weeks of its formation.

Remember, Alistair Darling (Edinburgh South-West) was a classic serial flipper, making conflicting declarations four times to the House of Commons and HMRC, on his signature, each claiming a different house to be his main residence.

Others of that ilk whose flexible integrity and venality has now been legitimised by their re-election are the well-named Bill Cash (Stone), claiming on his daughter's flat despite owning one nearer Westminster; the Speaker, John Bercow (Buckingham), who flipped and, in committee, tried to increase the level for MPs' unsubstantiated expenses just before the scandal erupted, and, of course, the serial flipper Hazel Blears (Salford East).

The rotten parliament has clearly continued, despite pre-election promises.

John Birkett

St Andrews, Fife



David Laws's explanation that his present predicament stemmed from his fear of revealing his sexuality doesn't wash. He could simply have decided not to claim for the room he rented from his partner.

But perhaps we should have some sympathy for him when he argues that he and his partner didn't have a relationship equivalent to a marriage or civil partnership. What is needed is more clarity with the rules.

We all know that relationships are hard to categorise. There are few clear lines other than solemnisation. Most intimate relationships occupy a point on a continuum between "What was your name again?" and "until death us do part".

Where the lines are drawn, if they are drawn short of marriage and civil partnership, will inevitably be contentious. Should they involve cohabitation or joint bank accounts? Does putting up with one's partner's godawful taste in music, or chronic flatulence, point towards the kind of committed relationship the standards commissioner may have in mind when ruling on David Laws's case?

Wherever the lines are drawn people will "game" them, but such is human nature. Better that than leaving people such as David Laws to guess where the lines might be.

Jonathan Kent

Wadhurst, Sussex



David Laws claiming that he "cannot escape the conclusion that what I have done was in some way wrong, even though I did not gain any financial benefit" gives a new slant to the word "benefit". Sixty per cent of the population earns £24,000 or less per annum. Now £40,000 is claimed by a millionaire ex-banker for the time spent living in a home belonging to a person with whom he has some kind of relationship, however he chooses to regard it.

How does he suppose Social Services would regard his claim if he were dependent on the other sort of benefit? Mr Laws, like many others, is guilty of greed, an unpardonable sin in the present climate. Politicians take heed.

Anna Farlow

London NW22



David Laws undoubtedly broke the rules, albeit for complicated personal reasons unconnected with financial gain, and for a sum far less than claimed by certain re-elected MPs sitting comfortably on the back benches.

Of course he should be accountable for his mistake but is the punishment meted out by the Telegraph proportional to the crime? I think not. I can't escape the conclusion that the paper's revelations were motivated primarily by the sensational "outing" of a government minister, about whom they'd never have uttered a word if he'd remained a backbencher.

Does the paper really believe that the public interest is served by his removal from office when the country so desperately needs his talents? Does it really think that the destruction of an individual for reasons so closely connected with his sexuality is valid and principled? To me, it's a homophobic act dressed up as a public service, and it stinks.

Paula Jones

London SW20



You have to feel sorry for David Laws in being afraid to tell his parents. Here we are in 2010 and coming out is still hard, for some people. But after being outed by the press I am sure he wished he had.

It takes courage to tell your family, and you don't know how they will react, but whatever you are your parents willl still love you, even though it might take years, and it will be harder, for you if they don't accept your partner.

Now we have a career destroyed all because of the perceived stigma of being gay. What a pity.

Robert Pallister

Punchbowl, NSW, Australia



The dream of owning a home



The average age of a first-time property buyer in the UK is now 37. In a recent survey by Barratt, desire to own a property came above marriage or having children. The former Labour government pushed this dream beyond the reach of most young people, partly by encouraging buy-to-let and second-home purchases.

Some Conservative ministers are challenging the proposed rise in capital gains tax. So how does second-home ownership and buy-to-let investment benefit society, and fit in with traditional Conservative ideals?

By definition, second homes sit vacant for much of the year. Buy-to-let investors push property prices beyond the reach of first-time buyers, who then have to pay the mortgage of the same people who outbid them. Property price rises do not help the economy in the long term: overall debt increases and less is spent in productive parts of the economy.

To add insult to injury, when house prices crashed in 2008, the government used hundreds of billions of pounds of taxpayers' money to re-inflate them. In the traditional capitalist model, overstretched landlords and second-home owners would have sold their properties at affordable prices to first-time buyers. Instead, they didn't even get a look-in. First-time buyers collectively paid billions of pounds to support their own continued exclusion from the housing market.

It is therefore imperative that the coalition press ahead with their plans to raise CGT to income-tax levels or higher for second-home owners and buy-to-let landlords, without taper relief, indexation or any other way of avoiding paying it. First-time buyers have paid to keep house prices up; they must now have some payback. Many second-home owners and buy-to-let landlords are sitting on significant capital gains. If 50 per cent of these gains are taxed, they will still keep 50 per cent of this gain. Not transferring some of these gains amounts to a huge and unfair tax on non-homeowners. No gain means nothing to pay anyway.

It is also imperative that second-home ownership and buy-to-let investment is strongly discouraged. Why not give tax incentives to build much-needed new property which could be let out instead? This would create new homes and stimulate the floundering construction sector.

Society has been split in two, those who own property and those who don't. The long-term aim of any government that wants to encourage hard work and enterprise must be to create a system where those who want to own a property outright – not part-share it – can do so. After all, we will need the aspiring homeowners of today to keep the economy going and look after us in a few years.

Stan Jones

Maidstone, Kent



Stark reality of life on benefits



The new Work and Pensions Secretary has announced that the benefit system is bust and that "under Labour, work did not pay" ("We must not 'park' people on benefits, says Duncan Smith", 27 May). Perhaps he thinks that a single person's benefit (£64) or a couple's (£100) is so generous that they are preventing people working?

It is strange that the obvious answer did not spring to mind, an increase in the poverty pay of workers such as House of Commons cleaners.

We have just come through the worst economic crisis in more than a century. Most of our major banks would have gone to the wall but for state intervention. It is not the benefits system but free-market capitalism, which needs reforming.

Yes, people are angry, not about benefits but the fact that the bankers who got us into this crisis are still getting their million-pound bonuses. The Government has said that there are going to be billions of pounds of cuts. Unemployment will inevitably increase. And just where are the jobs that people are being deterred from taking by these over-generous benefits? And what does pushing existing recipients of Incapacity Benefit on to Jobseekers Allowance do to create work?

The coalition government's strategy is to save money and reduce the standard of living of the poorest in society. It is a pity that New Labour provided no opposition worthy of the name.

Tony Greenstein

Secretary, Brighton & Hove Unemployed Workers Centre, Brighton



Iain Duncan Smith is promising to reform the welfare system and put millions of people on benefit back to work. The UK is coming out of recession with a projected growth of only 1.3 per cent over the next year. This growth is not sufficient to provide jobs for the recent unemployed let alone the individuals leaving school and university.

Only a small minority of the long-term unemployed will have the job skills required to be competitive with the recently unemployed and this year's school leavers and university graduates. These changes in benefit qualifications will also cause a strain for the workforce of the JobCentres, who will face a massive increase in new customers, plus a decrease in the workforce because of the Government's freeze on hiring.

Welfare reform is required but to make promises which cannot be achieved will not resolve the problems of the benefits system. That will only provide ammunition for the opposition come the next election, which may be sooner than Mr Duncan Smith thinks.

George D Lewis

Brackley, Northamptonshire



Respect for a despot



The inauguration of Omar al-Bashir, an accused war criminal, as President of Sudan after a deeply flawed election was the first chance for David Cameron and William Hague to signal a principled and human rights-led approach for the new UK government.

They failed to do so after the deputy UK ambassador attended the swearing-in of an illegitimate ruler who is wanted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, effectively paying respects to his coronation on behalf of this country. Waging Peace has been in Sudan recently witnessing the effects of the years of conflict and systemic human-rights abuses driven by Bashir's regime.

At a time when South Sudan is joining Darfur as one of Africa's most destabilised and abused regions, the man who is chiefly responsible should not be legitimised at this perverse celebration of despotism by party guests representing Britain.

Louise Roland-Gosselin

Director, Waging Peace, London W2



War is better? Let's get to it



I am sure Tom McIntyre (letters, 28 May) has enlightened us all by suggesting that war is better than abortion because it is all about "killing ... the enemies of civilisation". And here was me thinking it was about the wholesale slaughter of children, women and men – the innocent and the guilty – on an altar dedicated to oil, land, religion or some other idol.

Well, by jingo, he must be right. We must obviously ban abortion forthwith, and since that will make our British master race more populous, we had better kill all those dastardly Afghans and Iraqis, and quickly decide who to invade next.

Giles Watson

Uffington, Oxfordshire



A bone to pick



In Michael McCarthy's description of Caroline Lucas's maiden speech in the Commons, he says, "The markers she put down about her future activities constituted the meat" of it. Shouldn't this be "lentils"? And by the way, in a unique constitutional development, in Brighton and Hove's other two constituencies, many residents regard her as their MP.

Christopher Hawtree

Hove, Sussex

Perspectives on sacrifice for Dunkirk

A salute to the Highlanders



Yet another landmark Dunkirk anniversary has passed and yet again there has been little mention in either the press or on television of the contribution of the 51st Highland Division. It is a sad indictment of the UK press that the British people apparently know little of the heroic contribution of the Highland Division and the part they played in the success of Dunkirk.

In the planning of the Dunkirk evacuations, the War Office realised, with General Erwin Rommel commanding the 7th Panzer Division in northern France, that if the evacuation from the beaches was to be a success then a diversion was required to lure Rommel from Dunkirk. The Highland Division and the French 9th Division were ordered "to engage the enemy" and to lead them away from Dunkirk, then get to Saint-Valéry-en-Caux where they would be met by boats.

They "engaged the enemy" for three weeks after Dunkirk and arrived at Saint Valéry but no boats were there. They suffered 209 losses and the French Division took losses of 214. In the end, with nowhere left to go and surrounded, out of ammunition and supplies and without naval support, they were overwhelmed by Rommel and ordered to surrender on 12 June 1940. Some 10,000 were taken prisoner.

If the 7th Panzer Division had not been led away and had been allowed to get near to Dunkirk the effects would have been devastating, and it is reasonable to conclude that the evacuation would not have succeeded. After Saint-Valéry, the War Office reformed the 51st Highland Division to fight under Montgomery in North Africa against, ironically, Rommel. Again, they acquitted themselves heroically.

Saint-Valéry-en-Caux is now twinned with Inverness. The front of its large, sheltered harbour has a row of big flagpoles with the St Andrew's cross, the Saltire, flying beside the French and German flags.

On the clifftop, above the beach, is Un Monument Ecossais, 20ft tall and inscribed in English, Gaelic and French. The words are simple, starting "With heartfelt thanks ...". Is it really too much to expect the British to offer similar sentiments?

Andrew J Beck

Stenhousemuir, Stirlingshire

Blitzkrieg blunder of ignored report



Andreas Whittam Smith says in "The lessons May 1940 has for today" (28 May) that "French generals carefully studied Hitler's success [in Poland] but then concluded it was no precedent", and his thesis is that, although being unable to "think out of the box", the French staff were conscientious and intelligent.

General Stanislaw Maczek, commander of the Polish 10th Motorised Cavalry Brigade during the German invasion of Poland in 1939, escaped to France with many of his men and prepared a report on the blitzkrieg tactics for the French General Staff. It was found, unopened, by the Germans as they invaded France.

Maczek returned to France during the Normandy landings as commander of the Polish 1st Armoured Division which became the stopper in the bottle of the Battle of the Falaise Gap, resulting in huge German losses in men and materiel.

Andy Simmonds

Sheffield

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