11 May 2011

Coalition creaks as expenses rears ugly head again for David Laws

Will David Laws be the first victim of post May 5th elections new coalition order? His friends are worried that what they see as partial leaks may be misrepresenting his case and creating an atmosphere in which he can’t be reappointed to government whatever the report says.

Lib Dem allies always wanted the benchmarks for judgement to be (a) was Laws’ motivation privacy or profit and (b) has he cost the taxpayer any more money than he would have done if he wasn’t trying to protect his privacy? If he passed those tests, they hoped, he could be quickly restored to a government post with the Tory leadership turning a blind eye to how this would take the Lib Dems over their quota of ministetrial posts.

But Tory MPs are lobbying No. 10 to say that he shouldn’t be let back in anyway. The numbers of Lib Dems in the government shouldn’t rise, they argue. But what really motivates many is that they feel he’d be getting off a lot more lightly than many Tory MPs who were cermoniously humiliated by the Tory leadership at the time of the expenses saga and the original Telegraph revelations.

I hear that the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards does say that he believes that David Laws was motivated solely by his concern to protect his private life and that if he had arranged his private life more openly he could’ve claimed £30,000 more than he did.

Earlier I went along to Nick Clegg’s anniversary speech at National Liberal Club. Tories weren’t best pleased with him saying the Tories can’t be trusted on fairness or pluralism. The PM retaliated at PMQs saying that you can only trust the Tories (not any other party) on the NHS. The truth is that Tory high command is ready to do a bit more “differentiation” of its own in the new coalition dispensation and last week’s results have made it confident it can bring dividends. It wants the badge of fairness still, but expect more on crime, immigration and the rest. When the Tories can’t get their way in the Coalition expect them to blame the Lib Dems for holding them back. When they over-rule the Lib Dem opposition to a policy area, senior Tories say they are ready to rub the Lib Dem noses in it.

We have a YouGov poll, taken from 396 Lib Dem members and 118 former members, on the programme tonight. It found that 52% of (396) members sampled thought the coalition wouldn’t run the full five years, though 63% thought it should. The poll suggests 35% think Nick Clegg shouldn’t lead the party into the next election (against 45% saying he should) – worth remembering he only won the leadership election narrowly. The membership splits 50/50 on whether the Deputy Prime Minister is performing well or badly. Interestingly, on policy issues, 73% of the party members YouGov polled think that the Coalition is handling the NHS badly (that’s a similar figure to the 77% who think the government handled tuition fees badly and way above any other policy area in the disapproval stakes).

Full results from the YouGov poll can be seen here

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