12 May 2011

David Laws: the first Westminster victim of Thursday’s results

David Laws was “doughnutted” by supportive Lib Dems including Sarah Teather and Norman Lamb as he gave his personal statement to the Commons. Mr Lamb gave David Laws a squeeze of the shoulder when he finished.

Then Mr Laws was off out of the chamber not knowing if his frontbench political career was  itself suspended or truly over.

Lib Dem colleagues are working phones and studios tirelessly to keep the flame alive, to emphasise the motives and query the punishment, as I just heard Paddy Ashdown doing.

Not on camera but no less diligent, Tory backbenchers and members of the government have said to me within seconds of David Laws sitting down: “there’s no way back” and “do you think I’d have a job ever again if I’d done that – there can’t be different rules for different parties”.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is often criticised for working at the speed of a snail with angina. The speed of this report has been critical for  David Laws. Such was the good humour, bonhomie and mutual support spirit of the Coalition at the senior command that a few short months ago I think Mr Laws would’ve bounded back into government without much difficulty.

David Cameron was said to have pondered privately about bringing him back in as an additional minister topping up the Lib Dem quota that had seemed fixed. Well, that quota now looks much more fixed.

George Osborne and David Cameron still rate David Laws’ ministerial skills highly but the Lib Dems are not the only ones in the mood for “more differentiation”. They know their own backbenchers resent, as they see it, Vince Cable and Chris Huhne getting away with behaviour that would get a Tory minister sacked. They’re breathing down the PM’s neck.

David Laws could come back if a Lib Dem minister created a vacancy or if a reshuffle came next year. He may well do so. But his return is harder to pull off than it would’ve been and not certain.

He’s the first Westminster victim of Thursday’s results. Trying to come back on the pitch just as a “friendly” turned into a bit of a grudge match.

Nick Clegg promised yesterday that the Coalition wouldn’t descend into  “tit for tat” … some conversations you have today make you wonder.

@GaryGibbonBlog

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