Sunday 30 May 2010

David Laws, Lord Laidlaw and newspapers

David Laws' resignation is a cause for deep regret. I did not want him to resign. I am dismayed that he felt the need for secrecy over his sexuality, and I am equally dismayed at the newspaper treatment of it, which demonstrates that his felt need for secrecy was well founded, despite what other gay people may say. I think it would have been possible for him to carry on. There are certainly suggestions that David Cameron thought so. Nevertheless I feel proud that Laws has done what would in a less febrile atmosphere be called the right thing. I am also sure that he will return when the dust has settled, and that that will be the right thing too. The price of politics is high. I am sure that Laws knew that already, but it has now been reaffirmed for him. He is a tough man though, I have no doubt of that, and our politics will be better run when he returns to office.

Many are saying that the coalition has been weakened. I do not believe this is so. The coalition has been wounded, but I think it will emerge from this episode the stronger. The media narrative has already formed around Laws being pivotal to the growing understanding between Conservatives and Libdems with the implication that it will all start to unravel “coalition in turmoil” is a headline in the Observer today. I doubt that. The unexpected is the stuff of politics. “Coalition takes first blow, flesh wound, no stitches required, will survive” is more like the truth, but that doesn't sell newspapers. Laws is an unusual talent, but there is plenty of other talent on both sides, as well as willingness to do the job. And in any case, I am sure that Laws will still be there in the background providing support and advice as far as he can.

Meanwhile another item of news is far more important for the long term future of British politics. Lord Laidlaw, substantial donor to the Conservative Party, has resigned as a lord in order to maintain his status as a non-dom. Well, good riddance. This is the man who made a specific written promise in 2003 that if made a lord, he would become a UK taxpayer. He welshed on the promise, and, it has to be said, the Tories let him. Every day he continued as a Lord, living a lie, was another day in which the old politics could still outshine the new. There is plenty of old politics still around, as this headline shows, (I note there is no suggestion of Conservative party misdoing here) and much still needs to be done to sort out party funding. But at least we have one liar less in the Lords. Laws will be back, Laidlaw, I very much hope, will not.

The manner of publication of Laidlaw's decision says a lot about our press. The Times headlined the article: (read it now before it goes behind the paywall) "Sex addict peer gives up seat to save non-dom status". I don't give a stuff about Laidlaw's sexuality, and neither should anyone else. It says a lot that the Times leads with the "sex addict" bit, when this is possibly a fundamental moment in the move to change the way in which British politics is done, far more important in the long run, I think, than the question of David Laws' resignation. And I thought the Times was interested in politics.

Perhaps the Times is vying with the Telegraph for cheapest broadsheet headline of the year. The Telegraph headlined their article about David Laws expenses (I apologise here and now to David Laws for bringing this up again, but my purpose is to outline the cheapness of the Telegraph's editorial stance): "MPs' Expenses: Treasury chief David Laws, his secret lover and a £40,000 claim". No doubt "MPs' Expenses: Treasury chief David Laws, his £40,000 claim" would not have sold enough copies. This is the paper that brought us: "MPs' expenses: Jo Swinson submitted receipts for tooth flosser and eyeliner", for which a true headline would have read: "Young woman spends own money on inexpensive makeup, shock, horror". Perhaps the Telegraph wants to be the first broadsheet to join the Daily Mail in the gutter of British journalism. It's got a long way to go to get that low, to be honest, but it's heading there fast.

1 comment:

David Gerard said...

The Times really is just The Sun with big words.