A swift return to cabinet for David Laws is looking increasingly unviable despite the wishes of Nick Clegg and David Cameron.
The Liberal Democrat MP has been found guilty of breaching “around six” expenses rules. These are understood to include breaking regulations on claims for a second home and renting property from a partner, among others.
It’s not all bad news for Laws: John Lyon, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, has concluded that there is no evidence to suggest he broke the rules out of a desire to maximise profits. Rather, Laws – who claimed more than £40,000 in expenses for rent paid to his partner Jamie Lundie – was motivated by the wish to keep his sexuality private.
But however understandable his intentions were, the fact remains that this is a grave breach of the rules. It is good that the Commons standards and privileges committee has not shied away from this.
It is, however, a setback for Laws’s prospects of a speedy return to cabinet, which as recently as a few weeks ago looked like a dead cert. Since he quit as chief secretary to the Treasury when news about his expenses emerged last year, after just 17 days in government, both Cameron and Clegg have been keen for him to return to government.
Cameron expressed impatience a few months ago at the length of time that the inquiry was taking because he wanted Laws back in government. Clegg’s enthusiasm springs from Laws being one of the most influential and well-known Lib Dems, and a close ally of his on the right of the party.
While the wheels have been set in motion for Laws to return to cabinet, this was always dependent on the outcome of the inquiry. Both Cameron and Clegg are aware that it would not be good for public image to restore him now.
This is corroborated by Cameron’s interview today with the Sun, in which he says that he does not plan any cabinet reshuffles this year. The article goes on to suggest that there may not be any changes until May 2012. Regardless of this, however, Laws will continue to play an important backstage role – both in deciding Lib Dem party strategy and in supporting the coalition. It is highly likely that a renewed cabinet role will follow eventually, as soon as the time is right.