New Times,
New Thinking.

27 May 2010

Hang on a minute, David Laws!

Look what I just found: a different Laws in 2007, attacking Tory “vacuity” and the idea of taking a

By James Macintyre

David Laws, the new, Conservative-led coalition’s enthusiastic Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is widely seen as the Lib Dem closest to the Tories. Although he turned down an approach to defect some years ago, many see him as “salivating” — as one shadow cabinet minister put it to me — at the government’s proposed cuts. Today on Twitter, he has even been floated as the next Tory leader.

Some more leftist Liberal Democrats, who lean towards the Charles Kennedy position on the coalition, are privately resentful of Laws, whom they see as the epitome of the new, non-ideological party leadership that actively chose to “sell out” to the Tories.

Given this background, it was striking to come across this piece he wrote for the Guardian in June 2007, after Gordon Brown had made overtures, on becoming prime minister, to the Lib Dems.

Of course, it is easy to dig out damaging quotations. But there is a serious point here. Though Laws attacks the Tories, the piece goes some way to indicate that he only ever wanted to get into bed with them, and not Labour, thus backing the thesis of some — including Andrew Adonis — that the new Lib Dems had made up their minds earlier than they appeared to do.

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He begins:

It is always flattering to be courted by others, but there are times when it is important to deliver the courteous “no” which Sir Menzies Campbell gave this week to Gordon Brown’s all too indiscreet serenade. The purpose of the Liberal Democrat party is to promote liberal policies and offer a credible alternative to the intellectual opportunism and vacuity of David Cameron’s Conservative Party, and to the big brother and big state illiberalism of Gordon Brown.

He goes on:

We won’t deliver Liberal Democrat policies by accepting a few minor posts, or even a politically neutered senior post, in someone else’s government. Those who argue that the Liberal Democrats must be cautious about saying no to the prospects of power must reflect on the motives behind these offers.

When Shadow Chancellor George Osborne — on behalf of David Cameron — invited me to join the shadow cabinet, his purpose was surely just to undermine the Liberal Democrats. But I am not a Tory, and if I merely wanted a fast track to a top job, I would have acted on this instinct a long time ago.

And he concludes:

The Conservative leader’s offer and those of Brown have one thing in common: they are designed to bury liberalism, not to reinvigorate it.

The Liberal Democrats will only deliver a more liberal Britain through winning votes in the country and influence in parliament — not through accepting empty offers and poison pills masquerading as ripe fruit.

Well, quite.

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