Britain's two-week old ruling coalition suffered its first political crisis on Sunday when a high-profile Liberal Democrat Cabinet Minister was forced to resign over allegations of abuse of parliamentary expenses rules in an echo of the MPs' claims scandal that rocked the previous Parliament.
David Laws, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, had his brief ministerial career abruptly cut down following revelations that he claimed more than £40,000 over a period of eight years to rent rooms in two properties owned by his long-standing gay partner, James Lundie, a Liberal Democrat supporting lobbyist. Rules bar MPs from leasing accommodation from partners/spouses.
Mr. Laws resigned after admitting that he was wrong to have claimed the expenses but insisted that his motivation in not disclosing his relationship with Mr. Lundie was that he wished to keep his sexuality private. “My motivation throughout has not been to maximise profit but to simply protect our privacy and my wish not to reveal my sexuality,'' he said.
A former investment banker, Mr. Laws was regarded as one of the key figures in the Tory-Lib-Dem government and entrusted with the unpopular task of cutting down public expenditure to deal with the £157-billion budget deficit. In his resignation letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, Mr. Laws said the past 24 hours had been “very difficult and distressing'' for him and he had decided to step down “in the interests of the government, my constituents and — most important of all — those whom I love''.
“I do not see how I can carry out my crucial work on the Budget and spending review while I have to deal with the private and public implications of recent revelations,'' he said.
Observers called the development a damaging blow to the new government which came to power promising “new politics''.
Both Mr. Cameron and his Lib Dem counterpart Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, had condemned MPs who had abused the claims system and vowed to introduce a new culture. Mr. Clegg, in particular, had sought a high moral ground pointing out that the expenses scandal had mostly involved Labour and Tory MPs.