I’ve just this week finished reading David Laws’ “22 Days in May”; the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury and expenses-cheating Lib Dem MP’s account of the negotiations before and the birth of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government. I bought it about a fortnight ago as research for “The Last Post” and there have certainly been some useful insights.
1) Laws is a slimy soul-free political hack. ‘Mandelson without the charm’ was my instinctive reaction. I’ll concede that he does seem to stand for more on principle than Mandelson (not difficult), even if it isn’t what I’m fond of. Nonetheless he oozes self-promotion and self-importance. I’ve never much warmed to him. 22 days is incidentally the length of time between me having never heard of David Laws and me thinking he was a contemptible bastard beyond redemption.
2) The City of London is the true power behind the throne. Laws is a former City economist, so there’s no threat at any point of him diverging from their self-serving economic orthodoxies. Throughout the coalition negotiations and into his first actions as Chief Secretary, Law’s obsession is on making policy deals that please the City. In other words, “market credibility” matters more than democracy, or any mandate or morality. The City of London and the Financial Markets can hold politicians and Parliament to ransom, and Laws is just cool with that.
3) Historical accuracy takes second place behind smearing and making first claim on what has obviously become a much-contested “he-said, she said”-type bit of the historical record. Tories are lovely and cuddly and discussion with them is all rainbows and puppies. Labour are EVIL and tribal and not friendly enough. Tories make jokes at the Liberals’ expense and its just “banter” (a word Laws himself uses without irony). Harriet Harman understandably forgets which Lib Dem MP is spokesperson for a minor cabinet brief and its a deliberate slur. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls come in for special attack, something which obviously has nothing to do with the book being published in November 2010.
4) Chris Huhne also gets unfavourable coverage, though in this case I don’t believe it is Law’s intent. Like Laws, Huhne comes across as a soul-less technocrat; one who literally starts picking out new curtains for his ministerial office and who cheerfully helps justify austerity politics. Its a shame, because Huhne was one of the few coalition ministers I didn’t actively dislike.
5) Despite his denials, a Lib Dem-Tory deal was Laws’ (and by extension Nick’s) favoured option. The numbers for a Lab-Lib deal really didn’t work – determinism aside, I can see that – and yet this gets very little attention or is brushed aside. Apparently, when it came down to it, the Lib Dem manifesto (as interpreted by Laws) really wasn’t that different from the Tory one. Electoral reform was the only real stumbling block. Once that was agreed (badly, in hindsight), everything was grand. What most of us have recognised in hindsight, and what Laws effectively admits is that a right wing minority within the Liberal Democrats basically staged a coup, hijacking what was seen as a “Left” party for much of the 1990s and 2000s, and turning it from social democracy in favour of neoliberal economics and bums on cabinet seats.
6) Law’s expenses scandal – the whole basis for his resignation -gets surprisingly few pages. Obviously he wants to refocus his political biography back to his key role in the pre-coalition plans and the negotiations after May 7th. Even so it would have been interesting to hear his case. I credit him with at least having the honour and decency to resign immediately. On the other hand, I can’t help forget that those convicted of housing benefit fraud for relatively insignificant sums face prison sentences, whereas Laws kept his Yeovil seat and got a book deal out of it.
David Laws has since slithered back into Cabinet, albeit in a very non-public role. Yeovil might be a seat-to-watch come 2015, assuming he hasn’t formally joined the Blues by then.
Next up: I’ve got (Lord) Andrew Adonis’ take on the same period, so I can play “spot the difference”.