Cuts Minister pays the price

THE resignation of David Laws is not just a setback to the credibility of a coalition Government which promised "a new politics", but it also denies Britain one of the few politicians capable of getting to grips with the horrendous budget deficit.

Unlike a succession of Labour ministers who remained in office after their own financial misdeeds were exposed, Mr Laws does, at least, deserve credit for resigning swiftly as Treasury chief secretary.

Never before has such a promising Cabinet career been cut short so quickly. Not only was Mr Laws the key instigator behind the fledgling coalition, but he was the architect of the 6bn package of spending cuts that was announced a week ago – and he delivered a brilliant Commons performance on Wednesday which ruthlessly exposed Labour's legacy.

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What this resignation shows, however, is that all Ministers will have to conform to the very highest standards of probity. Time will tell if this benchmark can be maintained by David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

More fundamentally, it shows Parliament has still not fully cleansed itself of the expenses scandal. Since the election that was supposed to bring about a fresh start, a Labour MP – Barnsley's Eric Illsley – has been charged by the police and now Mr Laws's Cabinet career has been curtailed after just 17 days.

To many, this is confirmation that self-interest continues to prevail at Westminster. For, irrespective of the personal torment over his sexuality which lay behind the ex-Minister's decision to breach Commons rules and charge the taxpayer 40,000 for rooms that he rented at his secret partner's houses, he only has himself to blame and could not have implemented sweeping spending cuts while he was exploiting rules on expenses; the hypocrisy charge would have been overwhelming.

Mr Laws must have known that his arrangements would have become public at some point, given the continuing interest in every MP's expenses and the additional scrutiny confronting each new Minister.

Yet, if privacy was the motivation of Mr Laws, why did he claim the money – and then compound this error with every subsequent claim – when he is already financially secure following his highly-successful City career?

Even though Mr Laws's fall from grace stems, in all probability, from naivety, he must have been aware of the rules – and could have prevented this crisis by paying back the money before he was exposed publicly. His failure to do so simply perpetuates the belief that some politicians, including some of Parliament's finest minds, still do not understand the need for openness and transparency at all times, irrespective of the personal discomfort that this may cause them.