Regular readers of this blog may have gathered that I’m not a great enthusiast for alternative life-styles. I believe that there are profound reasons, based on millennia of human culture, on custom and practice over many generations, and indeed on the raw facts of biology, to hold heterosexual relationships in somewhat higher regard than homosexual relationships. That, of course, is simply my personal view, and you are perfectly entitled to disagree. But for my part, I shall insist on my right to hold and express that view. I am affronted by the bien pensant opinion which regards such a view as a thought-crime to be suppressed. Oscar Wilde wrote of “The love that dares not speak its name”. It seems to have transmogrified into the love that may not be criticised at any price.
Or rather, it may not be criticised unless one of the protagonists is an MP. Then, it’s open season. The humiliation and vilification of David Laws have been a disgrace. His whole sorry saga stands as a terrible indictment of public opinion, of the chattering classes, of the Fourth Estate, indeed of the whole British body politic. We have picked over David Laws’ dirty linen in public, and then we have hung it, and him, out to dry.
By all accounts, David Laws is an excellent MP, and he was shaping up to be a first class Secretary to the Treasury. It seems he gave up a very successful, highly-paid and high-flying career as a merchant banker to don the hair-shirt of public service, and he did that not for any personal gain, but with the entirely admirable objective of promoting the common weal. Yet we see Vox Pop interviews on the television, and comments on blogs that should know better, accusing him of hypocrisy, of dishonesty, of outright fraud.
Let’s stand back for a moment and consider. As an MP, he was entitled to claim the reasonable costs of his accommodation in London so that he could perform his parliamentary duties, and he chose to sublet a room in a flat owned by someone else who also lived on the premises. (As it happens, this is much the same as my own arrangements in Brussels). The amount he claimed, and the purposes for which he used it, were entirely and totally proper and legitimate. So where is the problem? Simply that he was “in a relationship” (OK, let’s drop the euphemism – he was having sex) with the owner of the flat. But frankly, I don’t greatly care about what Mr. Laws was doing on his own time, privately, behind closed doors. And nor should the public, nor the press.
This situation illustrates the problems that can arise when we start diluting the definition of matrimony, and extending some of its benefits and obligations to other relationships. The parliamentary rule-book apparently refers to “partners who regard themselves as spouses”. What on earth does that mean? It is wonderfully ambiguous. Maybe they regard themselves as spouses for some purposes (say, having sex) but not for other purposes (separate bank accounts and social lives). Suppose A regards B as a spouse, but B has an entirely different view of A? This is no basis for accounting practice.
Yet on the strength of this ambiguity, David Laws has undergone public exposure and humiliation. He has lost a ministerial job and a ministerial salary, and he will be obliged to repay tens of thousands of pounds that he received (I would argue) perfectly legitimately. The Lib-Dems have lost a luminary. The government has lost a potentially excellent Secretary to the Treasury. And the British people have lost a public servant whose skill and dedication at a critical time would have played a vital part in solving the greatest problem facing Britain today – the massive legacy of Labour’s debt.
I am old enough to recall the early sixties, when homosexual acts were a criminal offence, and homosexuals could go to jail. Looking at the persecution of David Laws, I wonder just how much progress we’ve made in the last half-century.