Am about to leave for the Beeb to do my first broadcast interview on Prelude to Power, with Jon Sopel on The Politics Show.
So just a quick word or two on the David Laws fallout. As I tweeted last night, I feel some personal sympathy for Laws, (which didn’t go down well with my followers) but none for David Cameron and Nick Clegg, who both milked the expenses scandal for all it was worth, Cameron getting four stars for sanctimoniousness, Clegg the full five. If there is one good thing to come out of this, it might make them feel less prone to mount a high horse whenever a bandwagon is passing.
As I said yesterday, it is hard to see much of a defence for what Mr Laws did, but the investigation will decide on that.
But in their words of praise for him last night, Cameron and Clegg were thinking far more about themselves than they were about their departing colleague. Cameron had found the man he felt had what it took to take the axe to public services, whilst sharing the political pain between two parties, and will be hoping the inquiry clears him and perhaps he can have him back at a later date. Clegg just wanted to prevent any lasting contamination of the Lib Dem brand.
But as I read Cameron’s letter, and watched Clegg’s Soviet-style doorstep to a single, seemingly unmanned camera, I couldn’t help thinking of their previous contributions on expenses.
When we were preparing with GB for the leaders’ debates, Clegg was played by GB aide Theo Bertram. As Clegg did through the campaign, Theo played the ‘we’re cleaner than the old parties’ line brilliantly, never missing the chance to say they had had nobody getting their collar felt, and that they had been forced to pay back less than the other parties. Once, almost in unison, GB and I turned on him and yelled at him to stop being so f***ing sanctimonious (I did the f-bit of course, not GB)
So as they now try to turn this from a story of expenses to a story of a human tragedy – which it is – do not forget it is also a story about leadership. If Laws, in Cameron and Clegg’s eyes, did nothing wrong – and their statements would suggest that is their basic take – and if he is so brilliant, then they might have put up more of a fight to keep him.
But where it is really a story of leadership is in what the whole expenses issue says about Cameron and the Tories. Both he and George Osborne had their issues with expenses, but had the media so far up their backsides most people have forgotten what they were.
We then saw how eagerly and how easily he was prepared to see some of his colleagues thrown to the wolves. They will be clocking the difference in his tone about them, and his tone about Laws.
But also just think back a few weeks to the day when it emerged Labour MPs charged over their expenses were seeking legal aid. Cameron, ever the opportunist, tore up his plans for the day, got a little event organised, and piled into the issue (carefully overlooking any ‘innocent till proven guilty’ type problems), saying Labour were a disgrace, and this kind of corruption and legal nonsense would never happen under him.
He soared to the top of the bulletins. The commentators spoke glowingly of how he had ‘seized the initiative.’ And I turned to Philip Gould and said ‘he’ll regret that one day.’
Little did I know that would be within a matter of weeks.
Their past sanctimoniousness explains why the Cameron Clegg statements sounded so hollow last night.
Clegg should use this to take stock. He came third in the election. He did not do as well as he or anyone else expected him to. Yet he is now deputy PM. That is beginning to rankle with a few people, and requires him to strike a slightly different tone.
So calm down a bit, Nick. Underclaim and over deliver. When you go around saying a ragbag of constitutional proposals – which in scale come nowhere near a Scottish Parliament, Welsh and NI Assemblies, elected mayors, FoI, Human Rights Act – represents the biggest change since the Great Reform Act (women’s votes came after that by the way) people start to wonder whether you are not inhaling your own propaganda too much.
*** Amazon link to Prelude to Power below. Hope it works. Yell if not