...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Day 3445: Inlaws and Outlaws


There's an excellent opinion-piece by Mr Ed Fordham, on Liberal Democrat Voice, about the Chief of Stonewall and the case of Mr David Laws.

Back in 1997, when former Prime Monster Lord Blairimort received a million pounds from Mr Bernie Ecclestone – in return using his influence to get Formula One racing exempted from the ban on advertising tobacco in sport – he got away it, appearing on television with the excuse:

"I'm a pretty straight kind of a guy"

Clearly, that's not an excuse that Mr David was going to be allowed to use.

Okay, that's a terrible, terrible gag.

But there's also a big, big point there: a one million quid bribe that clearly was for the benefit of Hard Labour with obvious corrupt benefit to the man giving the bung – no repercussions; forty thousand quid questionable claim for an expense that all other MPs are allowed to claim – job gone and career over.

Oh yes, times have changed.

People responding to the David Laws case seem to fall into two quite distinct categories:

Category A: he "fiddled" his expenses and "ripped off" the taxpayer to the tune of forty thousand quid – burn the witch!

Category B: he was entitled to claim for a second home but (deliberately) misdeclared the allowance claim (which was both wrong and stupid) because he wanted to conceal his private life – come back David, all is forgiven!

Let me be quite clear: I am firmly and PROUDLY in Category B.

Yes, I'm biased: this is a great big WIN for the forces of EVIL who want to damage the coalition, regardless of how good or bad it is for the country, because they are scared of the new politics and what it might mean for their vested interests, and I hate that.

But I'm really getting quite BORED not to mention CROSS with people in Category A who think that "he fiddled forty thousand quid" trumps all arguments. Your moral fervour to crucify a man who told a foolish lie puts you on the side of seriously bad people who want to totally scr– bad-word you over, and that's just INCREDIBLY STUPID!

To you people in Category A, I have to ask: do you think that an MP should have to foot the bill for two homes at once, one in London and one in their constituency? If YOUR job required that you work away from home for long periods, would you mind if they expected you to buy another house?

You might think that MPs should not get an allowance AT ALL for having to run two homes. But that would be saying that only RICH people who can afford to be MPs can be elected; that would DISENFRANCHISE a whole lot of the population. It would not be good for democracy and it would not be fair. Ah ha! people then say, but Mr David Laws IS rich already, he COULD afford to be an MP – that's not the point; the point is that the allowance is to make a LEVEL PLAYING FIELD so that people who are rich OR poor can stand for Parliament equally easily.

So, if you don't accept that, you're not really a democrat and our conversation has to be over.

Perhaps you think that POOR people should get the allowances but not rich people, that there should be some sort of Parliamentary MEANS TESTING. Which would be novel. And certainly not something I've ever heard anyone saying BEFORE this case came up. Though of course you woldn't be trying to fit an argument to the case after you've already made your mind up. And for that matter, where are the protests that Mr Balloon and Mr Oboe get these allowances? Or Hard Labour's Shaun Woodwood or Ms Barbara Folly? They're all millionaires, too. And for that matter, why stop at allowances: why not say MPs who are already wealthy shouldn't get PAID any more.

I think it's fairly IMPORTANT that equal pay for equal work is the proper way to treat people, no matter what they are doing, and that creating different classes of MP depending on your level of contempt and envy is probably a quite BAD IDEA.

So if you DO accept that it is fair enough for MPs to get an allowance for another home, and for all MPs to get the same treatment of their allowance, then you really have to say what your problem IS.

Why might it be WRONG to pay your rent to your PARTNER? Well, I can answer that one: you might be using the payment of rent to disguise the fact that there isn't really a cost at all. If your partner OWNS the property outright, you could be fixing it up for them to make some money for nothing by pretending to rent.

But that ISN'T what was happening here: there was a GENUINE cost of mortgage and bills to pay and Mr David was contributing his SHARE. In fact, as has been pointed out a LOT, if he'd only owned up to being one of a COUPLE Mr David could have claimed for the WHOLE LOT and got a lot MORE money, quite legitimately.

So how can it be a "rip off" to pay forty thousand pounds (over a number of years, remember) for a GENUINE cost that we agree that it's fair enough the taxpayer should pay for?

Essentially, it MUST have been legitimate to make the claim, but the WAY that he made it was wrong.

Now, I know that Ms Diane Abbott-and-Portillo is one among several who have said: "well if a benefit claimant made a false claim – even if they really deserved the money – then THEY'D have to pay it back and might end up in PRISON".

To which I have to say: well that's because the BENEFIT SYSTEM is really, really BAD-WORD-Y. And that is just plain WRONG too.

People should get what they are OWED, not "as little as we can get away with paying them because they filled in box 137b on form Q wrong"!

And if people are going to start flinging accusations of HYPOCRISY about, "one rule for MPs and one rule for benefit claimants", can I just say that as a member of the Party that has been IN GOVERNMENT for the last thirteen years, Ms Abbott-and-Portillo bears rather more responsibility for the benefit system being really, really BAD-WORD-Y than Mr David does!

So, if you're going to put yourself in Category A then either you must think that it would be better for the system to exclude the less well off from standing; or you think that rich people should get different treatment based on envy; or you think that using technicalities to make a profit is legitimate if it's the taxpayer on the receiving end.

Because the only OTHER possibility is that you think it's something to do with SEXUALITY.

Personally, I think it's pretty darn OBVIOUS that it's something to do with sexuality, that this was a case of QUEER-BASHING by a National Newspaper.

And frankly I'm pretty OUTRAGED that some people are now saying that mentioning Mr David's sexuality at all is some kind of EXCUSE.

Without sexuality, this just isn't a story. If Mr David had fallen in love with a women, he'd have declared it with no problems and no one would have batted an eyelid.

Maybe if he hadn't been brought up in a strongly Catholic family; if he hadn't started out life in the screamingly homophobic Eighties (when Mr Michael Cashman got regular bricks though his window for being "the gay" on EastEnders); if he hadn't worked in the ultra-macho environment of the City; if that hadn't been the decade when the viciously hateful Murdock-led press were out to "out" any vicar or teacher or MP they could… maybe, MAYBE then he wouldn't have been so wound up by this as to have gotten himself into this situation in the first place.

But you know what: it would STILL have been a GROSS INTRUSION into an intensely PERSONAL and PRIVATE matter to blab Mr David's sexuality all over the front pages.

NOBODY should be FORCED to stand up and talk about their SEX LIVES. I hate to have to mention it, but that's what the NAZIS did with those PINK TRIANGLES.

If you don't want to "come out" then you shouldn't have to. It's a simple case of FREEDOM FROM CONFORMITY. What you tell and who you tell is YOUR CHOICE and NOBODY ELSE'S.

That is why someone like Mr Bean Bradshaw is so VERY, VERY WRONG in what he tweeted on twitter:
clegg statement re laws nonsense. why should anyone in Britain today feel ashamed to acknowledge they're gay
Why should anyone HAVE to "acknowledge they're gay"? Typical New Labour assumption that the State has a "right" to know anything it wants and that people have a "duty" to be fine with that because OBVIOUSLY new Labour have made all prejudice and hate crimes vanish. Sigh.

We have a HUMAN RIGHT TO PRIVACY, don't we; why can't that actually mean that our privacy is kept PRIVATE?

But what is much, much worse is when someone like Mr Ben Summerschool, chief executive of gay rights* organisation Stonewall, plays along with the QUEER BASHERS.

(*terms and conditions apply, may not include bi-, trans-, poly- or any other rights)

Just a day after Mr David's outing, in a piece for the Independent on Sunday, Mr Summerschool wrote:
Mr Laws seems to have been using his sexual orientation as a bit of a smokescreen to explain away a controversial expenses claim
But that begs the question why was the claim "controversial"? Oh yes, because he didn't declare that the rent was paid to his partner. And why didn't he declare who his partner was? Oh yes, it was to do with sexual orientation.

In other words, what Mr Summerschool writes is: Mr Laws seems to have been using his sexual orientation as a bit of a smokescreen to explain away an expenses claim to do with his sexual orientation.

When you put it like that, when you can see that this makes NO SENSE in logic or language, you realise that it can only be POLITICALLY-MOTIVATED ATTACK.

But this is the clincher:
If he had made no claim, then none of this would be in the public domain now
In other words, a gay man who does not want to come out has to accept worse treatment than other people doing the same work. That is discrimination, pure and simple.

And that is why Mr Ben Summerschool is NOT FIT to be chief executive of Stonewall, an organisation that is SUPPOSED to campaign for the PROTECTION of gay daddies and NOT the discriminatory treatment of them.

Daddy Richard was – we have to admit – in a state of some FURY already about this whole business, but when he read Mr Summerschool's diatribe in the Sunday Independent he totally blew an upper head gasket, terminating his monthly donation to Stonewall with, as they say, extreme prejudice, and dashing off the following e-mail to the organisation:
Dear Sirs,

Your Chief Executive, Mr Ben Summerskill writes about the Outing of Liberal Democrat minister, Mr David Laws in today's Independent.

Mr Summerskill asserts that David Laws' resignation was about money and not about the hounding of a gay man from office.

Mr Laws could clearly have claimed the same money (in fact possibly even more money) if he had been a married heterosexual man or if his landlord had been a woman, so this is clearly not about the money. But because the other person was a man Mr Laws would have been required to be treated differently. If you do not see that that is about unequal treatment, then I no longer know what your organisation is for.

Mr Summerskill also makes a number of snide remarks and innuendoes about Mr Laws and the Liberal Democrats in general that one would not expect outside the writing of some of the so-called right-wing commentators. If that is his view, then I do not see how Mr Summerskill can be considered to be a campaigner for equal treatment for gay and lesbian men and women, and frankly I find that he is, and therefore you are, supporting a homophobic attack by the Telegraph. I will have nothing further to do with any organisation that employs him.

I am therefore cancelling my direct debit to Stonewall immediately.

Yours in extreme anger with you and your whole team

Richard Flowers.
We have not yet received any reply.

But that was all a bit OVER THE TOP, so let me finish by once again endorsing the rather more TEMPERATE response from the MUCH CALMER Mr Ed.

An excellent piece, well written, sir!

Declaration of Interest: Daddy Alex knows Mr David slightly; Daddy Richard knows Mr Jamie slightly. No of us knew there was anything between them. And you know what, it was none of our business then and it's none of our business now.


Andrew Hickey said...

Couldn't agree more. When this story first broke, I was willing to give the Torygraph the benefit of doubt to an extent - he did break the letter of the law, and I'm not familiar enough with the rules to know how severe that breach was. But as time has passed and I've learned more, it's become apparent that this should have been a non-story, and was only publicised from the worst of motives. The only question in my mind is whether that motive was homophobic or anti-Lib Dem in nature, or, as I suspect, both...

Unknown said...

Spot on.

Unknown said...

Excellent article. Thank you for laying out the arguments so clearly and judiciously. Best, Katherine