Much has been written about David Laws’ resignation. Personally, I can’t see it as anything other than another expenses story where the guilty party has accepted responsibility. Resigning was the right thing to do because Laws was in clear breach of the rules and had lost the moral authority his position required. Dragging his sexuality into it was irrelevant and unfortunate. However, there’s no overlap between addressing personal turmoil and breaching the rules on expenses claims. It did Laws himself no credit to try to blur the distinction. It does Nick Clegg less credit to continue to defend him after his sanctimonious whining about expenses throughout the election campaign. Another issue, like tuition fees, PR, nuclear weapons and public service cuts which has been sacrificed to the god of “new politics”.
Laws’ resignation has raised another interesting issue though – his replacement. It is difficult to look at Danny Alexander’s track record and experience and understand why he was chosen for the role of Chief Secretary to the Treasury. While Laws was feted for his banking experience and oft-quoted “double first” in economics, Alexander worked in PR for 11 years before becoming an MP, promoting the Britain in Europe group and latterly the Cairngorms National Park. You could suggest that this gives him six years on David Cameron, who only managed five in PR at Carlton TV, but doesn’t exactly stand him out from the crowd as a natural successor to Laws. However, what he is, is a Lib Dem insider. He is close to Clegg and that’s why the Tories want him there. Quite clearly there are better candidates for the job, but Osborne needs a foil. He must be desperate at the loss of Laws who gave the cuts programme some perceived gravitas. Now we’ve got two thirty-sometimes with no economic qualifications or background in charge of an ideologically driven spending review. Osborne needs someone to share the blame when the inevitable criticisms start to rain in.
I expect Alexander to be considerably more high-profile than Liam Byrne was in the role for Labour. The previous government relied on Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown to present the economic arguments. Cameron will want a degree of distance from the cuts, which could seriously harm his own position, while at the same time ensuring that every closed Sure Start centre, every cut in police numbers, every privatised element of the NHS is presented by a “coalition” team. In two years time (if he makes it that far), Alexander may well be running for the Cairngorms and wishing he’d stuck to real mountains rather than political ones.