Kevin Davis: When will the voters get to judge David Laws?
Kevin Davis was the Conservative candidate for Yeovil at the 2010 general election
Much of what we have read in the media in the last few days has been the press and politicians talking to each other about the rights and wrong of what David Laws has done. But the one thing I think we all picked up, as we trawled through the newsprint and the blogs, is a huge disconnect between what the commentariat are writing and the comments that follow from the voters who put politicians into their positions. I want to bring the people of Yeovil in to this debate because their voice has not been heard.
Many Yeovil people I spoke to over the past few election weeks have not really cared about David's sexuality, about whether David's partner made a profit out of the Parliamentary rent subsidised home they own or even if, like the now imprisoned Eric Ilsley, David over-claimed for his utility bills until he had to come up with a receipt. No, voters in Yeovil they are angry because he lied and deceived them to get re-elected.
David made two claims during the General Election in 2010. The first was that he was "whiter than white" on expenses, and the second was that he was the "local man". Let me be clear: these were not just side notes to his campaign. They were front and centre of every single piece of literature David put out. Every letter and leaflet talked about these issues alone, and rarely was their any local comment except a few articles on Westland helicopters, which anyone who knows Yeovil must never forget about.
The report of the Parliamentary Commissioner has not just exposed Laws' wrongdoing but blown apart every reason he gave Yeovil voters to re-elect him.
On expenses, he listed all the Conservatives in neighbouring constituencies (end even Lib Dems) who had claimed more than hi, and even suggested that he had been cleared by Parliamentary Authorities over his expense claims. He called for more openness and transparency in MPs expenses and said that Parliament had been disgraced by the expenses scandals, and that he wanted to be re-elected to go back and clean it up.
His second campaign theme was that he was the "local man". He claimed that because I owned a home in London and rented in Somerset he was clearly more local than me - ignoring the fact I had family ties to Somerset whilst he had none before Paddy Ashdown selected him to replace him. He even had maps of England showing my home on London and his supposed home in Somerset. Now we learn from the Commissioner's report that Somerset has not been his main home since 2005. In one memorable Hello magazine style Q&A he detailed his working week and how he spent four nights a week in the constituency, something we now know to be untrue. So bad did it get that he even seems to have mis-nominated himself, since he put his Yeovil address on his nomination form and ballot paper when the guidance clearly states it must be your normal address where you live with your spouse or partner.
Voters in Yeovil are very angry about the statements he has made in his election leaflets and what has now been revealed, and David Laws was very much an issue on the doorsteps during the local elections. However, David was a very popular man before the last election. He was probably not as popular as Paddy Ashdown, but he did increase his majority at the election because he was seen as an accessible, likeable MP who worked hard and demonstrated probity and judgement. I also believe he made a fine start in the Cabinet.
For myself, I think of the tens of thousands of pounds I spent being a Conservative candidate against him and yet when it came to it we fought an election on lies and deceit. But this is not about me and it is supposedly the stuff of politics, but as one former Lib Dem member said to me: "I don't know whether you would have beaten David but had this all been known at least it would have been fair".
What saddens me in the Westminster bubble discussions about when he should come back to the Cabinet is that the people who put David into Parliament are being forgotten in all this. Ordinary Yeovil people who pay their taxes and often survive on low wages in poor housing look at Laws and Westminster and give up hope.
I fully support this coalition and dearly want to see our Prime Minister win an overall majority at the next election. For that reason, I ask him to think before he picks up the phone to ask David Laws back to the cabinet. I ask him to read the Laws report and ask himself what the voters of Yeovil would want - the people who really should have a say. I would hope, that in a time when we have spoken abut cleaning up Westminster and giving voters powers to recall MPs we might just say that whilst we want talented people in the cabinet, those MPs who transgress really must seek the electoral opinion of their voters before they move on and try to make us forget their past transgressions.
Unless David seeks the validation of the electorate it will mean his credibility remains shot, it means that we, the Conservatives, risk our own credibility - and politics will continue to be seen as a self-serving and hypocritical business, where you say what you want to get elected and do what you want when you get to Westminster.