Conservative Diary

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The Coalition will try to tough out the Telegraph's Danny Alexander revelations

Picture 2 Danny Alexander has offered neither an apology nor a repayment in relation to his claiming a London flat as his second home to the Commons authorities but his main home to the tax authorities - as reported in today's Daily Telegraph here.

This suggests that David Cameron and Nick Clegg have decided to try and tough this one out.  They'll appreciate that the resignation of a second Chief Secretary within less than a week would be a double blow to the Coalition. 

And they'll have noted that there may be a bit of public sympathy for Laws, and that, more importantly (at least for them), there's a lot of media sympathy for him.

So their tactic during the early part of today will probably be to bunker down on this Bank Holiday Monday, not say very much if they can help it, and hope that the media's fickle focus fixes itself on Israel's latest public relations triumph.

If they're sensible, they'll also order an audit exercise of all re-elected Liberal Democrat MPs' expenses.  Cameron astutely executed such an investigation into his own MPs during the last Parliament after the Telegraph's revelations.

Clegg didn't - doubtless because the media saw his Party as small beer.  They don't now.  You can bet that the Telegraph is poring through its files - especially those relating to the other three Liberal Democrat Cabinet members: Vince Cable, Chris Huhne and Michael Moore.

Will trying to tough it out work?  We'll see.  Technically, Alexander's in a better place than Laws. (Morally...well, that's a different question.)  The latter was in breach of Commons rules.  The former doesn't seem to have been - or of HMRC rules, either.

However, the story of the expenses scandal to date confirms that politicians in trouble can't rely on technical defences - especially given Cameron's repeated insistence that voters won't accept them.  The next step, if public and media pressure mounts, will be for Alexander to offer to pay back the money.

My best guess is that Clegg and especially Cameron want him as Chief Secretary only for the short-term - and that if the Standards and Privileges Committee isn't too tough on Laws, the two of them will try to slide the latter back into the Treasury.  For the sake of the country's public finances, I hope so.

Paul Goodman


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