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Could David Laws make a speedy return to the frontbench this autumn?

By Tim Montgomerie

6a00d83451b31c69e20133ef521e08970b-500wi Within an across-the-waterfront essay on the state of the Coalition for yesterday's Mail on Sunday, James Forsyth wrote that David Laws may be about to return:

"Laws is now expected to return to Government soon. He was at a recent gathering of Clegg confidants to discuss political strategy and feelers have been put out to see how the media would react to his returning this autumn after the spending review is completed."

If Mr Laws did return so quickly it would be a speedy and controversial rehabilitation after he was forced to resign because of the way he used Commons expenses.

Pressure for his return is coming just as strongly - perhaps more strongly - from Conservatives as from Liberal Democrats. Before the news of his living arrangements broke he was by far the most popular Liberal Democrat in ConHome's survey of grassroots Tory members.

Danny Alexander is struggling as Chief Secretary. Tory ministers do not respect him and is said to be entirely dependent upon Treasury officials. Laws, in contrast, had the economic and analytical skills to impress every minister he met.

'He quite simply is the right man for these extraordinary times [said one Cabinet source]. At the moment we have the former press secretary for the Cairngorms National Park presiding over the toughest spending review in one hundred years. It isn't working and that is why Spelman, Cable and other frontbenches are in rebellion. They do not feel they are in safe hands.'

It is, however, one thing for Laws to return to the frontbench following the hoped-for clean bill of health from the parliamentary watchdog, but quite another for him to return to his previous job. What would happen to Danny Alexander? He couldn't simply replace Michael Moore as Scottish Secretary. Could he?

The Coalition is clearly aware that rehabilitating Laws so quickly would be controversial and that is why, notes James Forsyth, the water is being tested before a decision is made. I've also heard reports that David Laws was quite depressed by his weekend at the centre of national attention. He may be very reluctant to quite so quickly immerse himself, once more, in the media cauldron.


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