Posted by: Ciaran | May 29, 2010

Did he jump or was he pushed?

Less than 24 hours after the Daily Telegraph‘s revelations about his expenses – and his sexualityDavid Laws has resigned as Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

His resignation speech, in which he said he had put his ambitions to serve the public ahead of his loved ones, was a dignified and sad statement.

The responses of David Cameron and Nick Clegg have expressed hope he could swiftly return to the Government.

But the reaction online has been much more mixed, with a contentious day of debate on Twitter (#davidlaws) seeing just about every shade of opinion represented.

Fewer people than I expected, though, have blamed the media for his resignation – though Tim Montgomerie’s immediate reaction to Mr Laws’ statement predicted the knives would now be sharpened for the Government.

“The sharks on Fleet Street will now be encircling The Coalition,” he wrote.

“Having tasted blood so quickly they’ll want more.”

That’s a fairly bold claim, and one which will not necessarily be borne out so simply.

David Laws has made privacy the central issue in his departure from the Cabinet, but acknowledged his own lack of judgement in paying expenses to his long-term partner.

This was no media witch-hunt, and perhaps Mr Laws’ resignation prevented it from becoming one.

He has not, as James Forsyth wrote moments after the announcement was made, been “driven out of public life.”

He has instead – bravely, and with great nobility – stepped out of public life (hopefully temporarily) in order to try and protect his personal relationships.

And while that is in itself regrettable, it would be even more regrettable if this was turned in to a stick with which to beat the press.

By publishing the story about his expenses, the Daily Telegraph were effectively committed to outing him, irrespective of their claims that they did not wish to reveal his sexuality.

But the public interest test was surely satisfied by a possible breach of Parliamentary standards by someone so senior within the Coalition, and therefore the decision to publish had strong foundations.

Whether or not David Laws was right to resign is a different matter entirely – but it was a matter for him, and not the media to decide.

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