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May 30, 2010


Mark Wadsworth

I don't agree.

Top bloke though he may have been, the question is, would he have been treated any differently if he had been siphoning off taxpayers' finest to subsidise his girlfriend?

I would like to think not (although I may be wrong in that, in which case we'll call it a score draw).


It's not a trivial parking or speeding offence here it is thousands of pounds of cash claimed outwith the rules.

Someone in government making laws for everyone else should be able to follow rules themselves.


Sorry, chaps - I have no interest whatsoever in whether he should or should not have resigned. I say so for two reasons:
1. I'm not interested in moral judgments.
2. I've no desire to express an opinion which might be heard elsewhere.

Bloc d

Likewise, as an orange book liberal Laws is very definitely on the right. These are defining times for the centre ground in British politics in what options will there be for Libdems who are not absorbed into the Conservative party?


"superbly able minister"

He'd only been a Minister for about 20 days!


Thieving hard right arsehole whose lifetime of entitlement made it seem fine to rob the public purse. Try telling someone at the benefits agency that your live-in partner and yourself have separate bank accounts and social lives - they'll kick you off if you're seen out shopping together, never mind lending them money to buy a flat and then getting the taxpayer to pay the rent that repays your loan.
If he wanted to keep his private life out of things he could have rented somewhere else or claimed no money.

Paul Sagar


Your reasoning seems a bit flawed to me, centring on point 1 in particular.

Yes, it's shit when we get individual cases like Laws' - i.e. when good men loose their jobs because they broke some rules which weren't that important, and seem outweighed by the other benefits they bring/brought.

And yes, this is doubly gauling when sticklers for the rules, who are but party aparatchiks, climb to the top and mediocrity reigns.

But for good reasons we can't, and don't, conduct politics on the basis of "you only need to stick to the rules if you're not brilliant; the brilliant politicians may pick and choose which rules to follow". Because (basically) this would be an unmanageable, corruption-rampant system (how would you even begin making decisions about who has to go and when?) because the rules would cease to be functioning rules. And when you're running and ordering big institutions, you need functioning rules - i.e. they have to be followed almost all of the time.

There is a tragic upshot to this, as we're seeing: people like Laws go, and mediocre hacks live a long and prosperous ministerial existence. But we have to accept the tragic upshot as the necessary price to pay for a well-ordered institutional set-up not riven with corruption. Of course, you might like the alternative (rules for the fools who stick to them when the Big Boys don't have to...which is basically the outcome of a system in which rule-following is not enforced fairly meticulously) - in which case I recommend Italy and Greece as destinations for relocation. But I won't be following you there.

There are lots of reasons to worry about rule-following, and I think the claim you centre on at the end - that freedom/morality must extend beyond mere following of rules - is in essense a good one. (Though in The Academy, this delineates an interesting debate between "liberal egalitarian" leftists like Rawls and Dworkin, and "republican" leftists like Phillip Pettit, Quentin Skinner and David Miller; so it's not just a left/right argument, it's a liberal negative liberty vs. republican freedom as non-domination argument too).

But the Laws' resignation is rather a bad example to pick to get to that larger point, because anyone interested in setting up well-functioning corruption-free institutions needs rules that are stuck to by everyone, including the brilliant ones. Sure, assessed individually these brilliant individuals might seem to contribute so much as to out-weigh their (petty) rule breaking. But the nature of well-functioning institutions means that no such exceptions can be permitted, because permitting them leads to corruption and chaos.

For more on this, see: The Wire ad infinitum.


"But as a human being, he demonstrates that there’s more to freedom than mere law. This - perhaps more than anything else - is why I am on the Left."

The idea that there’s more to freedom than mere law isn't exclusively, on even particularly, left wing. Burke, Marx and Bentham - pretty much the spectrum there, no?


Is he any better than a benefit cheat? A benefit cheat can't just pay back the public money he has wrongly taken and that's the end of it. A benefit cheat goes to jail.


Another lazy invocation of "orange bookers", using this term to imply that Laws thinks certain things with little evidence to back it up. I know that nobody took the Lib Dems seriously until now (and I suppose many don't), but the level of ignorance around this topic amongst otherwise well-informed bloggers is astounding.

Here's a quote from Laws' recent (pre-resignation) interview with the FT:
And although free market economics, up until recently, has made big gains in terms of its acceptance throughout politics, I think one of the areas where the strongest advocates of free market economics have shown to be completely wrong is in the area of assuming that a meritocratic society would be one in which there was opportunity for everybody. And societies like Britain and America are meritocracies where the chances of acquiring merit are very unequal. And I think one of the things that I’m most passionate about is trying to, in a free society and in a liberal, free market economy, trying to take action through Government that gives everybody a chance and doesn’t mean that the inequality that arises from freedom is embedded in inequality of opportunities.

Does that read like someone who "emphasise[s] the value of legal, formal freedom whilst perhaps overlooking real, felt freedom."? It doesn't read that way to me.

The real paradox of David Laws, for many people, is the question of why someone who understands markets and economics isn't a Tory - the Tories themselves certainly have trouble understanding this. I think the reasons actually have a lot to do with your very point, Chris, that the kind of formal freedom that the Tory party recognises is not enough. One of David Laws' policies as Lib Dem education spokesman was to increase by £2.5bn/year the funding allocated to the poorest pupils at school, designed to tackle precisely the kind of example you raise in your final paragraph.

Quite a few lefty bloggers seem to be having trouble figuring out how to address the coalition, and the assumption that "orange book" Lib Dems are basically Tories is one symptom of this. They're not, and they have more in common with non-statist lefties than either group does with most of the Tory party. I suspect the tribalism that you mentioned in an earlier post is causing you to see things that aren't really there.


Chris: you wrote

"I'm not interested in moral judgments."

If so, don't you disqualify yourself from commenting on rather a large number of topics? You didn't write the next bit, but ...

"I'm not interested in moral judgments about the Holocaust."

Hmm, doesn't sound too good, does it?

Could you let us know what sort of judgment you are interested in?

"The Holocaust was bad for Nazi PR, and for the German war effort ..."

Or are you adhering to the very old-fashioned mindset that says morality = sexuality?


interesting...in the space of one month you make 2 posts that make me question your sanity.

First, you vote for an illiberal statist, managerialist party on the basis that the leaders did not go to Eton.

And now: "But as a human being, he demonstrates that there’s more to freedom than mere law. This - perhaps more than anything else - is why I am on the Left."

Since when has the left done anything for freedom? Sure, they spout nice words when in opposition but it soon turns out to mean..."the kind of freedom that we define". The real world is full of examples of the way that Socialism has led to tyranny. How many workers were slaughtered by Trotsky for not being idealogically sound? Would Trotsly, Lenin, Mao, Castro have had any time for homosexuality....the answer is in the history books. Being on the Left simply does no cut it as an argument.


The Freedom of Information Act? The Human Rights Act?


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