The David Laws story isn't really about expenses, for all the wasted newsprint being expended on that topic. If his expenses had been the real issue, there was nothing to stop the Daily Telegraph printing all this last year, alongside all its other victims. There is no chance they could have somehow missed David Laws' claims - he was, after all, a frontbench Lib Dem spokesman, not exactly an unknown. No, the issue is indeed his homosexuality, and his 'secret' partner. The Telegraph have it up there in their headline, and it is David Laws' unwillingness to admit his sexual orientation that is the focus of so much of the commentariat's angst this morning. It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that Telegraph acted on a tip against one of the coalition's star turns, in the knowledge that the revelations about his private life, and his desire to keep it secret, would provide the hook for the story's sensationalism. Well, they have their victory, but what a dismal one.
There are precious few national interests served by removing an able and talented man from one of the government's key portfolios, in which, after just 18 days, it looked as if he was shining. But this campaign has managed that, for few people, particularly people of intelligence and sensitivity, can survive this sort of media onslaught. The more we subject our would-be public servants to this sort of hysterical 'scrutiny', the less likely we are to get genuinely high calibre people into serious government jobs. We might as well give up the whole process and simply appoint Max Clifford as the independent arbiter of who would be suitable. This has been a victory for an increasingly tawdry newspaper, but it is an unpleasant, negative one for all that.
As for the gay issue, it has exposed the frailty of the wisdespread view that somehow we have managed to achieve such a sublime level of gay acceptance that there can surely be nothing standing in the way of gay people pursuing high profile careers in full open-ness about their sexuality. For a start, acceptance of homosexuality is far from widespread. Go beyond the cosmopolitan capital's inner environs, and there remains a hefty level of suspicion and bigotry towards gay people. Such attitudes are often community based. They are certainly often found in family units. Who are we - or any metropolitan media commentators - to judge how appropriate it may be for individuals of different backgrounds and beliefs to be fully open about their sexuality? In any case, we won't have matured as a society until such revelations are essentially redundant. It would have been an optimistic sign if the news about David Laws' expenses had been made without reference to the sex of his partner, or to his own long hard night of the soul. But this was not to be. Even the Independent on Sunday has sought to provide a half page profil of Mr. Laws' partner, complete with reprints of various trivial twitter messages from him to flesh out the article. The one commentator who has provided useful illumination has been the Conservative blogger Iain Dale, who has used his own struggle with admitting his homosexuality to explain David Laws' dilemma in an article for, of all papers, the Mail on Sunday.
This whole sorry affair has told us very little about parliamentary propriety or about the issue of expenses generally - it was old news (his claims were between 2004 and 2007, and the only year of interest here is 2007 itself, after the 'partner' regulations came into force); it was low-level stuff that the Telegraph itself was uninterested in at the height of the expenses scandal. It has, however, told us a great deal about the continuing destructive impact of a media that has lost all sense of judgement and responsibility.