David Laws resignation: What next for government?

By Louise Stewart
Political correspondent, BBC News

Image caption,
David Laws has widely been described as an "honourable man"

He was one of the stars of the coalition's first weeks - but now, in just 18 days, he's become its first major casualty.

The former City highflyer was charged with getting a grip on public spending and implementing savage cuts.

He clearly relished the task ahead and, as George Osborne's Liberal Democrat right-hand man at the Treasury, David Laws confidently grasped a job that others would have been wary of taking on.

Two weeks in and he'd already found £6bn to trim. An emergency budget in a matter of weeks and a summer spending review lay ahead.

But the £40,000 Mr Laws claimed in expenses for a room he rented from his partner of the past nine years, James Lundie, brought his very brief cabinet career to an untimely end.

Mr Laws said he could not now escape the conclusion that what he'd done was in some way wrong, even though he didn't gain financially from keeping his relationship private.

Cabinet and Liberal Democrat colleagues have been quick to describe him as an "honourable man", pointing out that he's a self-made millionaire who didn't go into politics for financial gain.

But, given that, it raises the question why did he claim it at all?

Knock-on effect

An intensely private man, he says he was trying to keep his sexuality private. Surely it would have been better just not to have claimed the expenses at all.

He is paying all of the money back but his cabinet career is now over.

He was part of a coalition formed with the promise of a new politics.

It seems anyone tainted with the old politics - particularly anyone contaminated by the expenses scandal - will have to pay a high political price.

Of course his resignation is having a knock-on effect for the coalition.

It's led to another promotion on the already meteoric career path of Danny Alexander.

Image caption,
Michael Moore has been elevated to the cabinet as Scottish Secretary

He may have played a key role in the coalition negotiating team but he's a relatively new MP and had previously remained pretty much under the radar.

It also sees Michael Moore unexpectedly elevated to the cabinet as Scottish Secretary. That means he leap-frogs the former Tory shadow Scottish Secretary David Mundell who stays as a junior minister in the Scotland Office.

Those appointments will no doubt anger some in the Conservative ranks who feel overlooked by David Cameron and will question whether Danny Alexander, a former press officer who has no City or previous government experience, is the man to fill very big shoes at the Treasury.

Mr Laws has stressed it was very much a personal decision to resign.

He still faces a parliamentary inquiry over his claims, but it's clear that much of his distress has come from the fact that he has, in effect, been outed as a gay man. However he told one interviewer it was in "some ways...a relief not to have to go on misleading those close to me about who I am".

This is clearly a personal tragedy, but it's also a warning sign to his Liberal Democrat colleagues that being in government brings rewards but also much greater media scrutiny.

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