One Laws for him?
There will be those who will gloat at the humiliation of a politician; others who will rejoice in the downfall of a LibDem; and still others who will find pleasure in the exposure of a hypocritical homosexual (since he boasted of his ‘whiter-than-white’ expenses record in order to win the seat of Yeovil at the last general election). There is also the further dynamic of his being appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury while his own treasury was not entirely without irregularity: an insupportable hypocrisy akin to being an obese, chain-smoking health minister. There is also the religious factor: David Laws was raised a Roman Catholic, and so desired all the more to keep his homosexuality secret from his Roman Catholic mother in order to protect her from the shame – as he must have seen it – of his moral transgression. The Roman Catholic Church is unequivocal on this matter, and Pope Benedict XVI has reiterated that homosexuality constitutes ‘a tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil, and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.’ He concludes: ‘A person engaging in homosexual behaviour therefore acts immorally.’
But His Grace is not concerned today with any of these matters. He is, however, concerned by the emergence of Conservatives (and doubtless LibDems) who feel that David Laws somehow merits special treatment – or is worthy of greater compassion – because his motive (to conceal his sexuality) was somehow honourable. Last night, Graeme Archer of ConservativeHome (and a most worthy Orwell Prize nominee) tweeted the suggestion of starting a #Tories4Laws trend, because ‘The guy has talent & broke the rules *solely* to avoid coming out’. This was then re-tweeted by Tim Montgomerie, and so began to attract official ConHome approbation. His Grace asked them a question, but received no response (not that the medium is conducive to such dialogue): If it is unacceptable to discriminate against people because of their sexuality, how can it be justified to plead homosexuality in order to mitigate an offence?
Should Sir Peter Viggers have been treated more leniently because of his compassionate desire to house his ducks in a pleasant island house? Does his love of animals mitigate his offence? Should Andrew MacKay have been treated more leniently because his wife was also an MP and the emotional strain on their entire family may have caused some sort of mental imbalance precipitating ‘an error of judgement’? Many MPs were treated harshly over their expenses misdemeanours – some very harshly indeed (even abominably and utterly disproportionately). And David Laws’ sin is arguably greater than some of these; indeed, six times greater.
The former Chief Secretary may very well be highly talented: as an ‘Orange-Booker’ he will be far more in-tune fiscally and economically with many in the Conservative Party. One can therefore understand the desire by some for a #Tories4Laws movement and expression of support. But this is to place emotion above reason: the suggestion that David Laws’ desire to conceal his sexuality should somehow moderate the judgement of the Standards and Privileges Committee elevates homosexuality to justification: it wasn’t theft or fraud; it was ill-judged borrowing. In short, the desire to keep his ‘objective disorder’ private lessens his crime and so demands greater leniency.
Of course, the quality of mercy is not strained. But being talented – academically, professionally and politically – does not place one above Parliamentary regulations any more than it puts one above the law of the land. Channelling £40,000 of taxpayers’ money to his lover was not simply an error of judgement; it was fraud, and his religious conscience must have informed him of this fact from the outset. He knew the letter of the law regarding domestic partners: he sought to persuade himself that what he has with James Lundie does not constitute such. Therein lies the deception – of self and the general public – which makes this a question of integrity. A person on state benefit who engaged in such a pursuit with this precise domestic arrangement would doubtless be prosecuted and forced to repay the money.
To what extent should the desire to conceal sexual behaviour exonerate the offender or absolve the sinner? Would it be permissible for a male MP to live with a woman in an adulterous relationship and, in order to conceal the arrangement from his wife (compassionately to protect her), pay his new domestic partner ‘rent’? Certainly, adultery is no longer illegal, any more than is homosexuality, so why would #Tories4Laws judge such a scenario more harshly? Is it because adultery still constitutes a sin, while homosexuality has been decontaminated and rehabilitated? Is it that adultery involves deception and betrayal? Why is the betrayal of a wife worse than the deceiving an entire electorate? Yet perhaps merely by juxtaposing enlightened homosexuality with murky adultery His Grace is in danger of inciting hatred or being ‘homophobic’, so he will pursue another line of enquiry: is it permissible to acquire public money for one’s spouse in order to assuage one’s own guilt and anaesthetise one’s personal sense of morality?
If, as the Commissioner says, David Laws’ motivation was to protect his privacy, not to benefit financially, he could have avoided being ‘outed’ simply by choosing not to pay James Lundie anything at all. As a millionaire, it wasn’t as though he couldn’t afford it. There would then have been no breach of any Parliamentary regulations and he would still be in a high-flying job with considerable career prospects.
By all means, let compassion reign and let mercy flow like a river. But sin, vice and crime are not without their natural consequences. And when those consequences are counteracted or inappropriately mitigated, justice is impeded. There cannot be one law for David Laws ‘in the closet’ and another law for gays who are ‘out and proud’, however much one may empathise with an understandable yearning for a private life in a world of unrelenting media intrusion.