Sunday, 30 May 2010

The name of the blog

Since I don't intend to post to a fixed timetable occasional is a pretty fair description. And since I try to make my own mind up, I hope to display a healthy nonconformity with accepted wisdom.

It echoes the name of the Occasional Conformity Act of 1711. This was a piece of Tory mischief, intended to exclude nonconformists, who were their political opponents, from public office. I'm enthusiast for the Eighteenth Century, and spend quite a lot of time there.

Ending inhuman and degrading treatment, even for politicians.

The hue and cry at David Laws's supposed expenses irregularities has been an ugly business. His fellow politicians, and some commentators may have been generous, but there's been plenty of harsh and knee jerk stuff in public forums.

Much of the comment was at the crude level of name calling : Laws was a thief, a crook, the Police should be called, and the rest. The incontestable evidence : he is a politician, and all politicians are crooks. Then there was much shouting on the web, prefaced with remarks like "I don't care about his sexuality but" which usually went on to show that writer actually did, and wanted to make an issue of it. And there was plenty of that on the Guardian Blogs. More unpleasant still was the sort of stuff offered by the Stonewall representative interviewed by BBC Radio 4 on Sunday and by the foolish Ben Bradshaw : Mr Laws by keeping his private life private was evidently letting the side down, and their tone was aggressively hostile.

It's difficult to connect all of this with the objective record. His televised appearances during the election campaign showed an intelligent and quickwitted individual. His CV reveals someone of enviable grip, determination, hard work and impressive career success. And his expense claims, summarised at show that most of his claims relate to office costs, with a below average charge for his accommodation in London. Perhaps most telling of all is the slender reading in the House of Commons Register of Members' Interests : Laws spends his time on the day job, not collecting lucrative non-exec directorships and consultancies. And that, even though his business credentials are more compelling than most of his colleagues. And he's reputed to be a wealthy man.

This simply doesn't add up to a picture anything like the barefaced chisellers so embarrassingly exposed in the last parliament. Laws says that he didn't intend to rob the system; he says that it was an error of judgement, and he says that he was trying to keep his personal life to himself. And until a competent authority adjudicates otherwise, he should have the benefit of the doubt.

But one thing is already for sure. We can't keep electing politicians only to immolate them within weeks. I don't know what the Telegraph's motivation in publishing was, but I would take some convincing that it was the public good. This sort of blood sport is no good for democracy. We shall shortly finish up with a a legislature composed of entirely of planks distinguished only by their lack of biography.

And the human cost is unacceptable. It's not often you see a man look as haunted as David Laws did in his resignation speech. Outside of a war zone anyway.