30 05 2010

An excerpt from a story you won’t have read in the papers over the last few days:

“I’d like to apologise for claiming benefits to which I wasn’t entitled, of course I’ll pay them back but cheating the system out of a couple of thousand was okay really. You see, I wanted to keep my private life private so instead of telling the benefits office I was living with my partner I pretended I was renting a room off him/her.”

Imagine the outcry, not least from politicians, if the above really had happened and if no prosecution was forthcoming.

But what is the difference between a benefit cheat who has a handy excuse for knowingly taking more (public) money than they were due and a politician who knowingly cheats their expenses out of more (public) money than they were due?

Not a lot except maybe we have the right to demand a higher moral code from those in elected office and therefore might also expect at least as harsh punishment when they fall foul of the rules.

Which brings me nicely to the David Laws issue. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do have some sympathy for Mr Laws predicament. However my sympathy lies not with the fact that he is gay, instead it lies with the fact that he is so out of touch with the British public that felt we could care less that he is.

As politicians and more than a few journalists have queued up to offer sympathy and say what a fine man David Laws is let us not lose sight of the fact that in reality he is no different from the benefits cheat those same politicians and journalists would (rightly) slam.

The desire to keep your private life private is no defence. An excuse, albeit a poor one, yes. But a defence? No.

Mr Laws should count himself very lucky he has been allowed to resign and to repay the money he stole from the public purse. A less privileged individual doing the same thing could well have also ended up with a criminal record.

© Jim Cowan 2010.



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