Anyone who has ever read anything by me will no that I am a huge David Laws fan. He is staggeringly intelligent, well spoken, and properly liberal. You will not be surprised then that I found it fascinating, and rather inspiring, to watch him at close quarters on Tuesday evening, being grilled by his former colleague and current Director General of the IEA, Mark Littlewood. Laws was on excellent form, and seemed to be more relaxed and confident than when I’d seem him before, having put his expenses mess behind him.
Littlewood started by asking about the coalition negotiations, as all Laws interviews now must. The story of those few days has been told in books, documentaries, and this will continue for decades to come, but as key negotiator David Laws’ take is always insightful. He described the Liberal Democrats as being “reasonably well prepared” for coalition, as they had a “coalition friendly manifesto,” and had experience of sharing power in both Scotland and Wales. He praised the Conservative negotiation team for being “incredibly well prepared” for negotiation, and also thought it was easier to negotiate with because both parties were then not in power. He was less impressed with Labour’s negotiating style, saying that it was “never to give anything away until one migute to midnight, or one minute past”.
On the economics, Laws said the Lib Dems had to show that they were committed to deficit reduction:
“Nick Clegg and Vince Cable made it very clear that they didn’t believe Labour’s deficit reduction plan was credible”
He also praised how Clegg had made a highly political decision the public’s, by pledging (we can still use that word, right?) to go with the party with the most votes and seats, and conceded it was the numerical fluke of Labour not quite being out of it that gave his team some extra power.
It’s a running joke that David Laws is really a Tory, but he said he wouldn’t join the current Conservative Party, even though they are much less authoritarian than they used to be. He cites the parties’ tax priorities, the Conservatives being inheritance tax, the Lib Dem’s being a rise in the income tax threshold, as a clear difference between the two parts of the coalition. It’s worth remembering that a few years ago George Osborne, with David Cameron’s permission, offered Laws a role in the Conservative party, which he declined.
Perhaps the most telling part of the evening was when David Laws said:
“The Lib Dems, at our best, are the party that best fuses social justice and economic liberalism”
Such statements from leading Lib Dem’s reassure me I am in the right party. More importantly, the quote also shows that, like Nick Clegg, David Laws is a proper liberal centrist. Throughout the evening he kept making reference to small l liberalism
Pleasingly, he also said that the 50p rate of tax should be gone as soon as we can reasonably do so, and rightly pointed out that the £10k income tax threshold was more important. However, he wasn’t convinced that such a tax band was losing the exchequer money.
On public service reform David Laws said that the party is less cautious than previously was the case. He rightly stressed the importance of putting greater choice and competition into public services, while accepting that it wasn’t a catch all is some areas. He also praised colleagues Ed Davey’s attempts to making hiring and firing easier for businesses.
It was all very impressive really, and only further highlights the extent to which the government is missing out by having Laws stuck on the back benches. I’m led to believe he hates stories speculating on his frontbench return, but performances like this indicate it must happen, and sooner rather than later.