The resignation of David Laws as Chief Secretary to the Treasury is to be deeply regretted. I do not think it is good news for the political process or the country. That is not to say that he was wrong to resign. He did make a mistake and by going quickly he has headed off a media feeding frenzy which would have been damaging to the Coalition Government.
This affair has a number of dimensions:
The loss of a very able Chief Secretary
The post of Chief Secretary is a particularly important one in the Government in current circumstances. I am on the very fringe of the most peripheral decisions, but I can sense how challenging they are. As Vince Cable has just emphasised on television, what unites the coalition parties above all else is their understanding of the economic situation and the response it demands.
George Osborne has just said that it was as if David Laws had been put on earth to be Chief Secretary. He had a background in banking, an understanding of economics and a bone dry approach to policy. He had made a very positive impression in the role in the Commons.
Being a gay politician
As Vince Cable has just said, we all talk about being socially liberal, but what is the reality? Society is more tolerant of sexual diversity than in the past, but it is not easy for gay politicians to come out. I know of others who have not. David Laws wanted to keep his private and public life separate. Should this not be possible? In his statement he made a poignant reference to the fact that he had perhaps put his political career above those he loved.
The power of the media
Once again a newspaper has been able to bring down a politician. No doubt they would claim they were acting in the public interest. But has the national interest really been served by the departure of David Laws?
With his usual political bruiser instincts, Ed Balls has already piled in to say that Danny Alexander is not up to the job. Danny Alexander is clearly a very capable individual. He is close to Nick Clegg and fully signed up to the coalition agenda and in that sense more suitable as a replacement than Chris Huhne or Vince Cable. He had something of a non-job as Scottish Secetary. It is up to him to rise to the challenge he faces.
David Laws deserves credit for the dignity with which he has behaved under great personal strain. But the following politicians have also made dignified and measured responses: David Cameron; George Osborne; Nick Clegg; Vince Cable. That maturity says a great deal about the strength of the coalition, but there is no doubt that this is a setback and it is one for the country as well as the Government.