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Thursday, March 10, 2011

David Laws to return to government?

What a coincidence. It is the eve of the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in Sheffield and the Independent carries a piece about David Laws returning to Government. This has long been the subject of speculation, but now it seems that a way has been found to do it that will avoid a reshuffle:

Nick Clegg and David Cameron have had private discussions about appointing Mr Laws to work alongside Oliver Letwin and Francis Maude in the Cabinet Office, The Independent understands. The new position, which would almost certainly come with the right to attend Cabinet, would increase Liberal Democrat representation in the Coalition.

Senior Conservatives support the plan as they are also keen for Mr Laws to return to frontline politics and a new job would negate the need for a Cabinet reshuffle.

Under the proposal, Mr Laws would, alongside Mr Letwin, be responsible for co-ordinating and driving through all aspects of the Coalition's policy agenda. The job is currently performed by Danny Alexander, who is also the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury. But there is a growing acknowledgement in Government that he and Mr Clegg have become too thinly spread as they try to keep on top of what every government department is doing. Appointing Mr Laws would allow Mr Alexander to concentrate on his work in the Treasury. It would also ease the burden on Mr Clegg.

"Contrary to the false reports of Nick going home at three o'clock every day, he is actually working like a dog," said one senior Liberal Democrat source. "Being the junior partner in the Coalition is incredibly tough. We don't have the ministerial firepower of the Conservatives but we still have to be across all areas of what the Government is doing.

"Having David in the Cabinet Office would free Nick up to spend more time on House of Lords reform and trying to get a deal on party funding, both of which are significant priorities for us."

All of this is a good thing of course, though it is ironic that the strengthening of the Liberal Democrat hand at the centre of government in this way is likely to ideologically please the Conservatives more than the grassroots of David Laws own party.

That does not mean it is not welcome. It is and it will enable the hard-pressed Liberal Democrat team to work more effectively. The only question remaining is, when will the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards finally conclude his investigation into whether Mr Laws broke expenses rules or not?
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