Almost three in four electors think David Laws was right to resign over revelations about the expenses he claimed as an MP – but only one in three think he should quit parliament altogether, and just over half think he should return to the cabinet at some point.
Our survey for the Sun finds that Mr Laws’s sexuality is simply not an issue. 89% either think ‘it is a good thing for the Cabinet to contain gay ministers’ (13%) or ‘don’t mind whether the Cabinet does or does not contain gay ministers’ (76%). Just five percent think it is a bad thing for gay men or women to be in the Cabinet.
Equally, an overwhelming majority say that they would support their normal party in their own constituency regardless of whether he or she were gay – a finding that accords with election results: these days openly gay candidates do as well (or badly) as anyone else.
Perhaps more significantly, 73% think politicians have no need to be open about their sexuality, and should be allowed to keep this private ‘providing they do not behave hypocritically’. Mr Laws had sought to keep his sexuality private; only 22% of the public think ‘this is something their constituents should know about.’
However, it may not be only Mr Laws that pays a price for the disclosure that he claimed rent to his partner on his expenses – something that MPs’ rules have banned since 2006. Until recently, the Lib Dems had generally suffered less than Labour or the Conservatives from the expenses scandal. Now, only 17% think the ‘Lib Dems have generally behaved better’; while a clear majority, 61%, think they are as bad as the other parties.
Whether the coalition will suffer is another matter. A mere seven percent think Mr Laws’s resignation will ‘cause permanent harm' to the coalition, while 44% think it will do short-term damage. 36% think it will cause no significant harm.
During the Labour years, it became fairly common for ministers to resign over some questionable personal action, only to return to the government later. Just 31% think Mr Laws should never return to the cabinet, while 52% think that – as long as the Lib Dems remain part of the government – he should return at some point. Among Liberal Democrats, the figure rises to 61%; among Conservatives, the figure is even higher: 65%.