The advanced leaking of a supposedly highly confidential Parliamentary report is just the sort of tip that political journalists love and we all often enjoy reading or hearing about.
But there are leaks and there are leaks, as the widespread leaking of the Parliamentary Commissioner’s report into David Laws demonstrates with the three questions it raises.
First, it’s not news that the Parliamentary Commission has found David Laws broke rules – he himself previously said he had and reported himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner. What will be new news, when it comes out, is what the Commissioner has found as a result of his investigations into David Laws’s motives and the financial impact of his decisions. Will it be the case, for example, that he finds the taxpayer actually was financially significantly better off as a result of the actions Laws took? An MP who breaks the rules and ends up significantly financially worse off as a result is a rather different case from an MP who breaks the rules into order to personally profit.
Second, are political journalists being played by someone with access to the full report who is wanting to spin the verdict by leaking a partial version of it? The story is so high profile it’s easy to understand why a political journalist might not be able to resist running the story, even if they haven’t been given the full story. But if it turns out there’s substantial news in the rest of the report (such as David Laws having been out of pocket as a result of the rules he broke), it’ll rather look as if too many political journalists have been just a little too easy to manipulate.
Third, the signs so far point to the leak having come from one of the MPs on the Standards and Privileges Committee. They have a semi-judicial role in making impartial judgements about the behaviour of others. If one of them is leaking stories, especially if they are leaking the stories for partisan advantage, is that a body really fit to continue in its present form?
If a member of the public sitting on a jury was leaking information in a similar way, or a councillor on a local government standards committee, they could face major repercussions. MPs should not plead special treatment for themselves.
As to who a leaking MP might be? These are the people on the committee:
Kevin Barron (Chair) Labour
Paul Beresford Conservative
Tom Blenkinsop Labour
Annette Brooke Liberal Democrat
Tom Clarke Labour
Geoffrey Cox Conservative
Matthew Hancock Conservative
Oliver Heald Conservative
Heather Wheeler Conservative
Alan Whitehead Labour