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Expenses scandal troubles fledgling UK coalition

LONDON — After only 18 days at the helm, Britain's young coalition government has lost a top finance minister to an expenses scandal just as it struggles to slash a record budget deficit and restore public trust in politics.

The abrupt resignation of David Laws, the deputy Treasury chief, reduced confidence in Prime Minister David Cameron's ability to tackle the nation's economic woes and improve governmental transparency — goals Cameron has highlighted as his twin priorities.

It also introduced more uncertainty into preparations for the emergency budget expected in June that will detail sweeping plans to cut Britain's deficit, which is running at close to 12 percent of gross domestic product. That's just behind Greece's level of 13.5 percent of GDP, a debt load that has triggered a sovereign debt crisis across Europe.

"Coalition in turmoil," the Observer newspaper said on its front page Sunday, describing Law's departure as a "sudden and dramatic end to the brief honeymoon" enjoyed by coalition partners Cameron of the Conservative Party and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats.

Laws was forced to quit Saturday after the Daily Telegraph revealed he had broken parliamentary rules in claiming tens of thousands of pounds in taxpayer money to pay rent to his boyfriend. Laws said he wanted to take responsibility for wrongdoing as well as deal with the public exposure of his sexuality.

The Liberal Democrat's job was to slash public spending, and together with Treasury chief George Osborne he announced an $8.9 billion package of cuts. A successful former investment banker and a highly regarded economist, the 44-year-old Laws was widely praised for his start at the Treasury. He was replaced by Scottish Secretary Danny Alexander, 38, who has no experience in public finance.

Laws' departure was particularly troubling because he was seen as a key player in the power-sharing deal between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats after the May 6 election produced no clear winner.

Expenses scandal troubles fledgling UK coalition 05/30/10 [Last modified: Sunday, May 30, 2010 8:03pm]
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