The downfall of Chris Huhne is one of those political scandals that has a dash of everything: an affair, a scorned ex-wife, an outraged and disgusted son, and the all but incalcuable hubris of a man who made the wrong decision at every turn. Not since Jonathan Aitken has an MP lied so consistently to the press, only owning up to their misdemeanours at the very last minute. Just last week Huhne pleaded not guilty to perverting the course of justice; today, realising that he couldn't risk a full trial, he finally admitted the truth.
Huhne's original offence was hardly on the Aitken level, which only underlines how such an otherwise intelligent man could act so stupidly. Losing his driving licence would hardly have been the end of the world, especially for someone with not inconsiderable resources. Why risk being found out by asking your wife to say she was driving? That one foolish decision has eventually led to him losing everything other than his new partner, and Carina Trimingham will be but a cold comfort in Belmarsh.
Much will doubtless be written about the affair, as it has already. More pertinent surely is both the impact on the Liberal Democrats and the enduring low opinion of politicians. As someone who came incredibly close to leading his party
and if cleared would have been an obvious candidate to succeed the man he christened Calamity Clegg, it leaves his party further in the mire. While one would assume Vince Cable is still the obvious figure to take over should (when?) Clegg fall under a bus, Huhne would have been a formidable opponent. Tim Farron and Steve Webb, also likely to stand, seem unlikely as yet to have the broad grassroots support needed to win. Huhne's resignation also deprives the party of a recognisable figure, as well as one who had preferred a coalition with Labour to the Tories.
For those concerned about the public view of politicians as liars and all the same, you can't imagine this is going to do much to disabuse them of the notion. Huhne didn't just mislead on a small scale; his mendacity went on until it couldn't be sustained any longer. Any sympathy he might have received due to the general disdain for motoring offences had he come clean straight away is now but a supposition. Instead, his demise will just serve as further evidence of the political class's contempt, both for the public and the very laws they themselves write and expect everyone else to abide by.
What's more, they would have a point. It's not just that Huhne's web of lies shows politicians as a whole in a poor light, it's that as soon as he'd pleaded guilty the by-election circus was straight into full swing
. There was no real enquiry or even hand-wringing, just an immediate plunge into the next election to be fought. It gives the impression that as ever, we have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Probably because we have.
Labels: Chris Huhne, Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, Liberal Democrats, political scandals, politics