Now, it takes a lot to make me indignant. Not at all partial to political witch-hunts or vicariously excited by the whiff of scandal. Non-plussed by the expenses scandal, thought
David Laws foolish but not corrupt, same about Mandelson, couldn’t care less about Clarke or most of the myriad scandals which nowadays surround the political class. Sorry.
Politicians are human and make mistakes; over-egging their mistakes merely besmirches the name of all politicians, most of whom are decent. I even happen to agree with the Independent that Chris Huhne is doing rather a good ministerial job in an area, environment, which is important to me. So I don’t know why the case of his wretched speeding points makes me so indignant, as mentioned in a previous post. Especially now it looks rather likely that he will get off.
Oh no, hang on, I do. It makes me indignant because he is probably going to get off: not because he can come up with reasonable answers to some obvious questions asked by police, but simply because the key witness, his wife, is withdrawing and the case will lack evidence. And it makes me indignant because he has taken us all for fools, trial or no trial.
So, for the record: the issue is not whether or not his wife took his speeding points. The issue is the very strong probability of his having lied about it. First, in effectively calling his ex-wife a liar and a fantasist. She is clearly not blameless, in her somewhat unattractive enthusiasm for revenge against her husband. But think about this: would you lie to your kids about their mother in front of the world?
On top of this there is lying, we assume, to the leader of his own party and, by extension, the government and the prime minister. The only comparable example I can find of these two kinds of behaviour together is that of former Tory minister Jonathan Aitken and his forlorn hope of being saved from fraud charges by the “trusty shield of British fair play”. But there’s more.
This was not an internal investigation as to whether some government protocol was properly followed. This was having a Cabinet minister being interviewed, as a suspect, for a criminal offence, apparently both lying again to police and using his right to silence (something on which the law is, incidentally changing, to allow judges and juries to use in evidence). Why on earth, in that situation, would you plead the Fifth, rather than simply explaining your whereabouts? When you know there are tapes of you talking to your wife about the penalty points, although these presumably cannot be used in evidence?
But the best one of all is this: you may remember that, during the Iran-Contra affair, when he was perilously close to impeachment, President Ronald Reagan conveniently forgot key events that had happened. Well, Huhne has just become the latest of a distinguished line of suspects to plead the Reagan Defence. That makes a total of four whoppers, so far at least.
No, it is a considerable embarrassment to the government, but most of all it is an embarrassment to Nick Clegg, who clearly has not the balls to replace him (because if Clegg were not backing him, it seems highly unlikely that Cameron would keep him). We can only guess what conversations Clegg has had with Huhne. Perhaps he thinks, “don’t ask, don’t tell”. We can take some comfort though, surely, in the fact that it is likely to come back to haunt Clegg. Because someone with the combination of bad judgement and low integrity to allow this to happen once will clearly do it again before long – as Jeffrey Archer ably demonstrated. And that’s if he pulls it off this time.
The odd thing is that we can happily demand the resignation of someone who has, like Ken Clarke, merely said something stupid. But a man who is, in all probability, guilty of a serious criminal offence and of lying about it, remains in the Cabinet. Unchallenged by any of the party leaders.