Our Man in Westminster: Chris Huhne’s future utterances about his trial should be penitent, not petulant


It would be difficult to think of an ex-politician who has brought as much ridicule and vitriol upon himself as Chris Huhne did on Monday, by claiming that the moral of the story of his downfall is that newspaper ownership in the UK should be more diverse. He must have suffered a lonely moment when even Nick Clegg disowned him.

Whatever case Huhne had to make about the treatment politicians receive from the press, he is the worst person to make it.

It was a pathetic sight seeing Elliot Morley, who was not a bad environment minister, weeping in the dock over the ruin he had brought upon himself and his family by fiddling his expenses, but there is no public sympathy for MPs who lie, or break the law.  And there is no road they can take in public but that of the penitent. Former perjurer Jonathan Aitken has found the way: if you are lucky, he might turn up at a Sunday church service near you, to talk from the pulpit about sin and repentance.

That rule, mind you, is for MPs. For members of the House of Lords, the regime is so much lighter. The former high-flying Tory lawyer, Lord Taylor of Warwick, who was jailed for fiddling expenses, ignored a public appeal from a fellow Tory peer, Michael Dobbs, not to embarrass the House of Lords by coming back. He returned in June last year, since when he has asked a few questions and has diligently claimed £300 a day for showing up. By March this year, the latest month for which figures are available, he had claimed a total of £23,700.

But even his insouciance is trumped by Lord Hanningfield, former Tory leader of Essex County Council, also jailed for fiddling his expenses. The Hansard record shows that he has not made a speech or asked any oral or written questions since February 2010 – yet he too routinely claims the £300 daily attendance allowance to which he is legally entitled. From April 2012 to March 2013, he pocketed £36,900, just for being on the premises.

The irony of Huhne’s story is that his motive for illegally getting his wife to take his speeding points was that he was desperate to hold on to his seat in the Commons.

If he had lost it and taken his peerage, he could feed at the same trough as Lords Hanningfield and Taylor.

Norway’s Iron Lady  is made of stjerne stuff

Norway’s prime minister-in-waiting, Erna Solberg, sounds like a formidable woman. Since her election as leader of the Conservative Party in 2004, she has been known as “Jern-Erna”, or Erna the Star, for having turned her party around and almost doubling its support, according to the polls, from 15 per cent in 2005 to between 25 and 30 per cent today. Her programme is one of keeping public accounts in order, keeping taxes down, and farming out parts of the public sector to private companies, through public-private p artnerships. She had a tough reputation as Minister for Immigration from 2001, when some people started calling her Stjerne-Erna, or “Iron Erna”. She liked that. “Why do they call me Jern-Erna when I want to be called Stjerne-Erna?” she asked on her blog.

A stern right-wing female politician who takes office after a Labour government, who believes in privatisation, low tax and being tough on immigration, and wants people to think she is an iron lady. What is it about her that stirs something from the memory?

Alastair ‘clarifies’ WMD relocation

Alastair Campbell has been in touch, after I wrote that he was quoted in the Nottingham Evening Post apparently claiming that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in 2003, but they were not found because they were given to Syria. He says that he is not suggesting that Saddam Hussein, who hated the Assads, left them a parting gift. But he adds: “We knew there had been WMD in Iraq so when post-action they were not found, the idea they had gone across the borders was a live one.”

The idea that there was somebody with pro-Syrian sympathies in Saddam’s Iraq capable to whisking away those WMD is fantastic, of course. But what this comment illustrates is that Blair’s circle really expected to find WMD, and were shocked when none turned up. I like the idea that their immediate reaction was: “Somebody’s nicked them and taken them to Syria!”

Prescott the trade union boss

Tony Blair once complained of the “scars on my back” from his battles with trade unions, but at least he never had to face a union general secretary named John Prescott. Because Dominic Shelmerdine, author My Original Ambition: Letters from Persons of Consequence, who writes to the famous asking them what they first wanted to be, has had a reply from Lord Prescott.

He says his ambition was to be a union official, but Bill Hogarth, general secretary of the Seamen’s Union, did not agree, so “the next bet was Parliament”. How different things might have been.

He’s a fan... but I’m not

Ed Balls has “developed the doctrine of never making a commitment to anything ever at any time other than to support Norwich City Football Club,” Charles Clarke, the former Labour Home Secretary, tells the Eastern Daily Press. Not the shadow Chancellor’s No 1 fan.

Twitter: @andymcsmith

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