Chris Huhne: Whatever you think of his past, these texts between a father and son are heart-breaking

Putting Huhne's catalogue of deceit to the side, we can still feel empathy for a man who had such personal opprobrium heaped on him, and then had it seen by the public

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The Independent Online

He called his son “Tiger”, his son called him “a fat piece of s***”.

He wished his son "Happy Christmas", his son replied with "I hate you, so f*** off". He tells his son that he's proud of him, and back comes: "Don't contact me again, you make me sick." And so it goes on. The text messages between Chris Huhne and his son Peter, who is now 20 years old, are truly heart-breaking to read, whether you happen to be a parent or not.

And of all facets of the multi-layered catastrophe that represents the downfall of a man who was once a whisker away from proper political power, it is the exchanges between father and son that turn this story from one of shattered ambition into something altogether more complex and human.

The driving offences, the lies, the jilted wife, the cover-up,
and a career in the knacker's yard - in my eyes, they are all dwarfed in resonance by the tragic dislocation of Huhne's relationship with his then teenaged son, which was exposed in court by the disclosure of the text message trail between the two.

It was all too easy to imagine the pain felt by Huhne, and relate to his predicament. He sends a text to his son, proffering a hand in reconciliation, or sending a message of support, or simply expressing paternal love. A few minutes later, his mobile pings, and for a brief moment his heart lifts, hopeful for what has been delivered.  But then he opens the text to reveal an implacably hostile response. Again and again, over the course of a year, Huhne put himself through the same gut-wrenching process.

Every effort he made to try and repair the relationship was firmly rebuffed, sometimes with a direct and coarse two-word response.  Whatever else we think of Huhne and his catalogue of deceit, and however badly he has behaved towards his family, we can still feel empathy for a man who had such personal opprobrium heaped on him through this impersonal channel, and then had it placed before the voyeuristic gaze of a censorious public.

I wonder how this story would have played out 20-odd years ago, in an era before text messaging became the common currency of inter-personal communication.  Huhne and his son would have had to talk to each other. Peter may have put down the phone on his dad, but maybe, just maybe, hearing each other's voices could have been enough to defuse the situation. The tone of voice, a nuanced expression of affection, a joke even, may have been enough to soften Peter's 18-year-old heart.

Possibly not, but it is undoubtedly the case that text messaging is no way to resolve an argument. In fact, it's the coward's way out. We are much braver when we are punching out words on a mobile phone than when we are addressing the recipient face-to-face. And the harshest of sentiments have more power and permanence - as we have clearly seen in this case - when they are delivered in a text. And long after we've forgotten the speeding points, and the who-did-what-to-whom, we shall remember the shocking messages delivered by son to father, and we shall feel sorry for Chris Huhne.