I interviewed Chris Huhne and believed him completely - this fiasco is a further blow to Lib Dem credibility

For Huhne, and his former party, it seems ambition comes before honesty

Share
Related Topics

"I've said very clearly that I'm innocent. I intend to fight
this in the courts, and I'm confident that the jury will agree with me."

So professed Chris Huhne of the driving license affair that blighted – and has now ended – an esteemed political career in rather undignified fashion.

11 months ago, as the naïve editor of a college magazine, I knocked at a secreted, modest house in the heart of Eastleigh, and found myself wondering whether this was really the office of the now infamous MP. An aide swiftly allayed any fears, directing me towards the seating opposite the uninspiring paintings which cluttered the walls. A tidy occupancy - functional certainly, yet "grey and intense," as Huhne once described supporters of The Liberal Democrat Party he came so close to leading.

It seemed humble surroundings for the owner of seven houses, who earned a basic salary in the region of £135,000 in 2011.

Perhaps it was the contrasting lack of grandeur and flamboyance that led me not to question the sincerity of his plea in a court of law. Indeed, so convincing was Huhne that I was more sceptical of his other comments than this refutation of the strange claims his seemingly revenge-driven ex-wife had made.

The set-up

Exuding an aura of calm, and with a casual flick of his hand, he then went on to dismiss Sayeeda Warsi's suggestion that he intended to step down from his Eastleigh post. Here was a charming, intelligent and genuinely nice man who had taken the time to be interviewed by a local 18-year-old. Such a serious case of deception seemed unlikely. Fast forward a year, and you see a disgraced ex-Cabinet minister, facing a jail sentence for perverting the course of justice.

He now fulfils the public stereotype of the average politician: a member of the elite privately educated at Westminster College, then at Oxford in PPE, caught out lying like so many before him. The public's perceptions of Huhne can be seen to reflect their confidence in politics, now resting at a dismal low after the expenses scandal, tuition fee debacle and Leveson enquiry.

But as Huhne goes down he drags Liberal Democrat popularity with him. Already despised by students over tuition fees, mocked on the internet for being “sorry,” and accused of being “spineless” by their coalition partners, the party's ratings have plummeted.

Ambition before honesty was the allure for Huhne, and for a good proportion of the public that also stands true for the Lib Dems. Even as Huhne sat chatting to his constituents on that cold Friday night last March - aware of his guilt - he still stoutly defended coalition policy, despite it often contrasting with his own principles. The message I mistakenly took was that he was innocent, and fancied a return to government after the (innocent) verdict was reached.

Discredited

Nick Clegg's party can be viewed in much the same way. They are at last in government, fulfilling an ambition, but many see the price of power as the compromise of their principles, perhaps even to the point of dishonesty, vis-a-vis Trident, House of Lords reform and tuition fees.

With this latest blow to their credibility, they appear more like the “old parties” Nick Clegg denounced in 2010 than ever before. With many Lib Dem supporters being notorious for tactical voting, viewing the party as an honest alternative to Labour or the Conservatives, the chances of huge losses in 2015 look increasingly likely, in the wake of Huhne's lies.

The real test, perhaps ironically, rests upon what now happens in Huhne's Eastleigh constituency. Ordinarily a fairly safe Lib Dem seat in elections to both the council and Parliament, there is a danger that the by-election will be lost. Throw Nigel Farage, a rejuvenated Labour party and a pressurised David Cameron into the mix, and Clegg must realise damage limitation is the only positive outcome.

A negative outcome, meanwhile, could potentially pre-empt a knock out political blow in 2015.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf