Matthew Norman: Somebody's got to stick up for Chris Huhne...

He would have made an infinitely braver champion than Nick Clegg of his party's core beliefs

Share
Related Topics

This may never qualify as one of history's most intriguing "What ifs?", alongside such classics as "What if Churchill had been killed by the New York taxi that knocked him down on Fifth Avenue in 1931?" But let's have some escapist fun, and ask it all the same. What if Chris Huhne, who faces a lethal vehicular threat of his own, had beaten Nick Clegg to his party's leadership late in 2007?

Our politics might look unrecognisably different today had a left-leaning Liberal Democrat leader, rather than a closeted One-Nation Tory, been in control of post-election negotiations. We might even have a Labour-Lib Dem coalition, with all that implies about less savage austerity measures, no nonsensical NHS reforms or vindictive targeting of the vulnerable, etc.

The wistful thing here is that Chris Huhne did beat Mr Clegg. In our lower key version of the hanging chads, the votes that would have given him victory were delayed in the Christmas post, and arrived too late to be counted. After being declared the loser by slither and learning that irksome fact, Mr Huhne was more resigned than Al Gore. He graciously accepted the result, saying that Clegg "won fair and square on the rules...". Those who view him only as a ruthlessly self-interested jackal should remember that.

For the want of some mail, an empire was lost. History can turn on the weeniest, most haphazard of things, and Mr Huhne's may shortly turn on the Sunday Times's curious decision to hand the police its email exchange with his former wife Vicky Pryce about the 2003 speeding affair which seems increasingly likely to end his Cabinet career.

If this results in him being charged with perverting the course of justice, by inveigling Ms Pryce to take the rap in order to preserve his licence, he must resign. Mr Clegg, less gracious towards his old rival than Mr Huhne once was to him, made this very plain at the weekend. Even if he is cleared at trial, his unpopularity with Conservatives suggests he will not be invited to return.

All political careers may end in failure, but seldom for as trifling a reason as this. To go down for fiddling expenses, like Mr Huhne's probable replacement David Laws (I know we all revere Lawsy and his intellect, and appreciate the reasons, but fiddling it was) is one thing. To fall for nothing more sinister than a piffling road traffic offence and the natural desire to carry on driving is another.

Tantalisingly enough, if Mr Huhne proves guilty as yet-to-be-charged, this might so easily have been a rare instance of a laudable crime. His Tory colleagues enjoy lecturing us about the sovereign importance of wedlock, and marriage at its root (I read this once on the back of a matchbox) is all about sharing. What finer way to underscore the family values message than by sharing your speeding points with a spouse?

Of course, Mr Huhne isn't in great nick to press this defence, having subsequently left Ms Pryce, the Greek-born economist. One cannot criticise her for wanting payback, and for being possibly the most effectively vengeful Hellenic wife since Clytemnestra murdered Agamemnon in his bath for bringing a concubine home from Troy. Clytemnestra got off scot free, and ruled Mycanae for another seven years with the new king, but as a convicted co-conspirator, but Ms Pryce would not. Her career would inevitably suffer too.

The apparent facts of this case are too well known to need reprising in detail. Suffice it to report that, according to the alleged timings on the night, the only way Ms Pryce could have made it to Stansted Airport from a central London dinner in time to collect her man and be caught speeding by camera on the way back to town, was had she been riding Pegasus.

But that, members of the jury, may yet be a matter entirely for you. If so, what a bloody shame for the pair of them to be brought low by such understandably human urges as the ones to keep a driving licence and to punish an ex for his treachery. And what a shame for those of us who have come to admire the vulpine ultra-leaker not just for his work as Climate Change Secretary, but even more so as one of only three staunch Cabinet defenders (with Vince Cable and Ken Clarke) of the civilised values we watch, with mounting dread, being washed away by a rising tidal wave of Neanderthal right wingery. Whatever his failings, Chris Huhne would have made an infinitely braver champion of his party's core beliefs than the pretty boy wimp over whom he scored that Pyrrhic electoral victory in 2007.

Of course, you cannot condone any perversion of justice, or seriously argue that even this alleged case is too paltry to be worth prosecuting. But you can regret that such grave consequences might arise from such a footling mistake, and say with sympathy for them both: Oh, what a disastrously tangled web they wove/ When from Stansted one of them too swiftly drove.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Glazier

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist historic buildi...

Recruitment Genius: Office and Customer Services Manager

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small but very busy (and f...

Recruitment Genius: Portfolio Administrator

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has become known a...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical and Electrical Engineer - Midlands

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrig...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The right election result could mean a change to our drug laws

Nigel Morris
Builders have been taking on apprentices and even turning to sources such as army veterans for workers  

The march of the apprentices

Chris Blackhurst
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot