Debate: After Huhne's resignation, should a politician's private life influence his or her professional reputation?



What's Going On?

Yesterday Chris Huhne resigned as MP for Eastleigh. As he did so, the central irony of his case, must have been as obvious to him as it has long since become to everyone else: The embarrassment he went to such lengths to conceal - points for speeding - pales in comparison to humiliations caused by his unsuccessful cover-up. An extra-marital affair, a guilty plea and some private text messages later: are politicians private lives always relevant to the public?

Case For: Transparency

The text exchange between Huhne and his son is without question deeply saddening. Nevertheless, the private lives of politicians intertwine with their public duty in ways that – without a press to hound them – we may never discover. Can you lie at home and preach in public? Not with any credibility. Does credibility matter to modern politicians? Of course, they expend great energy telling us how to live our lives – their platform dissolves if they do not live by the same principle. We have the right, not only to know, but to judge.

Case Against: Irrelevance

If the technology had been around in 1960s America, would the extra-marital affairs of MLK and JFK come to light? And would we, the ever-pious public, have let that muddy the clarity of their arguments? Or used it as an excuse to strip them of their power? Probably.

Few would compare Huhne to such leaders, but what was true then remains true now: The way politicians conduct themselves privately is not only irrelevant to how they do their jobs - but ultimately unknowable. "Well-placed sources" and social media indiscretions may make us feel we're privy to secrets, but only the people directly involved will ever who what really went on.