Leading article: Farewell to an advocate of greener government

Chris Huhne was widely seen as a highly effective and committed member of the Cabinet

Share
Related Topics

A shadow had hung over Chris Huhne's position as Energy Secretary ever since it became clear that the police were taking more than a voyeuristic interest in the allegations made by his now ex-wife. So when the Director of Public Prosecutions announced yesterday morning that charges were to be brought, the wheels of the government machine moved about as swiftly and smoothly as is possible in such circumstances.

The announcement was made; Mr Huhne tendered his resignation. The Prime Minister accepted it with regret; the Deputy Prime Minister and Mr Huhne's party leader praised the outgoing minister's achievements, and another Liberal Democrat, Ed Davey, was promoted to the role to Energy and Climate Change from the Department of Business and Skills. Everything was done and dusted before lunch – including the welcome advancement of Jo Swinson, one of the promising younger Liberal Democrats, who becomes Nick Clegg's parliamentary private secretary.

With Mr Huhne's departure, however, there was a distinct sense of one chapter ending and another beginning. Although David Cameron stressed that Mr Huhne would be welcomed back to government if he cleared his name, his consistent use of the past tense in what was an unusually generous tribute to a member of another party, seemed to be the seal on Mr Huhne's tenure at the Energy Department. But his time there does not deserve to pass into history without the recognition that his departure is a serious loss to a Cabinet of which he was acknowledged to be a highly effective and committed minister.

As the disappointed candidate for Liberal Democrat leader, who was only just pipped to the post by Mr Clegg, Mr Huhne had picked himself up and carried on, apparently without rancour. He wholeheartedly supported his former rival's decision to enter a Coalition, and became – with Vince Cable – a senior minister who allayed the doubts many harboured about the ability of the Liberal Democrats to take their place in government.

In the event, both his personal expertise and his party allegiance proved to be distinct assets, when Mr Cameron found himself unexpectedly forming, and then governing in, a Coalition. As a Liberal Democrat at Energy, Mr Huhne gave the Government a far greener tinge than it would have had if the Conservatives alone had been in power. As an economist and former journalist, he was respected in the business world, as in the world of environmental campaigning, as someone who not only knew his stuff, but got things done. Implementation of Mr Cameron's pledge to "lead the greenest government in history" might have left much to be desired, but it is worth considering how much less impressive the Coalition's green credentials might have been without a Liberal Democrat, and Mr Huhne in particular, to defend them.

Nor did he mince his words in support of Britain taking an active part in Europe. Making common cause with Mr Clegg after Mr Cameron wielded his veto at the EU summit in December, Mr Huhne can take a share of the credit for the more positive position taken by Mr Cameron in Brussels earlier this week. Assured and ambitious, he never shrank from making his voice heard at the Cabinet table.

For all these reasons, Mr Huhne's departure is regrettable. The Coalition would have been, and will be, a different government without him. Even the ablest politician, however, can be felled by failings in personal integrity. Mr Huhne would not be the first, or the last. His future, including his future in politics, will now be decided by the courts.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Artwork Design Apprenticeship

£7200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Artwork Design Apprenticeship is avail...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web design and digital age...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Why it won’t be the i wot won it – our promise to you

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A relative of dead Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman reacts after seeing his body at Dhaka Medical College in Dhaka on March 30,  

Atheists are being hacked to death in Bangladesh, and soon there will be none left

Rory Fenton
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor