Chris Huhne deserves to be remembered for his public achievements, not his private sins. Fat chance

Notorious now as a father who fell out with his son, he was once a brilliant journalist, MEP, MP, and Cabinet Minister who probably ought to have been Lib Dem leader

Amol Rajan
Monday 04 February 2013 19:17 GMT
Former Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister Chris Huhne pleaded guilty and resigned as an MP
Former Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister Chris Huhne pleaded guilty and resigned as an MP (Reuters)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


In case there was any lingering doubt in your mind about the sagacity and general virtue of Michael McCarthy, our Environment Editor, he sent a bunch of tweets this afternoon which will set you straight. Here they are in full:

@mjpmccarthy: Lest we forget: Huhne saved the international climate change negotiating process virtually single-handed at Cancun in Dec 2010 c next tweet

@mjpmccarthy: tweet 2: Huhne drafted text which bridged seemingly imposs gap btw Japan and radical S Am Alba countries over renewal of Kyoto protocol

@mjpmccarthy: tweet 3 Without Huhne's text, repair of major breach over climate at Copenhagen in Dec 2009 cd nt have happened. The world owes this guy

As so often with Mike, he’s used his vast experience to make sense of events in the news. In the information age, when tweets and blogs and hangouts deluge our senses, the premium we put on this tendency, which we might call the long view, should be high.

Naturally it already seems that, if Chris Huhne were run over by a bus tomorrow, the obituaries would focus on his extraordinary fall from grace in public. They’d presumably make passing reference to the unbearable text message exchange he seems to have had with his traumatised son. It is hard to imagine the pain it must have caused him to type: “I have no intention of sending Mum to Holloway Prison for three months. Dad”.

But Huhne, who must feel like he’s in something like a living hell, ought in the end to be remembered for his public achievements rather than private sins. Exceptionally bright, he took a strong first from Oxford. He was then an acclaimed Business Editor of The Independent, a brilliant entrepreneur in the City, a brave and principled MEP, a diligent and popular MP, and universally recognised as one of the most effective ministers in government. See Mike’s tweets, above.

What public benefit accrues from his downfall, exactly? Not much.

Some argue that if he has lied in public, his exposure will deter other public servants in future from lying. Fat chance.

Others say that he’s probably guilty of a criminal offence, meriting a prison sentence, and criminals ought not to be in Cabinet. Frankly, I don’t buy this. I should think that even among readers of this newspaper, there are hundreds who wouldn’t think twice about transferring “love points”, as they’re widely called, to a less encumbered spouse.

Yes he may have lied, and that’s not to be encouraged. But I still feel an overwhelming sympathy for this brilliant man, who might have been leader of his party had it not been for lost postal votes.

We all know that the adulterers of ages in which text messages and tweets didn’t exist – JFK, Martin Luther King, Gandhi – went on to score great victories for humanity. Chris Huhne may not be in their league, but when reflecting on the terrible drama of his family’s breakdown, we should remember that he’s not the only loser in this saga. Our public life has lost a distinguished servant too.

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