However you feel about Chris Huhne, it would have been a travesty for him to have stayed in office

The former Lib Dem MP was talented and had achievements to his name. But he lied to his children, ex-wife, peers, colleagues and the public, and that is intolerable

Rob Marchant
Tuesday 12 February 2013 17:29
Huhne faces jail after he admitted lying to avoid a speeding penalty
Huhne faces jail after he admitted lying to avoid a speeding penalty

Following the revelations about the breakdown of his relationship with his son, it is hard not to feel some element of sympathy for the wave of destruction that Chris Huhne's lying to the police, his colleagues and his family has wrought, both on those around him and the man himself.

What seems extraordinary, however, is how many in his own party and the media were prepared to defend him - whether they believed him or not - in the face of seemingly overwhelming evidence that a lie had taken place, or that it would somehow have been a good thing if it all blew over. It would not have been.

For those of us who have followed the case from the start, the current phenomenon of surprise is strange. And that is because since May 2011, the world has known of the existence of a taped conversation - along with transcripted extracts - of him and his ex-wife discussing what to do about the penalty points she had taken on his behalf.

The issue was not whether such a conversation had taken place: it was for a while simply whether or not the Sunday Times would release the tape, which they duly did.

Indeed, for Chris Huhne not to have lied, a highly coincidental chain of events would have to have happened: according to the timings of events, he would have had to have made it across the country in a time scarcely physically achievable; the tape would have had to be a fabrication good enough to convince senior staff at the Sunday Times (with a great deal to lose, should they turn out to have been fooled). And his wife would have had to have made the story up out of pure malice, and lied herself in front of the world, her peers and her children.

The trauma of the family breakdown following these events was entirely predictable. But more than that, some clear insights could be gained from early on, if you only asked yourself one simple question: I wonder what the children think?


While Vicky Pryce might not have covered herself in glory over the episode, her primary motivation seemingly being some kind of revenge, it would still have been extraordinary for that thirst to have pushed her to the additional step of lying to ruin him. And while they might feel, up to a point at least, she had a right to see him get his just desserts for something bad he had done, what children would have forgiven their mother putting their own father in prison through a lie?

What is tragic about Huhne, a talented politician with achievements to his name, is that he was then prepared to gamble everything that really mattered to him to save his career; not just to ask his ex-wife to lie, but then to falsely accuse her of lying in front of the whole world.

Any parent knows how difficult it is to lie to your children, (even when it might be occasionally necessary for their own good). And in a case where one of two parents must be lying about the other, there can be little doubt that they will work out which it is, and despise the other.

When a public servant is seen to be lying to the public, it rightly fuels indignation. Memories are still fresh of the conspicuously worse case of Jonathan “sword of truth” Aitken which, in contrast, involved corruption (and who also memorably had his daughter make a false witness statement). However, in a different way Huhne's children, too, have inevitably been dragged in.

When it was clear where the children's sympathies lay, with her and not with him, Huhne was surely doomed. Because they would hardly have sided with her if she were lying, and vice versa. And so, it must have been obvious to the police and the CPS that someone was lying. And that it was probably not her.

So, how could you leave a politician, repeatedly lying to all those around him - including, we must presume, the Deputy Prime Minister - in office? You could not, and the judiciary has a particular obligation to act in such cases, to protect the good name of the executive and the legislature.

It is instructive to compare with the case of Bill Clinton. Clinton lied, in front of his wife, his children and his peers. But it was not about a criminal offence, however minor: his wife did not challenge him in public, and neither did he therefore end up implying she was a liar.


Those things were Huhne's bad judgement, his bad luck, and his fatal mistake. Because it made him look, not just a liar, but a shabby one prepared to do anything to save his own skin. That is what made so many indignant about him. In reality, he was mostly a man trapped by his own terrible judgement.

Many of us never considered that we might end up feeling sorry for Huhne. But the vitriol directed towards him has largely been a result of the insult to the public's intelligence; of the barefaced nature of the lie. Had he admitted the lie early on and of his own volition, he might have saved his career.

It is sad for Huhne, who once had a bright future ahead of him. It is sad for Vicky Pryce, who may still end up convicted herself. And it is wretchedly, bitterly sad for their children. But it is good news for our justice system: it shows that it works. You cannot lie with impunity, and justice in Britain truly is the same for a Cabinet minister as for you and me.

In Italy, Spain and a number of other European countries, you can see what happens when it is not: the “bunga bunga” scandal, or half of your government embroiled in a scandal about brown envelopes, respectively.

No, when the lies of politicians are tolerated, everyone is affected. It is not just that people lose faith in the system, although they do. It is that simply the government ends up on occasion paralysed, and invariably poorly run, as a result.

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