The Energy Secretary is looking like he is in it deep, as the allegations over his avoidance of a speeding fine and points have reached a crescendo in this morning’s press. The Conservative press clearly have the knives out for him after his comments over the AV referendum, and the appearence of a secret tape which apparently has him trying to engineer the cover-up recently is the latest revelation in this morning’s papers.
Whilst on first glance he would appear to be bang to rights, there are certain elements in this morning’s stories which really do seem strange.
The original allegations are widely thought to have originated from Huhne’s ex-wife Vicky. Her motives are unclear, though I think you could hazard a solid guess that she is far from happy over the circumstances surrounding their break-up and subsequent divorce.
The emergence of this tape, which has Huhne talking to the person who took the penalty points on his behalf in 2003, certainly complicates matters for him. According to the reports (and I should stress – we do not have full transcripts) he spends much of the conversation discussing how to stop the story from coming out, including the line ‘There is no evidence for this story unless you give it some legs by saying something”.
However he later states; “There’s no question of it coming out, because it’s simply not true, that’s it”, which causes the person on the other end of the line to react with surprise at his comment.
What is particularly interesting is that the person on the other end of the phone is not identified in these reports. Whoever it is obviously set this up in order to be able to produce this recording to give to the press, and you’d imagine they have a motive that involves bringing Huhne down, rather than simply money.
The speculation now seems to be growing that the person on the call, and therefore the one who helped Huhne allegedly evade punishment, is in fact his ex-wife Vicky.
If (and I stress the ‘if’) the reported allegations turn out to be true, then it is difficult to see how he can hang on as a Minister. However if is is indeed his ex-wife who is also involved in this, then any slim chance he may have will be gone. In the court of public opinion, even if you imagine that he could be forgiven for the offence itself, that trying to get his ex-wife to continue to cover this up following the circumstances of their break-up less than a year ago, would simply be too much.
The reason this case is so interesting is that there still seems to be a significant amount of doubt about the full story, despite the revelation of this tape, which in many cases would be considered the smoking gun. Some sources, such as the BBC seem to have been tentative in discussing the matter today, which seems to be a suggestion that the situation is not as black and white as it first appears.
This whole saga is a shame for the man himself, and for the party. In recent weeks, he has certainly been the main figure in helping us assert our independence as a party, in the eyes of a public who are treating us as little more than an extension of Dave’s sphere of power.
It has also overshadowed last night’s announcement that his work on climate change has finally led to a Cabinet agreement on new carbon emission reduction measures, which is the culmination of the significant part of the work Huhne has been doing in his first year in government.
However, if he is unable to refute these allegations, his political career may end in ignominy. Whilst the legacy of fighting climate-change he would leave will be felt for decades to come, it is a shame that such an obviously-able politician will have brought himself down, much like David Laws.
Most importantly, if he is unable to refute these allegations, then it is important that his resignation is quick, for his own sake, and for that of the party. A damaging drawn-out process would do nothing for himself, or us.