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Lib Dem MP Chris Huhne Charged with Perverting the Course of Justice, Resigns from Cabinet

Posted on the 03 February 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Lib Dem MP Chris Huhne charged with perverting the course of justice, resigns from Cabinet

Chris Huhne has resigned as energy secretary. Photo credit: Liberal Democrats

UK Energy Secretary Chris Huhne has quit the Cabinet after being charged with perverting the course of justice. The charge relates to a 2003 speeding incident: Liberal Democrat Huhne allegedly asked ex-wife Vicky Pryce to take penalty points on his behalf in order to avoid suspension of his driving licence; Pryce now faces the same criminal charge.

The allegations emerged after Pryce told The Sunday Times last year that the MP had asked “someone close” to take the points after he was caught by a speed camera. It later emerged that Pryce may have been referring to herself, after images of her driving license appeared to show she had received speeding points in Essex; she was apparently in London at the time of the incident. Huhne has maintained his innocence.

Lib Dem Ed Davey will take over as energy secretary, with Norman Lamb stepping into his role as business minister. But with the Cabinet reshuffle completed, what will be the long-term political effects of Huhne’s resignation?

Who will miss Huhne? The former energy secretary’s “abrasive style” means he has few friends in parliament, said Vicky Frost at the BBC, but “grassroots Lib Dems admire him because they think he’s willing to stand up to the Conservatives”. Huhne certainly won’t be missed by Conservative MPs, given that he recently twice interrupted the prime minister and has clashed with Chancellor George Osborne over the climate change agenda, said Frost. However, green groups will probably be disappointed at his resignation: “As energy secretary he claimed some policy success when he signed the government up to tough new climate change targets,” wrote Frost.

“I intend to mount a robust defence against the charges brought against me, and I have concluded that it would be distracting both to that effort and to my official duties if I were to continue in office,” wrote Chris Huhne in his resignation letter to PM David Cameron. Read the full text here (source: The Guardian).

Trial may make mockery of Lib Dems. “The biggest danger for the Liberal Democrats from this coming trial is that it turns the party into the butt of everybody’s jokes,” wrote James Forsyth at The Spectator’s Coffee House blog. Looking ahead to the next election, the Lib Dems hoped to position themselves as a “credible” party, said Forsyth; Huhne’s court appearance may jeopardise this aim.

“Chris Huhne has championed the environment in an administration that’s shown little enthusiasm for keeping David Cameron’s pledge to be the greenest government ever,” said Friends of the Earth director Andy Atkins, reported The Guardian.

Damage to Lib Dem brand. “The [Lib Dem] brand, at the moment, is apparently associated in voters’ minds with nothing at all or the intrinsic worthlessness of political promises,” said Rafael Behr on The New Statesman’s Staggers blog; having a leading party figure facing criminal charges is not entirely helpful. Behr said that Huhne has never got on with Deputy PM and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, but that the departure of the former energy secretary from the Cabinet poses a political problem for the party: “The kind of scratchy,abrasive dissent that never fully erupts into opposition – Huhne’s speciality – operates as a safety valve for the purposes of party unity,” wrote Behr.

Lib Dem Leader and Deputy PM Nick Clegg did not rule out a return for Chris Huhne: “If he clears his name I have made clear I would like to see him back in government in a key position,” said Clegg, reported the BBC.

A prison term for Huhne could be Lib Dem disaster. If Huhne was found guilty and received a custodial sentence, the result would be serious embarrassment for Lib Dems, not to mention the fact that his departure has already “weakened” the party within the coalition, wrote Benedict Brogan on a Telegraph blog. What’s more, “the Tories are out to do in the Lib Dems at the next election”, said Brogan, and Huhne in prison would be a perfect Conservative weapon.

Huhne for Lib Dem leader? “Despite everything Mr Huhne has never given up the hope of one day becoming Lib Dem leader. Ironically these charges could help him fulfill that dream,” wrote Oliver Wright in The Independent. According to Wright, if Huhne is found not guilty, he will be in a perfect position to oppose Nick Clegg – and perhaps ultimately scoop the party leadership prize Huhne tried for in May 2010.

Huhne leadership dreams doomed. Huhne’s “early promise to be Lib-Dem leader may never recover from this blow”, wrote Joe Murphy in The Evening Standard, quoting a senior Lib Dem figure as saying: “He is tarnished goods now. Nobody will want him as leader.” However, Murphy said Huhne may well come back stronger than ever: “Nobody at Westminster is writing off this tough multi-millionaire, who could yet become a serious political force from the backbenches.” Murphy described the story as “a classic cocktail of sex and politics”: Huhne’s ex-wife spoke to The Sunday Times after the MP left her for Carina Trimingham after 23 years of marriage in 2010.

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