I’ve sat here for five minutes looking at a blank screen, not quite knowing what to write. You see, when a friend ends up in trouble, the last thing you want to do is stick the boot in. You want to empathise, sympathise and do what friends do. Stick by each other no matter what. I remember when Derek Conway had his troubles, back in 2008, I wrote THIS blogpost. Let me quote from it.
I believe in friendship. I believe that true friends don’t abandon each other in difficult times. I have a track record of standing by my friends when the going gets rough. I’ve done it when I knew it would cost me personally. I went on TV defending the Hamiltons over the rape allegations when people warned me not to as it could damage me politically. I publicly defended Edwina Currie over the publication of her diaries, when it would have been more politically expedient to join the baying throngs. And I have no hesitation in telling you that Derek Conway is a friend of mine. Anything I have to say about his conduct, I will say to his face. I don’t ‘diss’ on my friends in public. End. Of. Story.
I count Chris Huhne as a friend. I did yesterday, and I do today. I cannot imagine the feeling of pain and loss he will be feeling today. He, above anyone else, knows what an idiot he has been and will now have to face the consequences. Resigning from Parliament and facing a jail sentence – well, it doesn’t come a lot worse than that. Of course he was the architect of his own misfortune, and I don’t excuse the offence at all. I suspect quite a few of you reading this blogpost have considered doing what he did – transfer speeding points to your husband or wife. Some of you may have even done it. His first mistake was not to run this through the “how will this look if it gets out?” test. But perhaps his biggest mistake was then to lie about having done it.
Having written THAT blogpost last week about why I am falling out of love with politics, it would be hypocritical of me not to acknowledge that what Chris Huhne has done will further feed growing disillusion with politics among the general public. The fact that Chris Huhne thought he could get away with it, encourages people to believe that all politicians are the same and would have done the same thing. But perhaps those very same people should also ask themselves what they would have done too?
The Eastleigh by-election will be one of the most commented on for years. It’s a big test, not just for the Liberal Democrats, but also for the Conservatives and UKIP. If Nigel Farage doesn’t stand, he will be accused of being ‘frit’. The LibDems have about 90% of the seats on the local council, but they will do well to hold their vote. With the right candidate, it may be possible, but is there such a thing as a ‘right’ candidate for a by-election called in these circumstances? The Conservatives need to put in a heavyweight candidate, ideally a popular personality. An identikit Tory candidate isn’t going to work. It needs someone with a bit of presence and charisma. And someone who is capable of dealing with Nigel Farage.
This is a bitter blow for the LibDems. We all know that had all the ballots been counted, Huhne, not Clegg, would probably have become leader. So I suppose it could have been worse for them. But he was a major talent, a good minister and one of their keenest brains. No doubt he will become persona non grata but his talent will not be easy to replace. Andrew Mitchell once told me that Huhne took to government like a duck to water. If he promised something to a fellow Minister he delivered on it. You could count on his support in Cabinet. There are only three LibDems who will be rejoicing at Huhne’s misfortune – Vince Cable, Tim Farron and Ed Davey. It gives them one fewer opponent in the next LibDem leadership contest, whenever that might be.
Watching Twitter, and one or two blogs, over the last few hours has been a very unedifying experience. There isn’t much milk of human kindness on display. If Twitter were an animal, it would be a wolf – always ready to salivate over and then devour some easy meat. Well, Chris Huhne is easy meat today, but before he is fed to the wolves, think about his state of mind. People sometimes do desperate things in these circumstances.