First, none of this would have been possible without my own mistakes. I am no saint (but nor did I claim to be).
Chris Huhne was one of the Tory/LibDem Cabinet’s millionaires. He was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change: he is now European manager of Zilkha Biomass Energy, a transition from government minister to employee in the same field that is now so familiar its corruption wouldn’t make the headlines – except that Huhne spent some time in between in court and in jail.
Besides his wealth from his pre-Parliament career as a City of London economist, Huhne owned seven houses: the one he officially lived in, in London: his official second home, in Eastleigh: and five more rental properties.
As revealed in the MP expenses scandal in 2009:
He owns his second home in his Eastleigh constituency in Hampshire outright but regularly claims for its renovation. In August 2006 he was reimbursed for a £5,066 builder’s invoice that included having two coats of “red rustic timber care” applied to garden items, and two coats of green preservative for fences. On another occasion Mr Huhne submitted a handyman’s bill for £77.31, covering odd jobs such as “replacing rope on swinging chair”.
Mr Huhne’s claims under the additional costs allowance include a bill for £119 for a Corby trouser press, finished in mahogany, from John Lewis. Although he claims for his home in Eastleigh, the delivery address on the receipt is his London home. Mr Huhne submits meticulous claims for office expenses, numbering his receipts and including a typed breakdown of what each one is for.
His incidental expenses provision claims, which cover the running costs of his offices in London and in his constituency, include a single receipt for semi-skimmed milk (62p), and others for chocolate HobNobs (79p), tea bags (89p) and a bus ticket (£3.20). Among the items carefully crossed off on the receipts are a cheese muffin (99p), bacon flavour Wheat Crunchies (28p) and Ready Brek (£1.81). One of his most unusual claims is an £85.35 bill for the “mounting, framing and inscription of photo of Chris Huhne”.
Chris Huhne’s view of this appears to be summarised as:
The truth is, politicians are no more venal or self-serving than people outside politics, and often far more high-minded. (Anyone who wants to make money should go into business. You lose money in politics.)
By the way, even at today’s prices, the £5066 bill we paid to repair Chris Huhne’s home would have bought Huhne 76 day-returns Eastleigh-London. And let’s not forget that Chris Huhne’s MPs salary alone (let alone the additional income from rental properties and what Vicky Pryce earned) put them in the top 10% income bracket.
But then in June 2010, Chris Huhne made the mistake of ensuring the woman who had the power to send him to jail for cheating on his speeding points had cause to hate him:
At half-time while watching a World Cup football match on television in June 2010, Chris Huhne told his then wife Vicky Pryce that a Sunday newspaper had discovered he was having an affair. He then retired to his study, wrote a press release confirming his separation from his wife of 26 years and mother of his three children, and left their Clapham home to go to the gym.
My endgame began when Neville Thurlbeck, the chief reporter of the now defunct News of the World, heard gossip that I was having an affair.
The News of the World sparked the end of my marriage, but another Murdoch title, the Sunday Times, then groomed my ex-wife until she told them about the speeding points.
Rupert Murdoch’s press were doubtless being evil bastards, true. But they didn’t invent the speeding, and they didn’t invent Huhne’s decision to have his wife’s licence endorsed for his speeding offence, and they didn’t invent the affair, and they didn’t make Chris Huhne decide that his then-wife’s feelings didn’t matter if he could preserve his ministerial career by writing a press release to end his marriage and go on to his next.
It is an explanation, but not a defence, to point out that the AA’s pollsters say 300,000 people have swapped speeding points and that it seemed like a minor matter back in 2003.
He omits to mention that in December 2003 he lost his driving licence for using his mobile phone while driving – which is agreed to be as risky as drunk-driving.
Chris Huhne says:
Politics is about brokering compromises to resolve conflict. Inevitably, everyone ends up settling for something less than they wanted or even thought was essential and principled: people are disappointed. The people who disappoint them are their politicians. It is not ultimately a recipe for trust or popularity. But how else can societies set their priorities, and make choices? Politics matters.
None of this explains Huhne’s expenses claims, nor the speeding, nor the driving while using a mobile phone, nor the lying to the courts to pervert the course of justice. But if you had forgotten the details of Huhne’s political career – from chocolate hobnobs and house repairs on expenses to the final torrent of lies to try to discredit his ex-wife’s evidence against him – his article is a smooth defence.
And that’s why we don’t trust politicians. Because they assume we forget so easily, they can lie their way into our forgiveness.
Nine weeks later:
Kate Belgrave: Chris Huhne, rehabilitated. Too bad for everyone else.:
The appearance of Chris Huhne’s weekly column is now a serious irritation. He is a crook, a liar and a cheat. His greatest talent is blaming others for all of that. I thought him surplus to most requirements, if I thought about him at all.
But suddenly, here he is every week – back in and cosy with the political and media classes, and rubbing everyone else’s nose in his fast-turnaround rehabilitation. I’ve tried to ignore it, but at the same time can’t stand it. I first assumed that his column was a one-off pressed ham to us all. Now, it seems that the Guardian means to go on with it.
Chris Huhne, you are no Erwin James.