There’s a quite rightful anger over public figures being unaccountable, but directing this vitriol at Huhne is a mistake.
Over recent history there’s been no shortage of figures in public life who avoid accountability, be it leading politicians who have obviously broken laws with lives caught in the crossfire or media personalities able to count on blind eyes at every corner. Whilst I’ve no interest in defending Chris Huhne, it is worth considering how misguided the gloating at his punishment appears to be. Make no mistake, Huhne appears a pretty unsympathetic character – calculating, manipulative and as at ease deceiving a family member as a constituent – but this isn’t especially criminal and all of these traits have caught up with him in the end. You may or may not dispute whether Huhne’s offence really deserves an 8 month custodial sentence, but it’s difficult to stomach the unanimous joy at Huhne’s downfall without feeling just a little embarrassment. Any of us could more than likely be brought down by a past minor offence, and from recreational drug use to burning a CD for a friend the ‘law abiding majority’ cliché is as fictitious as Chris Huhne’s regular declarations of innocence. The right wing and tabloid press should – amongst other things – steer well clear of peddling homespun morality lessons on this front too.
What’s the point of Huhne being in prison? Obviously nobody should be above the law but taxpayer money is ultimately wasted on this man’s incarceration. His punishment has come through his political toxification and loss of career, he’s not especially likely to re-offend and the whole case is more of a deterrent against speaking to journalists than switching driving points. The Huhne affair isn’t going to deter people from switching their driving points as most know that the Sunday Times wouldn’t be interested in a gratuitous exposé of their minor misdemeanour. It may be profoundly refreshing to see a politician brought to justice, but it’s obvious that too many are making Huhne a symbol for the sins of every liar and criminal that’s ever held a top job, and this is undeserved and foolish.
The understandable bloodlust of the public for politicians in the dock has been misappropriated and morphed beyond recognition into something altogether different and ultimately a distraction from the real villains. This isn’t Tony Blair being sent down for war crimes at The Hague. This isn’t Jimmy Savile with a telephoto lens rammed up against his face on the steps of Leeds Crown Court. This isn’t even Jeffrey Archer; it’s just a pretty miserable former Liberal Democrat minister who’s already lost everything he lied to protect and there are much bigger fish left unfried.