Friends and readers know that my affection for today’s politicians in general and leftie politicians in particular isn’t without limits.
Chris Huhne falls into that category, which would normally make him an unlikely candidate for my compassion, even though he is a fellow BMW driver. And yet Huhne deserves it, not because I have anything but disdain for him, but because his accusers are even worse in their hypocrisy.
For those of you who have been on a protracted lunar holiday, here are the facts of the matter. Huhne, then one of the top LibDems, was caught by a speed camera in 2003. Since he already had nine points on his licence, the offence meant a driving ban. Mr Huhne and his wife then decided that they’d pass the points on to her, by claiming she drove the offending vehicle – a popular ploy here on earth, all you moon travellers.
So far so bad. But then things got worse. In 2010 Huhne left his long-suffering, point-bearing wife for a younger woman, a lesbian who looks like his elder brother or perhaps – choose your simile – like a drag queen. That was a bad move in more ways than just aesthetic and moral ones.
For last year Mrs Huhne, or rather Vicky Price as she now is, blew the whistle on Chris and hence on herself. This self-sacrificial woman thus vindicated William Congreve who aptly observed all those years ago that “Heav’n hath no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d, Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.” (Shakespeare said many wise things, but he didn’t say everything.)
After months of lying denials Huhne has pleaded guilty to perverting the cause of justice, resigned his parliamentary seat and in a few days will be sentenced to prison, if his judge is to be believed. His ex-wife’s trial for the same offence begins tomorrow, with her defence team claiming marital coercion to keep her out of pokey.
Now Chris Huhne’s career, indeed life, lies in ruins as his former friends and colleagues from all parties turn into vultures circling his political corpse. Ignoring Christ’s suggestion about casting the first stone, these exemplars of honesty, who have never told a lie, nor exceeded the speed limit, are braying for his blood. They want him in prison, preferably with the key thrown away.
Now I realise that perverting the course of justice is a serious offence, but do let’s be realistic. As a politician, and a leftwing one at that, Chris lies institutionally and professionally. Moreover, in the past he was a Guardian journalist, which means lying isn’t so much second nature to him as first.
Expecting high standards of probity from him is like expecting vegetarianism, or clean language, from Gordon Ramsey. Such an expectation says more about his critics than about Chris himself. Still, ridding Parliament of his toxic presence has to be a good thing, especially if Nigel Farage stands for the seat now vacated. But a custodial sentence? This raises the question first asked in Griboyedov’s play Woe to Wit: ‘And who are the judges?’
(Note to West End producers: this play, along with Gogol’s Inspector General, is the best comedy this side of Shakespeare or, arguably, Molière, and yet neither has been performed in the 25 years that I’ve lived in London.)
Let’s keep things in perspective, shall we? Huhne’s transgression is undoubtedly a bad thing to do. But those demanding that he be punished to the full extent of the law are exactly the same people who see nothing wrong with burglars getting off scot-free. They are the same fine legal minds who claim that prison doesn’t work. Their arguments are as common as they are spurious:
Prison doesn’t make people better. Do they think that Huhne, on the other hand, will emerge from the clink as perfect and squeaky-clean as his critics obviously are?
Prison doesn’t deter. Do they think that in this instance it will? That people will never go over the speed limit, nor lie about it if they do?
Prisons are overcrowded. Does this also apply to those who lie about speed violations or just to muggers, burglars and hooligans?
Prison turns inmates into worse criminals than they were to begin with. Do they think Huhne will come out wistling a merry tune?
Perfect people in politics and journalism, forgive Chris Huhne for falling short of your impeccable moral standards. Make up your mind on the efficacy of custodial sentences. And for goodness sake, realise that a self-made millionaire is entitled to the same mercy as the tattooed plankton for whom, according to your animadversions, prison doesn’t work.