What is the political impact of the Chris Huhne/Vicky Pryce case? It’s a question that you’ll hear a lot from those who view everything through what Edward Leigh might call the merciless prism of politics. And yet, as James Kirkup points out on his Telegraph blog, this is more about a terrible family breakdown than it is about the Liberal Democrats.
However, as we’re still holding up that merciless prism of politics, here are a few thoughts.
The first is that of course people will discuss this in the bars at the Lib Dem spring conference this weekend. But will it overshadow the event itself? Not really: this has become a story about a broken family and a broken law, not a political party. The Eastleigh by-election has been and gone, the party survived both the Huhne case and Rennard scandal to hold the seat.
Besides, there are plenty of other matters to provide nice big shadows over the conference centre, so the Lib Dems needn’t worry about being too cheery. There’s the secret courts bill, on which activists are desperate to garner some last minute concessions ahead of the final ‘ping-pong’ stage (where the Lords vote on whether to accept the amendments made in the Commons) next week. There’s Vince Cable and his ‘borrow more!’ demand, and a similar plea from the Social Liberal Forum. And there’s the continuing fallout from the Lord Rennard allegations. Activists may well feel more comfortable about speaking their mind on the way the party has handled the scandal now that the Eastleigh by-election is out of the way.
That final problem does have a small connection with the Huhne/Pryce case in that there are questions circulating this afternoon about how much the leadership knew about Pryce taking the points in the same way Nick Clegg has been grilled about how much detail he had on the Rennard allegations. But the question of who knew what on sexual harassment claims in the party will be the one that remains long after the former Energy Secretary and his estranged wife are sentenced.
Nick Clegg has one less significant rival on the scene now, although supporters of Vince Cable would like him to do more than just write lengthy essays about deficit reduction if the party finds itself wallowing in a poor poll rating closer to the 2015 election.
Perhaps there’s a debate to be had about whether ‘marital coercion’ should remain a defence. But really, if anyone’s looking for a lesson from this, they’d do better to look at it through the messy prism of broken relationships, not politics.Tags: Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrats, UK politics, Vicky Pryce