Chris Huhne Q&A on Ian Tomlinson, MPs' expenses, his small majority, Robert Maxwell and Nick Clegg's T-shirt-wearing sexploits

by Stephen Tall on April 13, 2009

Lib Dem shadow home secretary Chris Huhne answers these questions – and many more besides – in today’s Independent:

On police violence:

The officer who lashed out at Ian Tomlinson is not typical. But any constable who betrays the public’s trust to use force responsibly should be disciplined and, if appropriate, charged. It is lamentably unfair to the vast majority of self-controlled officers if a thug tars the whole force.

On his property portfolio:

My wife and I have no more homes for our own use than any other MP’s family – one in my Eastleigh constituency and another in London. My other properties were bought as a pension fund before I was elected, and earn income as investments just like shares or bank deposits. I am proud of a successful business career.

On the Lib Dems’ chances of getting into government:

High. I gave up the safest Lib Dem seat in the European Parliament for a Westminster marginal in part because I am convinced that we will complete the process of political reform within my lifetime. We had six MPs in 1970, and 63 today. We control big cities like Liverpool, Sheffield, Portsmouth, Cardiff, Swansea, Newcastle and Hull.

On climate change:

The longer we delay serious measures to tackle climate change, the more difficult the solution. There must be a green route to recovery because we cannot go back to our old carbon-fuelled ways. This will involve sacrifice – rebalancing our tax to penalise activities that threaten the planet while taxing other activities less – but we should not scare people off. The best estimates (such as those of Lord Nick Stern) are that the costs of going green are modest. The costs of not going green are cataclysmic.

And on completing this sentence in the style of Nick Clegg: I have had sex with no more than…

…a T-shirt on – nice try, though.

You can read the whole piece HERE.

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On what evidential basis does Chris Huhne claim that the behaviour of the police officer who hit Ian Tomlinson was atypical? What does he mean, exactly, by ‘atypical’? There is now a wide range of evidence from many sources which indicates widespread police aggression and heavy-handedness at the G20 protests on April 1 – aggression that was disproportionate to any violence or disorder from the protesters themselves. I do not mean to suggest that all or most police officers acted aggressively on April 1. But the actions of the officer who hit Ian Tomlinson need to be seen in the context of a wider practice of aggressive policing and not (simply) as the isolated action of one ‘bad apple’, which Chris Huhne’s remarks might be taken to suggest.

All of this leads me to ask: Does Chris Huhne appreciate the full extent of the policing problem revealed on April 1? His remarks suggest not – and that’s a pretty major weakness for a Shadow Home Secretary to have.

by Stuart White on April 13, 2009 at 3:53 pm. Reply #

I believe he means that most officers don’t go around smacking people, which is quite true. According to a source, the officer that hit Tomlinson has been suspended and is likely to be stuck in a desk job for the rest of his career. I personally think he should be fired, nevermind mitigating circumstances.

The important question is now: What did the t-shirt say?

by Huw Dawson on April 13, 2009 at 8:29 pm. Reply #

Stuart White — I think your take on this is a bit unfair. Huhne is making it clear that he does not believe most British policemen cross the line that separates proportional and reasonable force from abuse of power in gratuitously attacking members of the public.

On the broader point, many members of the Lib Dem Home Affairs team, including him, are reported to have attended the protests as legal observers for precisely this purpose. David Howarth and Chris Huhne have criticized the tactical operational decisions such as ‘kettling’ that – in your excellent open letter – you have also blamed for increasing rather than decreasing the likelihood of problems.

Criticising Huhne on this is akin to suggesting that critics of prisoner abuse in Iraq are defending Labour’s illegal and immoral war by not tarring all Western soldiers with the bad behaviour of their abusive peers.

There is a difference between criticising foolish strategic operational decisions, criticising individual abuses, and tarring every service person with abusive behaviour. On both Iraq and G20 policing, the Lib Dems have done the first two but rightly stayed clear of the third.

by Richard H on April 13, 2009 at 10:43 pm. Reply #

Huw: you miss my point. Of course most police officers don’t go around smacking people most of the time. But the events on April 1 at the G20 protests were not typical in that respect. Unless one puts the actions of that one officer against poor Ian Tomlinson in the context of a wider practice of aggressive policing on that day, one has not fully understood how and why that particular incident happened. Chris Huhne’s comments do not seem to register this fact. And if I were a member of your party, I’d be concerned about that. (Not that I don’t have way more to worry about in my own party…)

by Stuart White on April 13, 2009 at 10:47 pm. Reply #

Richard H: speaking as a Labour party member, I wholly agree that the Lib Dems have been terrific in general on this issue.

I am not suggesting we tar all police officers with the same brush. But there is a difference between doing that, which I agree is wrong, and putting one individual’s actions in a wider social context in order to understand them. My concern is that in stressing the exceptionalism of this particular case, Chris Huhne fails to put the action in its wider context. On the day, the action was exceptional in its outcome, unfortunately, but not that exceptional in its content.

If Chris Huhne has in fact put the episode firmly in its wider context, and I have missed this, then I withdraw my criticism.

by Stuart White on April 13, 2009 at 11:03 pm. Reply #

Here is one more attempt to explain where I’m coming from.

Consider the following two propoisitions:

(1) All/most police officers acted with disproportionate force on the April 1 G20 protests.

(2) The police officer who assaulted poor Ian Tomlinson behaved in a way that was quite exceptional.

Obviously (1) is untrue. If Chris Huhne meant only to deny (1), then I have no argument. How could I?

But (2) is also untrue. Many – not all, not most, but many – police officers acted with excessive force on the day. They did so because of a flawed policing strategy.

My substantive point is that in denying (1) we should not imply something like (2).

My worry with Chris Huhne’s remarks was that, as I read them, he appeared to be doing just that.

Perhaps that was ungenerous and, if so, I’m happy to withdraw my criticism of Chris Huhne. I do think, however, that the substantive point is one that needs to be emphasized.

by Stuart White on April 14, 2009 at 1:16 am. Reply #

Stuart – I think you are reading too much into Mr Huhne’s comments. This is the Indie ‘You Ask the Questions’ section where answers have to be brief. That makes it difficult to give a full detailed answer. If you were to ask him whether he thought there may be other police officers who were too violent that day I suspect he may well say yes. Similarly if you asked him about the general police tactics.

by Liberal Neil on April 14, 2009 at 10:33 am. Reply #

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