Huhne / Pryce: this is a human drama, not a political story

by Stephen Tall on March 7, 2013

huhne quitsIt was the number of voicemail messages on my mobile (having been holed up in meetings for my non-political day-job) that alerted me a story had broken this afternoon. A clutch of requests from news stations eager to know what the political fall-out for the Lib Dems would be from Vicky Pryce being found guilty of perverting the course of justice.

My short answer? I just can’t see it. Vicky Pryce is the ex-wife of an ex-MP. Yes, it’s a compelling human drama, a modern morality tale of how one lie can destroy the careers of two successful, powerful people and tear their family apart. But do I think that in two-and-a-bit years time voters are going to decide not to vote for the Lib Dems on the basis of Chris Huhne’s all-too-human frailties? No, I don’t.

And if it were going to happen, it would have happened last Thursday when the voters of Eastleigh, those most affected by their former MP’s downfall, had the chance to cast their votes and chose to place their trust in the Lib Dems’ Mike Thornton.

The Telegraph’s James Kirkup sums it up very well in his post Vicky Pryce trial: there’s no political lesson here. There’s just a horrible story of a family broken by vengeance:

… what can I tell you? Well, I can tell you about anger and grief, hurt and betrayal. And vengeance. I can tell you about vengeance. I can tell you that this is an awful, awful case of a family whose private agonies have spilled over the normal boundaries into the public and legal domains. That if Mr Huhne had remained faithful, none of this would have happened. That if Ms Pryce had not sought to damage her former husband’s career in the way she did, none of this would have happened. That people are weak and fallible and flawed. That they make mistakes.

As for the suggestions that Vince Cable, Matthew Oakeshott or Miriam González Durántez knew about the allegations and this somehow constitutes a Lib Dem ‘cover-up’… Well, they deny the suggestion, Miriam in no uncertain terms: “I have never, ever been told by Vicky or anybody else about the traffic points story.” But even if they had been told by Vicky Pryce, it’s hard to know what they would do with that information. Put yourself in their shoes: the ex-wife of a colleague makes an allegation relating to a speeding offence that happened 10 years ago. Would your first reaction be to call the police?

For sure it would be easier and better for the Lib Dems if the headlines tonight were different. But, please let’s get a bit of perspective about what matters, actually matters, and counts as a political story rather than a human drama.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.