It’s been nearly two days now since Chris Huhne surprised everyone and pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice — the plea being the surprising part, not the guilty. The political commentariat have had chance enough to chew it over, myself included.
So given that mere months before his resignation Huhne was being touted as a possible coup leader and alternative to Clegg, the fallout from this will do some fairly profound rearranging of the political landscape. Since the late unlamented Huhne’s Eastleigh seat is beyond a long shot for Labour, I can sit back and enjoy this a bit, and look at who this plays out worst for.
This is the obvious one. The man will almost certainly be going to jail, and deservedly so frankly. Displaying a staggering sense of arrogance and self-importance, he allowed his lies to turn a trivial driving offence into a career-ending death blow. So he has lost his seat, from all accounts he has lost his family, and he will go to jail. But upon his release, he will probably write a best-selling tell-all book, and in end won’t do nearly as poorly out of the whole sorry situation as by rights he should.
Again, conventional wisdom seems to say that a disgraced MP’s party leader will pay a price in political capital. After all, this was someone who implicitly had Clegg’s endorsement as a member of his party, and as a (presumably-vetted) one-time cabinet minister — so his personal judgement should come into question somewhat. Except that Mr Clegg doesn’t have a great deal to lose in that respect. His poll ratings are in the doldrums, and as mentioned above Huhne had been something of an agitator against him.
For evidence that Clegg wasn’t terribly sorry to see the back of Huhne, just take a look at his statement on the matter:
“This is obviously an extremely serious matter and it’s essential that the legal process is now allowed to run its course. I am shocked and saddened by what has happened, but I believe that Chris Huhne has taken the right decision in resigning as an MP.“
Frosty and fairly perfunctory. So long Chris, thanks for nothing!
What does David Cameron have to lose here, I hear you ask. Well, take a close look at Eastleigh. Huhne’s majority was only 3,864, and that was before the Lib Dem poll collapse. Toss in a disgraced former MP, and this should be a seat which the Conservatives easily win.
Except… In the 2012 local elections, the Lib Dems paradoxically gained seats. Factor into that the high polling of UKIP and the controversy of gay marriage. It is quite likely that UKIP will poll highly here, splitting the right-wing vote and allowing the Lib Dems to retain the seat.
And imagine what that would do to Cameron’s disaffected backbenchers. They are already, reportedly, planning to demand George Osborne’s head on a silver platter after the May elections. If they lose the sort of Parliamentary seat which they will need to win in 2015 to have any chance of winning a majority, then Osborne’s sacking won’t be nearly enough.
Strangely, Cameron may lose more than anyone out of Huhne’s downfall. After all, nothing gets rid of a Conservative Prime Minister more effectively than the Conservative Party.