3 Feb 2012

Political impact of Huhne’s resignation and charges

Politically, of course, this is an embarrassment for Nick Clegg and the Coalition. But given how strident Chris Huhne has been in government and even at the Cabinet table at a time when he was under investigation for possible offences that carry jail sentences, you don’t have to ponder long to imagine how a resurgent, perhaps slightly resentful Chris Huhne might have been.

Life, medium and long term after the next 24 hour splurge of excitement gets a bit easier for Nick Clegg. The senior office-holding Lib Dem most prone to make trouble has now gone to the backbenches.

Privately, Chris Huhne has told friends the government would be very unwise to have “a senior trained economist” on the backbenches (potentially ripping into government strategy) but in these circumstances you presume he wouldn’t have quite the time, weight or appetite to do just that.

The wider impact politically is that the “Politicians – They’re All The Same” Party (let’s call them “Potats” Party) gets another surge in support. Even though Chris Huhne denies the charges, that won’t be how many cynical of politicians and tuned out from most political discourse will see it.

In reshuffle terms, if it’s Ed Davey coming into the Cabinet from his ministerial post in the Business Department as hinted by some close to Clegg, then that is promotion for a stalwart Clegg supporter. If Norman Lamb came into government to take over Ed Davey’s old post (Lamb was an extraordinary omission from Nick Clegg’s original ministerial choices) that would be a fresh ministerial face for the Lib Dems.

The DPM made up for missing Norman Lamb out in the original government appointments by appointing him as an aide with special rights and good access to the leader. So two Clegg loyalists join the team and Huhne, seen as more of a solo operator, is gone, solidifying Nick Clegg’s hold on his party, an extraordinary phenomenon given the party’s dismal national poll ratings.

I’m told that the offence of perverting the course of justice can attract very high custodial sentences but the precedent for this sort of offence would be between 6 and 12 months I am told.

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