The shine comes off the LibDems
Published in: Daily Mail
Well, we all knew the Lib Dems were besotted with voting reform -- but who would have thought they'd take the infatuation quite this far?
The Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne, has admitted to having a long- standing affair with Carina Trimingham, the campaigns director of the Electoral Reform Society.
Huhne's passion for changing the voting system would appear to have given a whole new meaning to the word 'coalition'. But single transferable partners are most definitely not on most people's agenda.
After 26 years of marriage and three children, Huhne now says he is leaving his wife, Vicky. Which would seem to be news to Vicky, since reportedly the first she heard about her husband's affair was when a Sunday newspaper got hold of the story.
Yet despite cheating on his wife and then dumping her so peremptorily, there wasn't a hint of contrition from Huhne. Not a mumbled scintilla of regret for ending his long marriage, nor of appreciation or concern for the wife he had betrayed.
Instead, merely a pompous announcement that he was 'in a serious relationship with Carina Trimingham and I am separating from my wife'.
The implication was that he was separating because of the 'seriousness' of the relationship with his lover. But it seems that he decided to separate only because, after some absurdly banal cloak-and-dagger tactics to conceal the affair, his infidelity has finally been outed.
This is a shoddy way to treat his wife -- who was herself divorced with two young children when she married Huhne. He has refused to say whether he was responsible for the break-up of her first marriage shortly after she met him.
Once upon a time, a minister would have resigned his post after the revelation of such despicable behaviour. But as has been commented on by others, now it is the wife who has to resign.
Huhne is trying to take shelter behind the hoary old excuse that his private life has nothing to do with his political career. Yet this same Huhne used his family life to promote that political career.
Only last spring, a leaflet sent to constituents in his marginal Eastleigh constituency featured pictures of his wife and children with inscriptions such as 'getting married does not seem like 26 years ago' and: 'Family matters to me so much. Where would we be without them?'
Yet when he distributed these leaflets he had already long been cheating on his wife. What rank hypocrisy.
True, the Lib Dems have explicitly refused to support the values of marriage, extolling instead 'lifestyle choice' -- otherwise known as the right to personal irresponsibility.
Yet only four days ago, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg -- who once modestly confided he had slept with 'no more than 30' women -- was forced to support David Cameron's pro-marriage agenda when he wrote: 'I know from my own life that a happy marriage and healthy children matter more than anything else . . . When marriages and relationships break down, a child's whole world can collapse too. Strong, stable and loving families are the cornerstone of a happy childhood.'
Oh dear. Just when Clegg had dumped yet another Lib Dem shibboleth, he was left with his trousers round his ankles. It seems the philandering Huhne had kept his leader in the dark, too.
In any event, the argument that politicians shouldn't be judged by their private lives really is a turkey. If someone cheats on their spouse, betrays a solemn pledge and causes pain to dependents, we must assume they may do the same to their constituents or their country. If Huhne's wife can't trust her husband, why should we?
And while we're about it, let's remind ourselves that he hardly emerged from the great expenses scandal smelling of roses either.
Despite the fact that he owns no fewer than seven houses and is one of the richest members of Parliament, he claimed £5,066 for painting work on his garden fences and chairs and £119 for a mahogany Corby trouser press -- which he later repaid 'to avoid controversy'.
For a party that came to power on the basis that it was offering a new politics of integrity, honesty and transparency, the shine is coming off the Lib Dems faster than off a guardsman's boot in a farmyard.
The only reason they could pose as squeaky-clean was that until they suddenly became part of the governing Coalition they were considered so irrelevant they were never held up to scrutiny. Now they are finally being exposed to the public glare -- and what an unlovely sight they are.
A mere three weeks ago, their superstar David Laws had to resign his brand-new post as Chief Secretary to the Treasury after it was revealed he had paid some £40,000 of taxpayers' money in rent to his secret gay lover.
An attempt was made to shield him too behind the 'private life' defence on the spurious grounds that he was being victimised because of his sexuality. But, of course, the real issue was dishonesty.
Then there's the Lib Dems' breathtaking opportunism and cynicism. Last week, Nick Clegg used a major speech on the economy to warn that any course of action other than slashing public spending would be 'irresponsible' and would 'condemn ourselves and our children to decades of debt, higher interest rates and fewer jobs'.
Yet this is the same Nick Clegg who, right up to the election, was bashing the Tories for planning to slash spending, warning that early, deep cuts would be 'economic masochism' and could even lead to 'Greek-style unrest'.
Now, he says he's changed his mind after a long conversation with the Governor of the Bank of England. Presumably, the fact that having got his feet under the Cabinet table he is deeply reluctant to leave it has nothing at all to do with his Damascene conversion.
In fact, it seems there are no lengths to which these Lib Dems won't go to gain power and keep it.
At the election, Huhne told voters that the only way to keep the Tories out was to vote for him. Benefiting from the fact that 5,085 Labour voters switched because they didn't want to see a Cameron government, he won by a majority of 3,864. And yet now he is said by his leader to be the tenth most powerful member of a Conservative-led government.
With two scandals in three weeks and with policies being junked with impunity, it's as if the Lib Dems are in a speeded-up film. Having been out of power for more than a century, they appear to be determined to make up for lost time in showing they can match both Tories and Labour when it comes to sleaze and opportunism.
New politics? It's deja vu.
The ironies multiply the more you think about it. Here is David Cameron obsessively driven by the need to obliterate from the public mind the image of 'Tory sleaze' derived from such serial scandals as Steven Norris's five mistresses, Tim Yeo's lovechild and David Mellor's 'toe-sucking' affair.
Turning disadvantage into an opportunity, Cameron seized upon the enforced coalition to use the Lib Dems as human shields of niceness and decency behind which he could cut public spending without attracting opprobrium.
Yet now, instead of bedding down with people as woolly as their jumpers, Cameron finds he is shacked up with a party apparently determined to win the World Cup of sexual and financial sleaze.
You'd have to have a heart of knitted organic yoghurt not to laugh.