The misreading of Chris Huhne

Judge his politics and you’d probably get it wrong.

"Really, you'd be prepared to do a deal with the Tories?" I asked. I'm on a windswept platform waiting for a train with Chris Huhne. "Yes, and that is the most likely outcome of the next election," he replies.

It is 2006, and we've just been to a Parliamentary Party meeting where every other MP said a deal with the Tories was "inconceivable".

Later, Huhne fought a leadership campaign against Nick Clegg and was perceived to be on the left of the party. Three years later, in early 2010, he tabled a minority report – of one person – to Clegg, suggesting that a full coalition with either the Conservatives or Labour would be the only way to tackle the structural deficit.

His fellow coalition negotiators Danny Alexander, David Laws and Andrew Stunell disagreed: they believed the only deal to be struck with the Conservatives was one of "confidence and supply", supporting the Queen's Speech and Budget but sitting on their hands for the rest.

History proved Huhne right, so no wonder he has an air of confidence, which oozes from his profiles this week in Total Politics and the Independent on Sunday.

It's a confidence that enables a member of the cabinet to make an interesting intervention on the phone hacking scandal, one that sees this as a widespread media practice that Scotland Yard has failed to investigate properly.

Huhne, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, is widely believed to have secured one of the best Comprehensive Spending Review settlements, liked by civil servants and applauded for unblocking the financial barriers to investment in renewables. However, his full-steam-ahead approach to nuclear power and the paralysis of progress on the Green Investment Bank is storing up frustration in the Lib Dems.

The best observation in the Total Politics profile is made by Rob Wilson MP. He suggests it is hard to place Huhne as a left-winger or an "Orange Booker". I agree – to judge the cover of the weighty tome that is Chris Huhne would be a mistake for anyone. You'd probably get it wrong.

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.