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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Why do the words “soup, swoop, loop de loop” come to mind every time I lift a spoon to my lips?

It’s all thanks to Barry and Anita.

A while ago I was lending a friend the keys to our house. We keep spare keys in a ceramic pot I was given years ago by someone who made it while on an art-school pottery course. “That’s er . . . quite challenging,” the friend said of the pot.

“Is it?” I replied. “I’d stopped noticing how ugly it is.”

“Then it’s a grunty,” she said.

“A what?” I asked.

“A grunty. It’s something you have in your house that’s hideous and useless but you’ve stopped noticing it completely, so it’s effectively invisible.”

I was much taken with this idea and realised that as well as “grunties” there are also “gruntyisms”: things you say or do, though the reason why you say or do them has long since been forgotten. For example, every time we drink soup my wife and I say the same thing, uttered in a strange monotone: we say, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop.” How we came to say “soup, swoop, loop de loop” came about like this.

For a married couple, the years between your mid-thirties and your late forties might be seen as the decade of the bad dinner party. You’re no longer looking for a partner, so the hormonal urge to visit crowded bars has receded, but you are still full of energy so you don’t want to stay in at night, either. Instead, you go to dinner parties attended by other couples you don’t necessarily like that much.

One such couple were called Barry and Anita. Every time we ate at their house Barry would make soup, and when serving it he would invariably say, “There we are: soup, swoop, loop de loop.” After the dinner party, as soon as we were in the minicab going home, me and Linda would start drunkenly talking about what an arse Barry was, saying to each other, in a high-pitched, mocking imitation of his voice: “Please do have some more of this delicious soup, swoop, loop de loop.” Then we’d collapse against each other laughing, convincing the Algerian or Bengali taxi driver once again of the impenetrability and corruption of Western society.

Pretty soon whenever we had soup at home, Linda and I would say to each other, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop,” at first still ridiculing Barry, but eventually we forgot why we were saying it and it became part of the private language every couple develop, employed long after we’d gratefully ceased having soupy dinners with Barry and Anita.

In the early Nineties we had an exchange student staying with us for a year, a Maori girl from the Cook Islands in the southern Pacific. When she returned home she took the expression “soup, swoop, loop de loop” with her and spread it among her extended family, until finally the phrase appeared in an anthropological dissertation: “ ‘Soup swoop, loop de loop.’ Shamanistic Incantations in Rarotongan Food Preparation Rituals” – University of Topeka, 2001. 

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt