A departure widely unmourned, but there is no upside for the Lib Dems

Huhne was not the most "coalicious" figure in government, but that is precisely why ordinary party m

There is a thread of glee running through some of the commentary around Chris Huhne's fate this morning. This is because the former Energy Secretary has rubbed a lot of people in Westminster up the wrong way. Many Tories see him as insufficiently collegiate when it comes to collective cabinet responsibility for the coalition project. He is suspected of keeping too beady an eye on that corner of the Lib Dem grass roots where visceral loathing of the Conservatives lurks.

Nor has it ever been forgotten in Nick Clegg's office that Huhne was once his rival for the party leadership.The departure creates a vacancy for the promotion of more malleable Cleggites - or at least people with whom the Tories are more comfortable doing business. (Step forward "Orange Book" liberal Edward Davey.)

But there really is no upside to this episode for the Lib Dems. Away from the microscopic detail of Westminster personality politics, this is just a story of a minister crashing out of cabinet with a sleazy cloud over his head. And the minister is a Liberal Democrat. The party is having a hard enough time being known for anything other than its famous tuition fees u-turn. The brand, at the moment, is apparently associated in voters' minds with nothing at all or the intrinsic worthlessness of political promises. To then appear in headlines because a leading figure in the team faces criminal charges is not a good look for the party, whichever way you configure it.

Besides, for all that there was no love lost between Huhne and Clegg, it has sometimes been useful having a voice in the cabinet who is not altogether "coalicious", as they say. The kind of scratchy,abrasive dissent that never fully erupts into opposition - Huhne's speciality - operates as a safety valve for the purposes of party unity, reassuring ordinary members and MPs that their leaders haven't been entirely captured by the Tories.

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.