Warsi: Huhne may stand down regardless of court verdict

The Conservative co-chair says that Huhne's Eastleigh seat is a "target" and the Tories would "fight

Chris Huhne has already withdrawn from the cabinet as he faces trial for allegedly perverting the course of justice -- and now it appears his Conservative coalition partners already have their eye on his parliamentary seat, even though the outcome of the trial has yet to be decided.

In an in-depth interview with The House magazine, Sayeeda Warsi, the co-chairman of the Conservative Party, has said that she is readying the Tories for a potential by-election fight in Eastleigh:

The party is ready for any by-election at any time. When a by-election is called in Eastleigh then of course we will kick in to action.

Note the use of "when", not "if". She added:

It is a target seat and I think we would fight it hard and we would fight it to win. I don't think the Lib Dems are dug in there. It's winnable. We will do everything we can to win it.

Last month, Guido Fawkes reported that 2,000 Tory party activists were dispatched to Eastleigh just two days after Huhne's court appearance. The Eastleigh Conservative Party insisted that the surge was to do with upcoming local elections rather than a potential by-election, but the timing was difficult to ignore. Warsi said that she has already been campaigning in Eastleigh, recently appearing at an event for local members.

Warsi -- not known for her discretion -- took the unusual step of suggesting that Huhne could step down even if he is found innocent. While she acknowledged that the outcome of the trial is yet to be decided, she said:

The by-election could be called because, you know, Chris might stand down irrespective of what happens at the court case.

The Tories have hardly been supportive of Huhne, who is accused of persuading his ex-wife Vicky Pryce to take his penalty points for a speeding offence nearly ten years ago. In February the Daily Mail reported that David Cameron told attendees of a Tory ball for wealthy donors: "we had to speed to get here on time. It's a good job Samantha was driving -- or at least, that's what it says on the forms!"

In response to Warsi's comments, a Lib Dem spokesman said: "Chris Huhne is denying the allegations against him, so talk of a by-election is extremely premature." The Times (£) quotes an unnamed Lib Dem source saying that the suggestion that Huhne could stand down even if found innocent "display[s] a slight lack of knowledge of Chris".

Huhne denies all allegations and is next due in court in May. While his thoughts may be on the pending trial, perhaps he should also be keeping an eye on the activities of the coalition partners already eyeing up his grave.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.