Huhne and Pryce sentenced to eight months each in prison

Former Lib Dem energy secretary and his former wife jailed.

Chris Huhne's fall is complete. Appearing at Southwark Crown Court, the former Lib Dem cabinet minister has just been sentenced to eight months in prison for perverting the course of justice. Vicky Pryce was also sentenced to eight months. 

In an interview with the Guardian hours before he was sentenced, Huhne said: "I am sorry. I want to say that to family, to friends, to constituents and to colleagues, and more broadly to everybody who cares passionately about the causes I care about, including saving the planet for our children and our grandchildren." He added that he had hoped Pryce would not be found guilty "for the sake of the family". 

Pleading for mitigation, Huhne's QC John Kelsey-Fry said that his client had already suffered "the direst consequences for this aberrant behaviour ten years ago" and urged the judge to give him the shortest sentence possible. He added that Huhne had done the honourable thing and "fallen on his sword" by pleading guilty and avoiding the "bloodbath" of a trial. But the prosecuting counsel, Andrew Edis, attacked Huhne's conduct of his defence as "scandalous" and his "highly selective amnesia" when interviewed by the police. The judge, unsurprisingly, paid more heed to Edis's arguments. 

As for the Lib Dems, they can reflect that, in one respect at least, fate has been kind to them. Had it not been for the 1,300 postal votes caught up in the Christmas post in 2007, Huhne would have defeated Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems would have just seen their leader imprisoned. 

Former energy secretary Chris Huhne and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce arriving seperately for sentencing at Southwark Crown Court. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.