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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Commons Confidential: Tories turn on “Lord Snooty”

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

With the Good Friday Agreement’s 20th anniversary rapidly approaching, Jeremy Corbyn’s office is scrambling to devise a celebration that doesn’t include Tony Blair. Peace in Northern Ireland is a sparkling jewel in the former prime minister’s crown, perhaps the most precious legacy of the Blair era. But peace in Labour is more elusive. Comrade Corbyn’s plot to airbrush the previous party leader out of the picture is personal. Refusing to share a Brexit referendum platform with Blair and wishing to put him in the dock over Iraq were political. Northern Ireland is more intimate: Corbyn was pilloried for IRA talks and Blair threatened to withdraw the whip after the Islington North MP met Gerry Adams before the 1997 election. The Labour plan, by the way, is to keep the celebrations real – focusing on humble folk, not grandees such as Blair.

Beleaguered Tory Europeans call Brextremist backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg – the hard-line European Research Group’s even harder line no-dealer – “Lord Snooty” behind his back. The Edwardian poshie, who orchestrates Theresa May’s taxpayer-funded Militant Tendency (members of the Brexit party within a party are able to claim “research” fees on expenses), is beginning to grate. My irritated snout moaned that the Beano was more fun and twice as informative as the Tories’ own Lord Snooty.

Labour’s Brexit fissures are getting bigger but Remainers are also far from united. I’m told that Andy Slaughter MP is yet to forgive Chuka Umunna for an “ill-timed” pro-EU amendment to last June’s Queen’s Speech, which led to Slaughter’s sacking from the front bench for voting to stay in the single market. The word is that a looming customs union showdown could trigger more Labexits unless Jezza embraces tariff-free trade.

Cold war warriors encouraging a dodgy Czech spy to smear Comrade Corbyn couldn’t be further from the truth about his foreign adventures. In Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, Corbyn recalled spending a night in Burundi pumping up footballs. The club offered to donate shirts for an aid trip but he asked for the balls to be shared by entire African villages. He was War on Want, not Kim Philby.

Screaming patriot Andrew Rosindell, the chairman of an obscure flags and heraldry committee, is to host a lecture in parliament on the Union Jack. I once witnessed the Romford Tory MP dress Buster, his bull terrier, in a flag waistcoat to greet Maggie Thatcher. She walked past without noticing.

A Tory MP mused that Iain Duncan Smith was nearly nicknamed “Smithy”, not “IDS”, for his 2001 leadership campaign. Smithy would still have proved a lousy commander.
 

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 22 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia