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Three political implications of the prosecution of Chris Huhne

By Tim Montgomerie
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Chris Huhne will be charged with perverting the course of justice. Every person is innocent until proven guilty but the CPS would not be pursuing this high profile case if there wasn't a high likelihood that Mr Huhne will end up in jail. it's a personal tragedy that flowed from the break up of his marriage. If his former wife, Vicky Pryce, hadn't felt treated so badly by Mr Huhne then it is unlikely that the speeding fines business would ever have come to public attention.

Ms Pryce could now bring this matter to an accelerated conclusion if she, belatedly, pleads guilty. In doing so she may spare the Lib Dems much embarrassment. There is already much speculation that many senior Lib Dems - notably Vince Cable - could be called to testify about what they knew and when, if the charges are contested.

People are saying that Mr Huhne's demise has few political implications. I'm not so sure. Three stand out:

  1. Huhne was Clegg's most formidable rival in the Lib Dems and he's no longer a threat. If postal votes in the last Lib Dem leadership had been counted after deadline day Huhne would be leader and possibly Deputy PM now, not Clegg. Clegg has no other serious rival for the Lib Dem crown. Tim Farron seems insubstantial. Simon Hughes too left-wing for the Orange Bookers. Vince Cable has been diminished by government. The Lib Dem leader looks very safe in his job.
  2. Huhne was a formidable minister and evangelical about climate change. Huhne's energy policies have been hurting UK manufacturing. His replacement will still be a Liberal Democrat but Treasury sources hope he might be a little bit more pragmatic. We will see but George Osborne will certainly see the change as an opportunity to kick some green policies into the longer grass.
  3. Tories hated Huhne and Cabinet might now be a happier place. We all have our list of 'favourite' Huhne outbursts. He made very strong attacks on Andy Coulson, Sayeeda Warsi, Theresa May and George Osborne. He was not trusted by Tories. Relations around the Cabinet table might now improve. The Coalition will probably be a friendlier affair if Steve Hilton's favourite Lib Dem - Ed Davey - is the new Energy and Climate Change Secretary. Hilton liked him for his pro-enterprise instincts - which takes me back to point two.

11.15am: Watch Huhne's resignation statement.


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