Speeding towards destruction

So Chris Huhne finally admits that it was true all along. Despite all his denials (“All I want to say is these allegations are simply incorrect”: May 2011. “I am saying there is no truth in those allegations”: July 2011. “I am innocent of the charges”: February 2012) his lying and deceptions have now caught up with him. He was driving his car when it fell foul of a speed camera on the M11. He did ask (perhaps pressure?) his then wife to lie on his behalf. And today, he has pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice. A right royal mess, and a devastating demonstration of that tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.

I do not know by how much Mr Huhne was speeding at the time of his offence. But unless he was rampaging along at 150mph, weaving and dodging through the traffic like the roadrunner on heat, I doubt very much that the original offence was all that heinous. Not many British drivers can now say that they’ve never been caught breaking the limit. I’m not suggesting that speeding is of no consequence, but no-one could possibly claim that it’s not an everyday occurrence. I’ve been done for driving at 55 in a 50 zone, and I don’t consider myself any the less capable of doing my job, any the less reliable as a person, or particularly morally bankrupt. So I would not have been lining up to throw stones at Mr Huhne had he simply paid the penalty fine, taken the points, apologised, and got on with trying to make our energy greener.

But he didn’t. One wonders why. I don’t doubt that the answer to that conundrum is at least in part to be found in flaws in his character. In the arrogance of power. In the hubris of a man who thinks that the normal slings and arrows that beset the rest of us do not apply to him. But ironically there is perhaps one mitigation that applies to a politician that would not apply to others. In his internal calculation there was no doubt a weighing up of what admitting to a speeding offence might do to his political career. One can imagine the capital that would be made by his political opponents (fair enough, one might say) but also the ghastly hypocrisy of the press and media in general. There would have been calls for his head; the protestation that any politician guilty of even a minor legal infringement is somehow morally corrupt to their very soul; the insistence that standards must be made to apply to a cabinet minister that none of the rest of us could possibly live up to. It is one of the least attractive aspects of our modern culture that we want to throw stones regardless of the glass that surrounds our own conduct.

That’s a mitigation, certainly, but it’s not a sufficient one. Mr Huhne deserves the ignominy he now suffers, but I daresay doing the right thing may have been easier for me than it was for him. He has had many, many opportunities to come clean. He has dismissed them all with a breathtaking and haughty disregard.

Intertwined through all this has been the added spice of marital misbehaviour. His then wife, now furiously spurned, has even entered “marital coercion” as her defence against her own part in this sad and prolonged saga. And that brings us to the saddest, most poignant, and tragic element of the whole sorry business. In court today were read out the heart-rending text exchanges between Mr Huhne and his angry and embittered son, Peter. His father’s sacrifice of his family to his career and his lust has understandably destroyed their relationship, although one hopes not for ever. The texts had some relevance to the case, to be sure, but it was not necessary for anyone to draw public attention to them. However, if there were ever anyone on whom one could rely to do what is unnecessary, and also cruel, tasteless and hypocritical, it is the self-styled Guido Fawkes. He lived up to his pitiful reputation with sickening aplomb.

Of all the flawed human beings whose frailties this case has so unerringly flung into the searchlight of public scrutiny, I suspect that it is Guido Fawkes, aka Paul Staines, who is the most despicable, and the least sympathetic.

Sifting the rights and wrongs from the Hague kerfuffle

This Hague business has, as usual, generated very much more heat than light. Most commentators have fulminated at length on the story’s homophobic underpinnings, or on the unseemliness of dragging his wife’s miscarriages into the limelight, or on the unsavoury way in which the story came to public attention and the media’s subsequent feeding frenzy, or on Hague’s political judgement in putting out his extraordinarily personal and defensive public statement.

Fascinating as all these aspects are, they have frequently served to obscure the real issues. The story may have vile homophobic roots, but that doesn’t mean Hague has no legitimate questions to answer. The blogger Guido Fawkes may be a nasty piece of work (or a libertarian hero disinfecting the body politic – take your pick) and the media generally may have no sense of priorities (cf the largely deafening silence on the News of The World hacking scandal) but neither mean that there is no public interest, in the best sense, here at all.

So here’s my attempt to sort the wheat of legitimate concern from the chaff of prurience and arrant stupidity. Let’s get shot of the latter first.

  • There is nothing of legitimate public interest in the sexuality of ministers (except see first point in the wheat section below.)
  • Having, or not having, kids is about as accurate an indicator of sexuality as reading the Daily Mail is of the presence of an open-minded and intelligent approach to current affairs.
  • Sharing a room is not proof positive of a sexual relationship.
  • Being in the public eye means that the public will have its collective eye on you, and deciding to be a politician is to decide to be in the public eye, so it’s pretty pointless to complain when it gets uncomfortable.
  • There’s nothing wrong with being gay.
  • In case you missed that last point, I’d like to make it clear that there’s nothing wrong with being gay.

But having cast the chaff aside and burnt it in the fiery furnace of moral rectitude, there is still some wheat to be dealt with.

  • If as a man you make a song and dance about marriage, its sanctity, and your pure and untainted heterosexuality, it would be legitimate to hold you up to public ridicule if you were found with your legs wrapped around another man. That’s not what’s happened here, but in such circumstances “outing” a public figure would not be tantamount to homophobia.
  • Special advisors are there to provide special advice. That kind of assumes they have some special knowledge, knowledge that you could reasonably be expected to be able to point to if asked.
  • Such advisors are paid by the public purse, so we have a legitimate interest if they seem to be more concubine than advisor.
  • If someone says that because you have no kids you must be gay, you serve only to legitimise that stupidity if you drag your wife’s medical history into the business of refuting it.
  • If as a middle-aged man you repeatedly appear in public wearing a baseball cap, then at least one aspect of your judgement is up for being called into question.

And there you have it. Not black, and not white. I’m sorry about that, because I know lots of you want to be able to expostulate on one side or another of issues such as this without the inconvenience of having to deal with countervailing tendencies. Tough. I think it’s time you gained a little maturity and wisdom. Like mine, you might say…