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Sunday 10 February 2013

A grotesque display of emotional incontinence in public

The undignified saga of the Huhnes has lovers of political gossip enthralled, but Ruth Dudley Edwards has been turned off

Since June 2010, lovers of political gossip have been enjoying the car-crash of Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne, then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, and his wife Vicky Pryce, then Joint Head of the United Kingdom's Government Economic Service.

It was then, a month after the formation of the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government, that Huhne was informed on a Saturday that a Sunday tabloid would reveal his affair with Carina Trimingham, who had been his press agent during an election campaign in which he had made much of his devotion to his wife of 26 years and their children.

His response was to tell his wife curtly about his affair, explain that he would be choosing Trimingham, and take off for the gym. Although Pryce moved successfully to another high-powered job, she was broken by this betrayal and began to confide in a journalist, leading to the breaking of an unsourced story in May 2011 about how in 2003 Huhne had persuaded Pryce to take the blame when his car was clocked breaking the speed limit yet again and his licence was at risk. The die was irrevocably cast.

In February 2012, both were charged with the criminal offence of perverting the course of justice: Huhne had to resign his cabinet job.

Initially both pleaded not guilty, but Pryce entered a defence of 'marital coercion' and last week, when their trial began, Huhne's lawyers told him that because of incriminating texts from his son, Peter, the game was up.

The texts were published, and are painful to read, as Huhne's attempts to communicate are met with "I hate you, so f**k off." Or "Don't text me you fat piece of shit."

Huhne pleaded guilty, resigned as an MP and awaits an almost certain prison sentence.

Pryce alleges that when Huhne received the penalty notice for speeding, he filled in the relevant form naming her as the driver and intimidated her into signing it. In the witness box, she has also alleged such other bullying behaviour as his insistence in 1990 that she have an abortion because his career took precedence.

"Can you believe what Vicky Pryce is willing to drag into public view to wiggle out from under a prosecution that she herself set in motion, and to smear her ex? The abortion stuff floors me." So said an email to me from a perceptive, successful female friend. "I have no time whatsoever for that woman," said another. "Nightmare. My sympathies are with Huhne."

In both cases, I proffered in mitigation, "Well, she is Greek," hoping the thought-police weren't on spying duty that day. It was a relief when I read that Pryce had herself said in the witness box by way of excusing herself for swearing violently at her ex-husband that she was "a fiery Greek".

Like these friends, I am of the school of thought that aspires to emotional continence in public, but I was and am prejudiced when it comes to Pryce Vs Huhne. I've always admired her contributions to news programmes when she patiently clarifies baffling financial issues, and I had a conversation with her last year at a party and liked her.

And I've never been able to stand Huhne. He ticked so many of my dislike buttons: arrogant, smug, a braggart and a man-made-climate-change warrior who dismissed sceptics contemptuously as he used his position as Energy Secretary to throw vast amounts of taxpayers' money at hideous structures that defaced England's green and pleasant land.

Just one thing I'll say in mitigation. Large numbers of otherwise honest people pervert the course of justice by persuading relatives or friends to take their penalty points so as to save them from a driving ban.

Still, there was little excuse for Huhne, a multi-millionaire who could well have afforded a chauffeur. He was reckless too. He lost his licence a few months later because he was using a mobile phone while driving.

And the more I learn of his marriage, the more I understand Pryce's prolonged howl of outrage. It's become clear that not only did she earn the money that made it possible for him to move from journalism to politics, but she ran a political salon to further his career and was prime carer for the children.

She probably found it impossible to understand why he'd leave her for a bisexual she apparently called "your f**king man". Yet, it's one of the oldest stories: the husband of a successful woman turns to someone who gives him uncritical devotion.

I can't enjoy this story any more. Huhne has been destroyed because he lacked the courage to admit his lie. Pryce's thirst for revenge has done her family and herself terrible damage and she wishes she could turn the clock back and keep her mouth shut.

Clever people can be very foolish. We shouldn't deny them compassion.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards