Sunday, 17 March 2013

The political class starring in a tragedy of its own making

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over the Chris Huhne/Vicky Pryce saga which ended this week with the judge who sentenced them to eight months imprisonment each describing it as a ‘tragedy of their own making.’ Yet again the Liberal Democrats have shown themselves to be the comic relief of British politics, at their hands even corruption is like something out of a second rate sitcom.

You can spend hours casting in your imagination the small screen version of this sad farrago of swapped speeding points, hubris and the operatic anger of a scorned wife. The late Richard Briers would be a shoo-in to play Chris Huhne as a suburban blowhard with delusions of grandeur; henpecked to the point of madness by Prunella Scales as the shrewish Pryce.

When it comes to the script the only team for the job would have to be Alan Simpson and Ray Galton, the geniuses behind Steptoe and Son and other comedy classics. They seemed to understand better than anyone else that the divide between laughter and tears is thinner than cigarette paper; in the case of Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce it is virtually transparent.

When the tears of laughter dry there is something deeply tragic about their public fall from grace. Personally tragic in the sense that these are two people who will forever be defined by a single mistake and equally tragic in the effect it will have on how we relate to the political class most sensible people wish we didn’t have.

Chris Huhne seems to have genuinely believed that avoiding the minor embarrassment a speeding ban may have caused him sanctioned committing a serious crime. In fact had he taken the points and the ban that followed the whole incident would have been long forgotten; now it is the only thing anyone will ever remember about him.

His then wife Vicky Pryce was happy to collude with him in perverting the course of justice and reneged on that position not due to the promptings of her conscience but in a feat of pique when he dumped her. An instance of adolescent petulance that hardly does justice to an intelligent woman and was further compounded by absurd claims that she had been coerced into telling lies by her husband; frankly by the look of him Mr Huhne would come off worse in an altercation with a wet paper bag.

This is, I suppose, the only outcome of having a political class that sees the world outside its own limited orbit as a collection of abstractions. Everything and everyone becomes just another piece to be moved around the board in the great game of fulfilling their ambitions and bolstering their inflated self image.

This scandal, like the one about MPs expenses exposes the hypocrisy and lack of ambition festering at the heart of the political establishment. If you’re going to sell your reputation down the river shouldn’t you do so for something a little more substantial than a new duck house or the chance to fiddle your speeding points?

The hypocrisy of the political establishment can be seen all too clearly in the response to the jailing of Huhne and Pryce by the party of which they were both once members; they have dropped them like hot potatoes. Hardly a very liberal way to behave and, you suspect, listening to some of the pious calls for them to be locked up and the key thrown away, a reaction to their being horrified by two of their number having been caught than by what they have actually done.

In truth neither Chris Huhne nor Vicky Pryce should have gone to prison even though they committed a serious offence, at the end of they day they’re a couple of deluded dopes; not Bonnie and Clyde. By breaking these two dowdy butterflies on a wheel of self righteousness the political establishment is simply making itself look absurd.

The comic cuts surrounding this trial have only served to further sap public confidence in politics and those people who practice it, making it ever harder to argue that most politicians aren’t ‘just in it for themselves.’ Perhaps in a week when the new Pope promised a more frugal approach to how the Vatican does business our politicians might try something similar to rehabilitate their reputation.

I don’t imagine sackcloth and ashes becoming the order of the day at Westminster, but giving some serious contemplation to serving the purpose of the institution rather than the demands of their ambition might be a useful exercise for the incumbents.

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