The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Monday, February 13, 2006
Economical with the Actualite
by Steve Travis

In today's Independent, the paper's founder, Andreas Whittam Smith, indicates his support for Chris Huhne in the leadership contest. In his article he makes a strong case for having an economically literate party leader in contrast to the usual collection of barristers, lecturers and PR types. Whittam Smith's argument is a good one, and he makes a number of points that add weight to Huhne's candidacy.

However, he rather spoils his case with this paragraph:

I had better also say that I believe him to be honest and trustworthy, no small quality in contemporary politics. The Daily Telegraph headed a leading article: "Huhne takes the lead in spite of duplicity". That is a very damaging statement for a newspaper to make about anybody. I don't suppose Mr Huhne will be bothered to sue for libel, but he would have a good cause. For what proof did the newspaper offer? Chiefly that instead of dismissing as irrelevant his rival Simon Hughes' deceitful accounts of his sexuality or passing over them in discreet silence, he "sententiously" declared that his colleague had apologised for misleading people. I'm afraid that isn't what duplicitous means.

That may well not be what duplicitous means, Mr Whittam Smith. But what you fail to mention anywhere in your piece is that the Telegraph article you refer to also makes this point:

Mr Huhne's early manoeuvrings in the leadership contest were similarly two-faced: having agreed, in concert with his Orange Book colleagues, to support Sir Menzies, he reneged on the agreement and stood himself, taking the opportunity to make an unkind observation on Sir Menzies's age.

Readers can make their own minds up as to whether Huhne was showing verve and daring by entering the race, or reneging on an agreement. It can then be debated and explained, and the explanations judged. Brushing it under the carpet doesn't do anyone any favours in the long run.
posted by Apollo Project @ 10:23 am  
  • At 13 February, 2006 11:22, Blogger Joe Otten said…

    If you are released from a commitment then you aren't reneging on it.

    I'm voting for Campbell ahead of Huhne, but honestly, this sort of bitching is unworthy.

    Commitments not to stand are damaging enough to the democratic spirit - it might even have been possible to have an election including Kennedy if there were no such commitments. And insisting that it should be impossible to release somebody from such a commitment would make it worse.

  • At 13 February, 2006 12:17, Blogger Apollo Project said…

    That's exactly my point, Joe. If AWS wanted to bring this up (he could have ignored it), he should have dealt with all of the Telegraph's charges in the same fashion that you have. To ignore half of the charges against Chris is poor journalism (or poor subbing).

  • At 13 February, 2006 12:19, Blogger James said…

    I know Ming Campbell supporters love to trot that story out as if this is treachery worthy of Macbeth, but you appear to be blind to the fact that the real "treachery" was Ming actively organising a team of people to back his candidacy and plot Kennedy's downfall. Huhne's decision to walk away from such nonsense actually increases his stature, while Camp Campbell's constant attempts to crow about it simply demonstrates quite how isolated from the real world they have become.

    And as they say in Pirates of the Carribbean, the Pirates Code is less a law as a set of general guidelines.

  • At 13 February, 2006 18:43, Blogger Angus J Huck said…

    Dear, dear. We're still getting this nonsense about ridding the Party of an incompetent and under-performing leader being "treachery". If the Party was a bowls club or the WI, then that line of argument might have some validity. A political party, by contrast, has no place for sentimentality. If you aint up to the job, you're fired. The future of Britain and its people is rather more important than CK's amour propre, I humbly suggest.

    By the same token, Chris Huhne is perfectly entitled to resile from his promise not to stand against Ming Campbell. Ming gave no consideration, so there is no enforceable contract. As a lawyer, Ming knows perfectly well that non-bargain promises are worthless.

  • At 13 February, 2006 23:16, Blogger Chris Black said…

    Dear, dear indeed.

    Charles was underperforming and it was right that he stepped down. . But 'incompetent'? I don't know what you do in life Angus, but I hope you achieve the kind of competence that Charles did have and still has.

    Having said that, I'm really glad Chris has stood. Even if I wasn't voting for him (and I am) I would have been grateful for breathing some life into the campaign and giving us a real choice. I only wish two or three others had stood as well.

  • At 14 February, 2006 18:09, Blogger Liam said…

    The contract point doesn't really work, Angus. We all make plenty of promises in life which aren't legally enforceable contracts but which we would be wrong to break. All the law of contract (and the doctrine of consideration within that) does is specify which breaches of promise give rise to a right to claim damages. Indeed, the fact that the law of contract applies to a promise in many ways makes it less wrong to breach the promise (because remedies are available to the other party).

    I have no huge problem with Huhne breaking his promise to Campbell given that it gives members a broader range of choices. An interesting question though - and one we may never get the answer to - is whether Huhne's promise was duplicitous in the sense of him making it with the dishonest intention of causing key rivals like Davey and Clegg to publicly announce for Campbell, leaving the field open for himself. If that were the case it would be fairly underhand.

    Actually, I suspect that is a conspiracy theory too far. More likely Huhne simply considered on reflection that he was somewhat older than Clegg and Davey, that there chance was yet to come but his best chance was slipping away. You can criticise his judgement a little in terms of making the promise in those circumstances, but it's a minor criticism.

  • At 14 February, 2006 21:57, Blogger Ken said…

    If the Campbell camp were bothered about Huhne running, they should have made the complaint about breaking a deal at the start of the campaign. They released it when they did purely because they are scared of the campaign. That doesn't do Ming many favours.

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"What is Liberalism?: I should say it means the acknowledgment in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can at least avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life." C-B.


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