So Chris Huhne (and ex-wife Vicky Pryce) is to be charged with perverting the course of justice as a result of allegations that the former
Environment Secretary Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change allowed or persuaded his wife to accept speeding penalty points on his behalf in 2003.
Mr Huhne strenuously denies the charges (and one can’t help but wonder whether Ms. Pryce will be less keen to repeat her allegations now that she is being charged as well) but it has not saved him. He has been forced to resign from the Cabinet.
It’s an odd business, to say the least. Not the charges themselves – this matter needs to be investigated and, if there is a prima facie case, charges should be filed. What is odd is the fact that he has to resign now.
It is a fundamental principle of the rule of law that a person is innocent until proven guilty. In most walks of life, that would extend to whether one has to resign from one’s job as well. If one is accused of a crime, an employer might suspend a member of staff, to distance itself from the issue, but to sack a person (or expect them to resign) while they try to clear their name is usually considered to be unfair.
What is interesting is that different rules appear to apply to politicians – and to other public figures. On the one hand, there is no process for suspending a minister, or allowing them to step aside temporarily, while the matter is investigated. The minister must quit – end of. I suspect that this is a hangover from the origins of ministerial office, with the minister acknowledging their duty to protect the sovereign from embarrassment. It seems to be a bit harsh in the modern world. Chris Huhne, like anybody else, should have the opportunity to prove their innocence without penalty.
And if he’s guilty, he should be sacked, rather than being allowed to resign.
That being said, it has happened, and there is feverish speculation about who will replace him. Will Ed Davey come into the Cabinet? Will Norman Lamb replace Ed Davey as Employment Minister?
Both would be welcome moves, but people seem to be forgetting one obvious potential promotion. It is widely recognised that David Laws is ripe for a return to the front benches. Is this unfortunate event an opportunity to bring about the return of Laws?