If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Kettle on Huhne: where to start?

I have read things in The Guardian that I have disagreed with. I have read things that have made my blood boil. I have read things that have made me shake my head with disbelief. But I have never read such a pile of freshly-delivered, aromatic, steaming horse-shit as Martin Kettle writes today.
Investigating Chris Huhne is disproportionate

Sorry, but I am afraid that I just don't get it about the current hue and cry over Chris Huhne and his alleged transfer of speeding points. Yes, of course, I know he shouldn't have driven too fast on the M11 in 2003. And, if true, I also know he shouldn't have persuaded his wife to accept the penalty on her licence rather than his own – though for the record he denies it. In a perfect world, Huhne would have accepted his punishment if he was guilty, as most of us do in such circumstances.
So far, so good. You can hear a 'but' coming, though.
But let's get real.
*grinds teeth*
And let's start with the nature of the offence. Speeding on a motorway is technically a crime. But, except in the most egregious and genuinely dangerous of cases, it is not a very serious one.
First of all, he's wrong. Speeding is not a crime, it is a traffic offence and - absent any aggravating circumstances - will not get you a criminal record. But other than that I would agree. Speeding is something that most motorists and riders do almost daily to a greater or lesser extent, and it's hardly a hanging offence. But then Kettle and I start to part company.
And let's also get real about the fact that lots of people do what Huhne is accused of doing [asking his wife to say she was driving and take the penalty points on his behalf]. I think I read somewhere that one in six speeding fines that would take an offender to the point of losing their licence are transferred to consenting spouses, partners or buddies. Maybe that's false information, but – again – I suspect most of us know people who have done what Huhne and his wife are accused of doing.
In this, Kettle is completely wrong. I don't know anyone who has done this. I have read about it happening in the papers, but I don't know anyone personally who has admitted it to me. To be honest, it would affect my opinion of them very considerably, and very much for the worse. It goes without saying that I could not countenance doing this myself. Martin Kettle must mix with some dishonest people.

Speeding is one thing. Lying to a court (which is what you do if you enter false driver details on the form) in order to escape a legitimate punishment is very different matter. I'm not sure if it is perjury - I think that may refer to lying in court under oath - but it is certainly perverting the course of justice. And that is rightly regarded as a very serious offence in this country: so serious that it is punishable by imprisonment for a first offence and carries a maximum of a life term.
The current investigation is utterly disproportionate to the nature of the offence. Police time and resources – we are constantly being told – are under huge strain as 20% cuts begin to bite. Is it a worthwhile use of those resources to have Essex police tracking back and interviewing Huhne over a speeding offence eight years ago? I think not. The only reason it's happening is because the press and the Labour party want to embarrass Huhne. In my book, though, that's not a good enough reason. I think the Essex investigation is a waste of resources and it should be called off.
A Member of Parliament, a Cabinet Minister, is accused of an offence which strikes at the very nature and practice of justice, and you want us to let it pass? I don't think so. Those who expect the rest of us to obey the laws that they introduce must be scrupulous in obeying them themselves, and if they fall short they must be treated exactly as anyone else would be. Democracy demands it.

But don't just listen to me. Here are the words of Judge Michael Heath, sentencing a 77-year-old man who had taken the blame for his son's speeding offence to spare him a driving ban:
That is a serious offence. It strikes at the fabric of justice. The message must go out that people who do this, and who say they don’t think they are doing anything seriously wrong, will not get away with it. I have considered your health and domestic circumstances, but I am not persuaded any sentence should be suspended.
He jailed the 77-year-old and his son for three months. Should Huhne be treated any differently if he is charged and found guilty? I don't think so.

Huhne has not been charged and deserves to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but to say that this case should not be investigated because it was 8 years ago, it's a trivial matter anyway, and it's something we all do, is despicable.

Things are not looking good for Huhne. When asked by Channel 4 News for a comment yesterday, he repeated the words that he has used ever since this all started: the allegations are "incorrect". I wonder why he didn't use a simpler English word: wrong? The irony is that if he had just accepted the fine, points and a short ban, people would have shrugged and forgotten it in a week. Now, his career is in serious jeopardy and he is possibly - if guilty - looking at a stretch in prison.

Martin Kettle has just shot himself in the foot as a serious journalist, for me and, if the comments below the line are anything to go by, most of The Guardian's readership too. I have never seen such unanimity amongst the CiF chatterati. They rip him apart.

Thought experiment: replace 'Chris Huhne' with 'Nick Griffin' and imagine the same article appearing in The Guardian.


  1. What this case does show is the incredibly stupid judicial arrangement where Her Majesty's finest can prove an offence was committed, but actually have no idea who the perpetrator was. So long as revenue is generated (sorry), 'someone' pays the fine, that's all officialdom is concerned about.

    It is neither justice, nor, suitable punishment.

  2. Come on, they've got to pay for the diversity co-ordinators somehow.

  3. Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne drives around everywhere like a blue arsed fly. Typical hypocrisy. Gets too many speeding points so instead of saying fair cop he allegedly gives them to his 'unsuspecting wife'. Pontificating about the global warming scam while ignoring his own CO2 output. Asks us to cut back on our heating to avoid global warming while buying 7 homes for himself. Advertises himself on his election leaflets as a family man then runs off with a lesbian lover once he gets elected. Spends a wee bit more than he's allowed to on election expenses but complains when others do the same.
    Perfect Limp Dem hypocrite and backer of Cameron's illegal overseas wars.

  4. "The irony is that if he had just accepted the fine, points and a short ban, people would have shrugged and forgotten it in a week. Now, his career is in serious jeopardy and he is possibly - if guilty - looking at a stretch in prison."

    There's a lot of that going about, I'd Imogen... ;)

  5. I agree with Joe Public. This law makes you guilty and unless you can prove your innocence or give them the name of a culprit, you will be the one getting done.

    So as far as I am concerned, any means to minimize the outcome is fair game.

    Now, if you are part of the people who actually voted for it, then you are fair game. That said, seeing an asshole like huhne getting done for something that petty is just to be savoured.

  6. @Joe - yes, the only time I can think of where the police can say an offence has been committed, and we can fine the most obvious candidate without needing to prove anything. A bit like getting called to a burglary, seeing a known burglar in the next street, and convicting him of the crime without needing to prove anything in a court of law. Staggering, really.

    @Don - On a par with Al Gore jetting about the planet telling us all we must reduce our emissions. The LibDems always portray themselves as the 'nice' end of politics, but when you look closely at their tactics - especially in local and by-elections - they are a truly nasty bunch. Remember Simon Hughes' campaign material when he fought Peter Tatchell? "Hughes - the Straight Choice." Then it turned out that Hughes liked a bit of the other himself. Utter hypocrites, and it will be a great day if Huhne gets what he deserves (provided he is guilty, of course).

    @JuliaM - you think the footballer has been a bit of a ram, say?

    @monoi - I agree that the law here is highly unsatisfactory, and I have big problems with the automatic detection of speeding offences. But 'any means to minimise the outcome' isn't right to my mind. I'm old-fashioned enough to believe that honesty is like pregnancy - you can't be slightly honest or mainly honest. Lying to a court is a serious offence because it strikes at the whole justice system, and the justice system is all that stands between us and a monarch or government doing exactly as they please. Huhne is the case in point - if he doesn't face due process over this, then we are all justified in doing as we please. And when Tyrone McChav tries to intimidate witnesses in his court case, he'll say that if ministers can do it, so can he. Same offence, just more serious.

  7. Perhaps the Guardian could commission Martin Kettle to write about Pol Pot.

  8. He supported Mandelson in his bid for the EU job, so Pol Pot shouldn't delay him very long.

  9. Kettle, Pot ... I'll get me coat.


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