If Chris Huhne hadn’t copped off with that woman who looks remarkably like the late comedian Jack Douglas, I suppose we would have been deprived of all the tumultuous glee which has attended both his utter collapse, as a man, and his likely incarceration. We would never have known about that small crime, committed years before he had become an MP. It was not the act of asking his wife to take those speeding penalty points which did for him, it was swanning off with his assistant, Carina -Trimingham.
Wives sacrifice themselves for their husbands in all manner of ways; it is part of the deal of marriage, I suppose. The compact breaks down irretrievably when the husband transgresses — as, it seems inevitably these days, he does. It was pathos rather than tragedy, I would hazard, that made me feel for the man as he exited the courtroom this week flanked by his strange frowning partner, the woman for whom he had given up everything. He reminded me a little of Joel Grey in the film version of Cabaret, singing ‘If You Could See Her Through My Eyes’ while leading an ape around on a chain to much public derision. I do not mean that Ms Trimingham looks like an ape, I hasten to add; simply that she doesn’t look much like, say, Jessica Alba. It made me feel very sorry for Huhne, seeing the two of them together, pushing their way through the righteous delight and laughter, the hilarity and vindictiveness, en route to obscurity and jail.
It has been a horrible, horrible story, all of its attendant rancid details reflecting more badly upon the rest of us than it does even upon Huhne. Even the minor stuff: the slavering scrum of paparazzi jostling the two of them and preventing them from getting into their car — and then issuing anguished complaints when Huhne dared to push them away, as if they were the ones who had been wronged. I can’t be alone in feeling a little thrill of justification each time some sleb smacks a photographer in the mouth, so fantastically rude have they become, clinging in their stupidity to the ovine bleat of ‘the public ’as a roight to see’ for their multifarious trespasses. Or the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg piously telling the world that he was ‘shocked and saddened’ by Huhne’s late disclosure that he was, indeed, guilty — saddened, Nick? Really? I think not. Hopping around the room with delight is probably closer to the truth.
And those texts and emails from Huhne’s son, Peter; was it absolutely necessary to the procession of justice that we should have them in the public domain, on the front pages of all of our newspapers — the adolescent howling and loathing directed at a father? Bad enough that Huhne Snr should have been subjected to them; I assume the kid will one day wish that he had been a little more temperate, no matter how much anguish was occasioned by his father leaving the family home. Or at least I hope he does.
And of course, more than anything, the palpable buzz, the excitement, the thrill and pleasure at seeing a famous person having his nose ground into the dirt; the same sort of thrill and buzz which attends each new disclosure from the questionable Operation Yewtree, for example, as the aged ex-slebs are rounded up for real or imagined sex crimes which took place round about the time I was at school, and are revealed to be deserving not of our affection but, instead, of our loathing and contempt.
The Manichean split: Huhne, once a senior politician of some talent and standing, now a lying scumbag who is hated even by his own son — too ambitious for his own good, too arrogant, a nasty piece of work, explained Huhne’s ‘friends’ across 1,200 words for the dailies. And the epic vindictiveness from his ex-wife, eaten up with fury and thus determined to hack off her own nose in public, to finish the bloke for once and for all. And Huhne’s lawyers, with their vast fees, supporting his story until the final moments. I wonder if they too were shocked and -saddened.
Yes, he lied, which he should not have done. And those of us who have not lied are quite right to condemn him utterly. ‘He could have come clean earlier,’ everyone says, forgetting that the smallest lie spreads out exponentially like a light cone until everything in your life is informed by it. The lie becomes a fragile and tenuous superstructure upon which you build and build until the whole thing collapses. But the effort involved in voluntarily dismantling the superstructure before that point of collapse requires superhuman will, which Chris Huhne clearly does not possess.
And so everyone gets lied to; everyone in the country, in the end, I suppose. And swathed in our rectitude, we forget that every man is better than his worst act and that we have all at some point lied and been unable to undo that lie until it is too late.
I don’t know the bloke, by the way. I met him once at some charity thing once and he seemed rather boring, closed and diffident. I met his ex-missus, too — I quite liked her. I hope that these revelations of mine have added to the general gaiety.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 9 February 2013