Monday, 11 March 2013

Huhne, Pryce, hubris and the media tribunes

Once the plea was changed, Chris Huhne's final fall from grace was assured.  During the period between his belated admission of culpability and Vicky Pryce's conviction, what was left of his reputation was trashed with great delight - used both as an unsuccessful defence and as fodder for the anti-Liberal Democrat campaign.  Hardly surprising that the witch-hunting voices from the right-wing commentariat were stilled once the tactics failed in Eastleigh.

Huhne's conviction is strong evidence that it is not, in the end, possible to escape justice.  This is a good thing.  No matter how wealthy, influential or connected a person is, they cannot be beyond the law.  A relatively minor offence, a decade ago, can come back to bite, especially in the messy circumstances of a divorce and what appears to have been an unhinged yet calculated campaign to bring him down regardless of the consequences for Pryce.  Falling into what appeared to be a media honey-trap has done her no favours.

One of the more baffling elements of the judgement was that comparatively little was made of the attempt to smear a completely innocent party in the effort to deflect the damage from Vicky Pryce, while continuing to accuse Huhne.  As a perversion of justice, this appears to be a much more culpable activity - bearing false witness and bringing other people's reputation into disrepute is to this non-legal mind somewhat more grisly and amoral than the original and convicted offence.  But no matter.

The gleeful prurience of the media, full of cant and hypocrisy as ever, made a custodial sentence inevitable.  Hopefully this will result in at least some thought being given as to the damage that the prevailing moral confusion does to the purposes of the judicial and penal systems.  The obsession with celebrities being given their come-uppance and the desire by the establishment to convey its sense of outrage that one of its own has been caught out reduces both the space for and the contents of debate.

Conviction was right and overdue.  However, the question of sentencing will be a legitimate topic for debate.  Both people involved have destroyed their reputation - and are unlikely repeat offenders.  The punishment factor, for ego-driven monomaniacs, of being deprived of their fields of success and recognition, is enormous.  The destruction of any future aspirations both professional and public should satiate most desires for revenge.  A far more effective outcome would have been a lengthy suspended sentence, aligned with punitive costs and lengthy spells of unpaid community service - and this would not have cost the taxpayer anything while continue to demonstrate the perils of breaking the law.

A more cynical observer would also make the observation that when Liberal Democrats behave like Tories they get what they deserve.  However, we must not await the fate of Denis Macshane, and various other luminaries.

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