By Bob Duncan
The former Lib Dem Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, has ceased to be a Member of parliament after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice over a speeding ticket.
The former MP for Eastleigh stepped down following his guilty plea, despite protesting his innocence for several years and now faces a custodial sentence.
However, a Liberal Democrat spokesman said Mr Huhne is unlikely to be expelled from the party as there is “nothing precluding” members having criminal convictions.
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister beat Huhne in the Liberal Democrat leadership elections in 2007. Clegg said he was “shocked and saddened” by the events, adding his colleague had “taken the right decision in resigning as an MP”.
As late as last December, Huhne was being touted as a possible replacement for Nick Clegg as leader of the Liberal Democratic party.
At the time, Lib Dem Euro MP Chris Davies said: “If Chris is cleared, we will look to him to resume a front-bench position at the earliest possibility. He articulates the party’s values effectively and takes the fight to the Tories.”
A senior Lib Dem MP claimed a ‘reinvigorated’ Mr Huhne would have been be the favourite to take over from Mr Clegg:
“If Chris is cleared, he will be back in the game. I think he will be a rallying point for those of us who don’t like what’s going on in the Coalition. Many have realised the British public does not like Clegg. People think he’s a closet Tory.”
Huhne’s decision to resign has resulted in a by-election in Eastleigh, where the Conservatives will run against their Liberal Democrat Coalition partners. Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, says he is deciding whether to stand in the constituency. The LibDems had a majority of around 3000 over the Tories at the 2010 election.
Huhne, 58, voluntarily resigned from the Privy Council, losing the Right Honourable title granted to senior politicians. He is expected to withdraw from politics following his guilty plea, but his continued membership of the party means he could still remain active.
Michael Fabricant, a vice-chairman of the Conservative Party, tweeted: “This straight faced ‘I am innocent’ then 11 months later admits his guilt is too reminiscent of expenses.”
Another senior Tory MP today said the whole affair reflects badly “on all MPs” as it brings back memories of how the 2009 expenses scandal harmed public trust in politicians.
Huhne and his then wife Vicky Pryce were charged last year over an incident in March 2003 when Huhne’s car was caught by a speed camera on the motorway between Stansted Airport in Essex and London.
She passed the story about his speeding offence to the press in revenge for his extra-marital affair, Southwark Crown Court heard.
Miss Pryce is due to stand trial today over claims she took his speeding points after Huhne dramatically admitted lying. She denies perverting the course of justice, claiming she was “pressured” into taking the points by her husband.