Chris Huhne pleads guilty over speeding lie and quits as MP
Will Eastleigh by-election lead to an ‘almighty bust-up’ for Tories and Liberal Democrats?
FORMER cabinet minister Chris Huhne will resign as an MP and could face a jail term after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice.
The 58-year-old Liberal Democrat announced he was stepping down from his marginal seat in Eastleigh, south England after admitting he asked ex-wife Vicky Pryce to take speeding points for him in 2003 so he could avoid prosecution.
Last week the former energy secretary denied the offence but on the first day of his trial at Southwark Crown Court today he announced he was changing his plea. Pryce, who Huhne left in 2010 for mistress Carina Trimingham, has pleaded not guilty to taking the points for him on the grounds of marital coercion, the BBC reports.
In a statement to the media outside court Huhne said he had taken "responsibility" – but did not use the word sorry. "I am unable to say more while there is an outstanding trial," he said. "But having taken responsibility for something which happened 10 years ago, the only proper course of action for me is now to resign my Eastleigh seat in Parliament, which I will do very shortly. That’s all I’m able to say today."
Huhne’s admission marks a "horrific day" for the Liberal Democrats, said Nick Clegg’s former spin doctor Olly Grender. Now speculation is rife about whether a by-election in the Lib-Dem-Tory marginal will lead to - as the BBC’s chief political correspondent Norman Smith puts it - an "almighty coalition bust-up".
Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke told Sky News the forthcoming battle would be a chance to "exact revenge" on the Liberal Democrats over parliamentary constituency boundaries.
Author and journalist Toby Young believes the by-election will be "difficult" for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, given that Huhne had a slender majority of only 3,864 votes. Cameron will have to "go all out to win" to appease his backbenchers, Young writes in his Daily Telegraph blog.
He argues the Conservative party should make a deal with UKIP if the party’s leader Nigel Farage decides to stand – offering him the chance to campaign for the seat unopposed if he does not field any candidate against Tory MPs in 2015.
Currently the Conservatives are 1/2 favourites to gain the seat from their coalition partners with a spokesperson for William Hill saying it would be hard for the Lib Dems to defend the seat in the "current climate". UKIP are 6/1 and Labour 33/1 with Ladbrokes.
As for the man himself? The Daily Telegraph’s James Kirkup says this: "Never underestimate Mr Huhne’s belief in himself. You may believe he’s finished. He won’t."