Lib Dems can run - but can they hide from Huhne-Pryce truth?
After Vince Cable runs from reporters in Victoria Street, watch him fly down the Brighton promenade
THE MOLE is looking forward to this weekend's big race: the Lib Dem handicap at Brighton. It involves Lib Dem leaders being chased by reporters along the promenade as they race to get answers about when party leaders knew Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce had broken the law by swapping speeding points.
The starting point for the big race is the Brighton Hilton Metropole Hotel where the party is holding its spring conference. Business Secretary Vince Cable - a nippy ballroom dancer in his spare time – can be expected to do well, having shown a clean pair of heels when he was chased by the media down Victoria Street last night.
Danny Alexander, the Treasury minister, also showed impressive speed when he was chased by the media pack. Will Nick Clegg stay calm or run for it, too?
The gun for the race was fired when the emails exchanged between Vicky Pryce and Isabel Oakeshott, Sunday Times political editor and niece of senior Lib Dem Lord Oakeshott, were released yesterday afternoon after Pryce was found guilty of perverting the course of justice.
Pryce and Huhne will be sentenced next week and the judge made it clear that both face jail. (Intriguingly, she could actually get a longer sentence than him - Huhne having pleaded guilty while she fought the charge. We shall see.)
Pryce claims in the emails that she told Cable, Miriam Gonzalez (Nick's wife), Lord Oakeshott and others that Huhne had broken the law.
In an email to Pryce, Isabel Oakeshott wrote: "Can I say that a number of CH's [Chris Huhne's] 'allies', including Cable, are aware of the situation? To what extent is Clegg aware that something is hanging over Huhne? (you mentioned it to Miriam, didn't you?)"
Within 45 minutes, Pryce shot back: "Yes, I have told VC, MiriamC, MOak [Lord Oakeshott]…. and a few other Lib Dem Lords and others working close to NC [Nick Clegg]. V"
Pryce claimed that she told the Business Secretary - for whom she had worked - two months before the story broke publicly.
In an email to Isabel Oakeshott dated April 9 2011 – a month before the story first appeared – Pryce wrote: "Actually I had told Vince and Rachel [Cable's wife] about points before when the three of us were having supper about a month ago – they were horrified at the time but VC has probably forgotten it now. He was v. tired that night."
In a bout of collective amnesia, all the Lib Dem leaders have denied - or say they cannot remember - being told by Pryce what Huhne had done.
After winning the Eastleigh by-election, the Lib Dems might have hoped for a more celebratory spring conference. But the Pryce-Huhne fiasco comes on top of the complaints of sexual harassment against Lord Rennard (which he continues to deny) and suggestions that the party failed spectacularly to do enough about those complaints.
As a result, Lib Dem president Tim Farron has felt bound to agree that his party is facing a crisis. In bizarre pre-conference remarks to the House magazine, he says members will have to fight like "nutters" to survive in 2015.
"We're a bit like cockroaches after a nuclear war, just a bit less smelly," said Farron. "We are made of sterner stuff."
They will need to be. An independent poll of 20,000 voters commissioned by Tory Lord Ashcroft finds that only 29 per cent of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 say they would do so again tomorrow. The Lib Dems may have won Eastleigh, but they are facing a wipe-out on the national stage. ·