She's back: Vicky Pryce is working as government advisor
Lib-Dems take flak as Chris Huhne's jailed ex-wife returns to 'heart of government'
THE last thing the Lib-Dems need is more controversy but they might just have walked slap bang into another row after The Times reported that Vicky Pryce is back working as a government advisor.
The paper claims that Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, "approved the decision" to appoint Pryce to a panel of economists, less than a year after she was jailed for perverting the course of justice. In 2003, Pryce falsely accepted the speeding points of her then husband, Chris Huhne, who later became the Liberal MP for Eastleigh and Secretary of State for Energy. When he left her for another woman in 2010, she revealed that in fact he had been at the wheel on the night in question.
With the Lib Dems still reeling over the Lord Rennard debacle, the party will not be pleased to see more negative headlines questioning the judgment of its leaders.
In sentencing 61-year-old Pryce to eight months in prison, the judge told her she had a "controlling, manipulative and devious side" to her nature and said her crime was a "serious and flagrant" one that merited a custodial sentence. In fact Pryce served just 62 days, much of it in East Sutton open prison, and upon her release published a book of her experience, Prisonomics, that one reviewer said was "so boring that at one point she eulogises about disinfecting the cereal dispensers".
Though Pryce spent last summer touting the book at various literary festivals, her fall from grace seemed complete when the Queen approved a decision in July to annul her appointment as Companion of the Order of the Bath. The honour, awarded in 2009, recognised her work as a government economist but Pryce was stripped of it because her prison sentence had tarnished the prestige of the honours system.
Six months on, however, and the Times says she is back working at the heart of the government and was last week "spotted entering the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills [BIS]".
When the paper contacted the Department on Tuesday evening a spokeswoman released a statement, saying she was attending a meeting of Cable's 'monitoring the economy' panel, which "debates and discusses macroeconomic issues". She added: "Pryce has attended in her capacity as a highly regarded economist over the past ten years, including as chief economist for the department."
The panel, a mix of private sector economists and Treasury officials, convenes about three times a year to advise the Business Secretary. A BIS source defended Pryce's inclusion, telling the Times: "As a distinguished economist, she continued to be part of this panel. She has now resumed her unpaid position as part of this panel after serving her sentence, which in no way brought into question her ability or judgment as an economist."
Times' readers were less forgiving, however, with opinion weighed heavily against Pryce. "She's served her time and should now be allowed to get on with her life," wrote one. "But to come straight into a plum government job sponsored by the Lib Dems - come on!"