Chris Huhne could have been leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Well that is, if you believe the unofficial stories that during the 2007 Liberal Democrat leadership election he actually received more votes than Nick Clegg. The recorded result shows that Clegg narrowly won, but allegedly up to 1300 papers were not counted because they arrived late due to the Christmas post. If these had been taken into account Huhne would have come out on top. If this had been the case and a few more Lib Dem voters had not left things to the last minute, we could have had an even more momentous news story from the last week. Having a Deputy Prime Minister being sent to jail for perverting the course of justice would have been a huge PR disaster for the already battered reputation of politicians. Undoubtedly there will be plenty of Lib Dem MPs and supporters at the moment who are extremely thankful this never turned out to be the case.
If you want an example of how to completely ruin your life, you don’t need to look much further than Chris Huhne. Not only is he facing a prison sentence for finally admitting after almost two years of repeated denials that his then wife, Vicky
Pryce, had taken speeding points for him back in 2003, but his political career and reputation have been completely destroyed. His son’s relationship with him as revealed in the text messages that have been published in the last few days has been replaced with contempt and hatred that looks like it could well be impossible to reconcile. His ex-wife is still in the middle of a court battle to establish whether she was coerced into taking his points. Whatever happens with her case, she will have taken plenty of public humiliation too. The discussion of Pryce’s desire to get revenge following Huhne’s affair that wrecked his marriage illustrates what a horrendous amount of pain has been inflicted by Huhne on the people he should care about the most.
The point of writing this is not to carry out a character assassination of Chris Huhne (he’s done a thorough job of finishing his own career without any help), but rather ask what we should expect from our leaders in terms of integrity and honesty. In hindsight lying to the police and public over three penalty points for speeding rather than coming clean would appear to be a very stupid mistake or worse. As it was he still ended up being disqualified from driving later that year after he was caught using his mobile phone whilst driving. Is someone who has a history of deceit and manipulation the sort of person we want in government or any other position of authority? Or should we be allowing our politicians the freedom to do what they like in their personal lives as long as they do their professional job well? Nick Clegg this week has said: “Whatever anyone may think of Chris Huhne, everybody will tell you locally he was an extremely good local MP.”
Nicky Gumbel, rector of Holy Trinity Brompton and of Alpha fame has this to say in his book, ‘The Jesus Lifestyle’:
‘In today’s society there is a common fallacy that we need to make a distinction between people’s private and public lives. For example, some believe that what politicians do in their private lives won’t affect their public lives. However, if a politician is unfaithful to his wife in private, inevitably this does relate to what they do and say in public. If someone can deceive their spouse, who should be the most important person in their life, how can we the general public trust what they say and do?
‘We should live our lives as if everything will be disclosed. Our personal and professional lives form a single whole. Life cannot be divided into compartments. God sees the whole of our lives. We are called to live and act with integrity wherever we are, no matter whom we are with and whoever is watching.’
In a similar vein, Paul in his letter to Timothy writes this about overseers in the church:
‘Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)’ (1 Timothy 3:1-5)
Paul is talking about the Church in this instance, but the principle is that same for any leader. If you are not a trustworthy person in private, then you will have the same attitudes and principles in public, even if you hide them well. We can’t have split personalities when it comes to morals.
We have to remember that although we should expect high standards from the people who lead us, we all make mistakes. We all find ourselves twisting the truth at times or doing things in the heat of the moment we later regret. None of us is perfect and we shouldn’t expect others to be perfect either. However you can tell a lot about someone’s character when they have to admit to doing something wrong. If they are genuinely sorry and are honest about their error then they deserve respect and forgiveness. If they try to deceive others by producing lies to cover their tracks or still refuse to admit they were wrong then they are only storing up worse consequences and hurt down the line.
There are reasons why Chris Huhne has acted the way that he did. Was it ambition and success that caused him to cover things up for the sake of his political career? Was it selfish desire to get what he wanted that caused the break-up of his family? Power and ambition can be dangerous things. Leadership should always be about serving others. It should never be about gaining power and control or building little empires. This is why the concept of being a career politician is flawed. If your reasons for becoming a leader are focussed on what you can get out of it, rather than what you can give for the benefit of others, then you will never truly be effective in your role, even if you are competent at fulfilling the job description. The more leaders lose sight of this or fail to grasp it in the first place, the bigger the risk that they will end up causing harm somewhere down the line, even if it’s not in the explosive fashion that Huhne has. If Chris Huhne had thought about others more than himself, he would still potentially be doing a lot of valuable work and his life and the lives of those close to him would be in a much better state.