There may be some who, looking at where these two stand today, will feel sympathy. How awful to have a broken marriage exposed in this way. All that dirty washing pummelled against the rocks of public opinion. A moment of madness punished harshly.
Yet it is hard to side with such liberal sentiment in this instance. When it comes to abiding by the law, it serves us all to be hardline democrats. Either everyone is equal before it, be they benefits fiddler or expenses-fiddling MP, TV licence fee dodger or dodgy businessman, or no-one is.
Granted, when looking at what else ails the world today, the case of one married couple and three speeding points might not seem to amount to much in the way of a hill of beans. But it still matters. If nothing else, there is the cost of the trials to consider.
It is not just the cost that is troubling, or the amount of police time given over to investigating the case. What sticks in the craw here are the double standards that were at work in the actions of Huhne and Pryce. The latter in particular cut her cloth to suit her circumstances so many times she could have been a tailor rather than an economist.
Pryce had cited a defence of marital coercion. Her case was that she had no choice but to accept the points by virtue of the fact she was married to him. It was the latest act of folly of a woman who, like her husband, believed that her actions should not have the consequences that would be visited on lesser mortals.
Both she and Huhne, who had challenged the prosecution from the off before finally admitting the charge, were guilty throughout this matter of believing that the rules did not apply to them. Speeding points, like a hotel heiress once said of taxes, were for the little people. In the Pryce-Huhne household of 2003, they were mere matches in a game of marital poker, part of the trade that takes place between two married individuals. You do the school run; I’ll mow the lawn. I’ll take your speeding points; you promise never to leave me. But he did leave her for another woman, and that is where this sorry, tangled tale took another fateful twist. Pryce, not being a believer in one cliché, that the best revenge is living well, chose to become another, the woman scorned. If it came to a fury match between her and hell, Hades was not going to have a hope. “I definitely want to nail him,” she said in an email to a journalist.
Writing emails is not the action of a woman so caught up in the emotion of a moment that she has taken leave of her senses. This was not an unguarded aside at a cocktail party, a “whoops, I should not have said that” moment. Eight years had passed. It took time to decide that she would expose what occurred with the points. It took time to set up what happened next. It took yet more time to telephone Huhne and try to force an admission on tape. Why, at no point during all of this, did Pryce not wake up and smell the foolishness of her actions?
Having behaved in this way, she compounded the error by pleading marital coercion in court. Again, here was a woman playing by double standards. All her life, she had believed in the rights of women to be equal at work, in marriage, in life in general. Suddenly, this high-achieving economist, a woman used to telling governments what to do, was portraying herself as the little woman, quivering at the sight of Huhne clutching a form. There are lots of responses she could have made, many of them variations ending in “off”, but she did not.
As for the other instances she cited to show that Huhne was the one who took the lead in their marriage, in time, I believe, she will regret airing them as much as she regrets other actions. This was a marriage break-up – meltdown would be more accurate – that was played out in public. On that level, at least, one can feel for the pair. Divorce is not easy for anyone, least of all the children, as could be seen in those lacerating text messages from Huhne’s son to his dad.
It was not the public, however, that chose to become involved in the break-up of the Huhnes. It was they, by their actions, who caused the matter to become public. Both Pryce and Huhne are well educated, wealthy people. They have had a lot of choices in life, usually between one good thing and another. Their backs were not against the wall when Huhne’s car was caught speeding in 2003. This was not a desperate couple a few wage packets away from serious financial trouble if he lost his licence. He was an MEP, wanting to become an MP. As it happened, he went on to get another three points anyway. They coped. As for Pryce, she was not dependent on her husband for a roof over her head. As she said in one of her emails, she earned “consistently, considerably more” than he did. They each had a choice, and they chose wrongly.
That they were found out is not due to Pryce, who was anxious that she should not land herself in trouble while placing Huhne in it, but by virtue of the press investigating the story. The same free press, let it be said, that the LibDem and Labour leadership wanted to see shackled by statute.
What happens next is up to the judge. In a case that was about choices from first to last, the decision to prosecute was not one of the wrong ones. However sorry one might be tempted to feel for Huhne and Pryce on a human level, they made victims of each other. Actions have consequences, no matter how fancy the car or high-powered the lifestyle.
Points to ponder for the calculating, guilty Pryce – Herald Scotland
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