British Liberal Democrat politician
Chris Huhne is a former financial journalist who has been the Member of Parliament for Eastleigh in Hampshire since 2005, and has been the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government since May 2010. He contested the leadership of the Liberal Democrats in both 2006 and 2007, but failed on both occasions.
Early life and career
Christopher Murray Paul Huhne was born on the 2nd July 1954, although strangely enough, Huhne appears to be somewhat circumspect about his family origins. As far as can be ascertained he was born Paul-Huhne, which was certainly the surname he was known under at Westminster School, and the one under which he appeared when his demyship at Magdalene was announced in The Times in 1971. Understandably for someone who was later active in the Labour Party, he then seems to have dropped the double barrelled 'Paul-Huhne' in favour of plain 'Huhne'.
His father Peter Ivor Paul-Huhne was a businessman who, although originally a Conservative, became interested in Liberal politics as a consequence of the invasion of Suez in 1956, and married a Margaret Ann Murray of Toronto, and was himself the only son of Mr H Paul-Huhne who ran the British Electrical Resistance Company for many years and also married a Canadian from Toronto. His mother was an actress known under the name of Ann Murray, the high point of whose career appeared to be an appearance as the 'motorist' in the UK made Psychomania (1973). Chris Huhne himself once claimed that she played Clark Kent's mother in one of the Superman movies, but this claim appears to be nothing more than a figment of Huhne's imagination.
Huhne was educated at Westminster School, and then spent a year studying for a Certificate in French language and civilisation at the University of Paris, before attending Magdalen College, Oxford where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics. At Oxford he edited the university magazine Isis, and graduated with a first-class degree, as he drove around Oxford in his own taxi cab - a form of transport often preferred by those who wish to get away with driving in bus lanes. After university, he got his start in journalism by being present in India during the course of Mrs Gandhi's emergency, where his 'under cover' reports where virtually unique given that all the properly accredited journalists had been thrown out of the country. On his return to Britain he briefly worked for the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo before joining The Economist who sent him to Brussels in 1977 to report on European Economic Community affairs. In 1980 joined The Guardian as an economics leader writer, becoming the paper's economics editor in 1984. He moved to the Independent on Sunday in 1990 as business editor and assistant editor and in the following year became the economic columnist and business and city editor for both the Independent and Independent on Sunday, and along the away won the Wincott Award as Financial Journalist of the Year 1990.
In 1994 he abandoned journalism and became an investment analyst, and went work for the ratings agency IBCA where he established their Sovereign Ratings division. In 1997 IBCA was acquired by the French company Fimalac, which then also brought the US rating agency Fitch, and Huhne became the Group Managing Director of Fitch Ibca Ltd, a position he held until 1999, when he became vice-chairman of sovereign and international public finance at Fitch Ratings Ltd until 2003. It is generally believed that he made a significant amount of money during this time.
Whilst at Oxford he was a member of the Labour Party and appears to have been something of a student radical; the Oxford Mail has in its possession a photograph of him wielding a bench in an attempt to break his way into a building in support of a campaign for a central student union in 1973. However his early radicalism appears to have rapidly dissipated as he later left the Labour Party and became a founding member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981. He stood as an SDP candidate for Islington council in 1982 and then as the SDP-Liberal Alliance candidate at Reading East in the General Election of 1983 and for Oxford West and Abingdon in General Election of 1987 without any conspicuous success whatsoever.
Indeed as a result of the general failure of the SDP to 'break the mould' of British politics, he largely abandoned politics and focussed on his career as a journalist and later as an investment analyst, and it was not until some years later (and after he'd made his money) that he returned to active politics.
It was at the European election of 1999 that he was elected to the European Parliament that year as one of the members for South-East England, and soon became the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group in the European Parliament and economic spokesman for the pan-European Liberal group. He also chaired a number of Liberal Democrat party policy groups (on broadcasting and the media, globalisation, the euro and the reform of public services), contributed to the Orange Book (2004), and even found the time to write a weekly column for the business pages of the Evening Standard.
It was in 2003 that he was chosen to succeed David Chidgey (1) as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the constituency of Eastleigh in Hampshire, and was duly elected at the General Election held on the 5th May 2005. He soon attracted the attention of the party leader, Charles Kennedy who appointed him Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
However Charles Kennedy was soon afterwards obliged to resign largely because a number of MPs refused to work under him, including Huhne. In the resulting leadership contest Huhne initially agreed to support Menzies Campbell, then changed his mind and announced his own intention to stand on the 13th January 2006, despite the fact that he'd only been an MP for some eight months. (Apparently he was persuaded that someone younger from the right of the party, and more credible than the unfortunate Mark Oaten, should stand.) Although the party establishment in general threw its weight behind Campbell, Chris managed to attract the support of some old stalwarts of the SDP such as Robert Maclennan and William Rodgers, whilst his former employers The Economist and The Independent both came out in his favour. (The Independent in particular claimed that he had the "dynamism, creativity and political skill to take the party to a new level".) Starting as 300-1 outsider, be became the bookies favourite to win, although it later emerged that the odds had changed largely as the result of one particularly large bet placed on Huhne to win, and another on Campbell to lose, with the suggestion that it might have been Huhne himself who had done so.
Nevertheless he succeeded in significantly raising his profile within the party, although he also became known as 'Mr Flip-Flop', as attention was drawn to his record of dramatically reversing his position at regular intervals; or as Hugo Rifkind put it in The Times, Huhne was "the man who once thought nukes were a good idea and now thinks we should cut them, once thought direct action was okay and now doesn't, and once thought Lib Dems were boring and now is one".
In the end he came second, polling a respectable 21,628 votes against Menzies Campbell's 29,697, his success being explained (at least according to one journalist) to the fact that he wasn't old, wasn't secretly bisexual, and wasn't Mark Oaten. In any event Campbell appointed him as Shadow Environment Secretary, in which capacity Huhne was largely responsible for the proposed 'green tax switch', in which the Liberal Democrats proposed to reduce income tax by creating new taxes on other supposedly environmentally acceptable activities. This policy was later endorsed at the party's conference in September 2006, and inspired some journalists to recall that whilst he was at The Independent Huhne had "fought hard" to get "the swankiest, highest gas-guzzling BMW" as his company car which bore the number plate H11HNE.
Of course Campbell's period in charge of the Liberal Democrats proved to be an unhappy one, and after Campbell had announced his resignation on the 15th October 2007, it was widely rumoured that it was Huhne and his supporters who were responsible for the whispering campaign against Campbell that had served to undermine his position within the party, although naturally such suggestions were vehemently denied.
Huhne again put his name forward in the resulting leadership contest, which got off to an uncertain start when he stated that his "position could be summed up in nine words" - "A fairer and greener society where we put people in charge". (Just count them.) Nine appeared to be his magic number, as he was also nicknamed 'nine pads' when it was discovered that he possessed an extensive property portfolio; although only four of the homes (a London home, a country home, and holiday homes in France and Greece) were for his own personal use, the other five were 'investment' properties. The Independent also reported that a document 'Chris Huhne's Hypocritical Personal Share Portfolio' was being circulated at party election meetings setting out the details of the various investments that Huhne held in sundry 'unethical' companies.
With Nick Clegg as his only opponent in the leadership contest, Huhne again had to be content with the runner-up spot, but only just, as when the result came through on the 18th December 2007 Clegg won by the wafer thin margin of 511 votes. Nevertheless, although Huhne remained as the Liberal Democrat frontbench spokesman on Home Affairs, this second failure suggested that his parliamentary career might be short-lived, as with a majority of only 568 in his Eastleigh constituency, and facing a revived Conservative challenge, it appeared most likely that he would be returning to journalism in the near future. (2)
Certainly his subsequent attempts to maintain a public profile have not proved all that successful. In October 2008 he penned an article for The Guardian in which he accused David Cameron of "scaremongering" for suggesting that Britain was running the "biggest budget deficit in the modern industrial world" and argued that, on the contrary, the "UK's public finances remain in relatively good order". A few months later in March 2009 the IMF confirmed that the nation was indeed running the largest deficit in the western world, and following the UK Budget 2009 it became also clear that the UK's public finances were in dire straits as the Government committed itself to borrowing the truly colossal sum of £350 billion over the next two financial years. Similarly his attempt to intervene in the News of the World phone hacking scandal in July 2009 left him with nothing but egg on his face.
Although curiously enough, once he'd taken office in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, Huhne decided that the Conservatives had been right all along, and that tough action was needed to tackle the deficit, claiming that it was the Greek fiscal crisis that had changed his mind.
Huhne is married to Vicky Pryce, a former chief economist at KPMG, and chief economic adviser at the Department of Trade and Industry, since rechristened the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, joint head of the Government Economic Service, and a recipient of the Companion of the Order of the Bath in recognition of her contribution to economics. The couple had three children together, as well as another two daughters from his Greek-born wife's previous marriage. One of their sons Nico Huhne once played in the youth squad with Panathinaikos but now plays drums in a jazz band in Greece.
On the 19th June 2010 The News of the World revealed that he had been "enjoying secret trysts with his mistress Carina Trimingham" for more than a year, as Huhne admitted that he was in "a serious relationship with Carina" and would therefore be separating from his wife of twenty-six years. The Daily Mail soon dubbed him the "minister for hypocrisy" on the grounds that in his recent campaign for re-election he had issued election material which featured photographs of his wife under the strap line "Family matters to me so much - where would we be without them?" The Mail was also rather excited by the fact that Ms Trimingham, who worked in public relations and was currently employed by the Electoral Reform Society, had entered into a civil partnership with a psychotherapist named Julie Bennett in 2007 and could therefore be described as bisexual.
Huhne is a member of the European Movement, the Green Liberal Democrats, the Association of Liberal Democrat Trade Unionists and the National Union of Journalists, and has written a number of books. With Harold Lever he co-authored Debt and Danger: World Financial Crisis (1987), and together with James Forder he was the author of Both Sides of the Coin (1999). He also wrote Why Britain Should Join the Euro (Oct 2002) for the Britain in Europe Campaign, together with Real World Economics (1991), The City in Europe and the World (2006) and The Future of Political Parties (2007).
(1) David Chidgey won his seat in what was historically a Conservative constituency at a by-election in 1994 following the bizarre and accidental death of Stephen Milligan.
(2) The Conservative candidate for Eastleigh was one Maria Hutchings, who once ambushed Tony Blair on live television regarding the treatment of her autistic son John Paul.
- ‘HUHNE, Christopher Murray Paul’, Who's Who 2009, A & C Black, 2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2008
- Guy Adams, It gets dirtier: Huhne's private interests targeted, The Independent, 27 February 2006
- Profile: Chris Huhne Thursday, 2 March 2006
- Ben Russell and Colin Brown, Campbell hints that Huhne's supporters plotted against him, 17 October 2007
- Julian Glover, Profile: Chris Huhne, The Guardian, October 16, 2007
- Rosa Prince, 'I Want To Keep My Family Out Of Spotlight', Daily Mirror 24/02/2006
- Ann Murray at IMDB
- Chris Huhne, Tories talking Britain down, The Guardian, 24 October 2008
- Neville Thurlbeck, Chris Huhne's secret Clegg overs, News of the World, 20/06/2010
- Sam Greenhill, Dan Newling, Arthur Martin and Amy Oliver, The minister for hypocrisy, Daily Mail, 21st June 2010