Alistair Carmichael on Chris Huhne: he put the ‘T’ in Cancun

Cancun, Mexico. Some rights reserved by Nicolas KarimHow, you might ask, did we fail to cover this story this week? In a speech to lobby journalists, Lib Dem chief whip turned Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael regaled them with this story of the inner workings of the whips office, as the tuition fees vote neared:

‘One thing which I was thinking about recently was that Chris Huhne, in the interests of tackling climate change, had managed to be at some big summit in Cancun, so was not available to take part in the division on the day and it was one of the features of Chris’s political operation that when the really difficult days would arrive, somehow or other he always seemed to be somewhere else.

‘And we were on the telephone as it seemed to be getting closer, it was getting more and more tense, both because of my concern that the vote and also the wider politics of how this might play out, I was determined that he was coming back. And he resisted, and I insisted, and he resisted, and I insisted and so it went on until eventually Nick and I agreed that actually we would just allow him to stay in Cancun. And it did actually prompt one of the Liberal Democrat whips’ team at the time to come out with the observation that Chris Huhne was the man who had put the ‘T’ into Cancun.’

(Quote courtesy this Spectator post.)

By the way if you were wondering how to pronounce Cancun – correctly, without the ‘t’ – here’s how:

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  • A slight ambiguity there, unintentional I’m sure.

  • “… because of my concern that the vote and also the wider politics of how this might play out, I was determined that he was coming back.”

    An interesting sidelight on the political priorities of some party insiders. “Some big summit in Cancun” was the UN Climate Change Conference, and Huhne was the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

  • Science can instantly end this costly debate to save the planet from the effects of climate change.
    After 32 years the scientists are 95% certain that Human CO2 induced climate change is real and is happening could lead to unstoppable warming.
    Let’s hope the scientists are 100% certain before it’s too late otherwise any chance at CO2 mitigation is impossible as deniers feed on an unsustainable consensus of “maybe” the end is near for billions of innocent children.

  • Sorry, I’m a bit baffled by the relevance of this. Did the whips and Nick Clegg really think that bringing the Secretary of State for Climate Change back from a crucial conference where he was showing the world what needed to be done in order to break an election pledge was really a proper sense of priorities? If so, then yet again it shows Nick’s lack of political judgement and Chris Huhne’s political skill in keeping his powder dry. Such a shame his judgement was so poor in other respects.

  • Chris Manners 16th Mar '14 - 1:59pm

    Please tell me the plan was Huhne to fly back, then back out to Cancun again.

  • Ah yes, happy memories.

    I remember being so angry at the time that – despite many principled MPs like Tim Farron, Julian Huppert, Jenny Willott and Charles Kennedy insisting they would keep their pledges – I had resolved that if Chris Huhne was actually brought back from Cancun to vote in favour of increasing tuition fees I would leave the party.

  • Wasn’t the understanding that Huhne’s vote would only have cancelled out Martin Horwood’s (who was also in Mexico), and thus they were allowed to stay there? Would have been entertaining watching him warn of climate change having flown between Mexico and London 4 times in a week.

  • Witty anecdote, but manages to offend on so many levels. It’s an unfunny insight into sexist mindsets in the Palace of Westminster and journos. Language matters! Don’t they ask themselves what their choice of an obsolete word for a female body part as an insult says about them? It’s another bit of evidence that Westminster politics are still run by and for a certain type of person, and it isn’t female and it isn’t exactly trying to be more inclusive.
    Britain is still only 18th on the global gender equality list. Need to try harder if you want to improve that, chaps.

  • Well said — Jo Hayes 17th Mar ’14 – 8:14am
    “………………Don’t they ask themselves what their choice of an obsolete word for a female body part as an insult says about them? It’s another bit of evidence that Westminster politics are still run by and for a certain type of person, and it isn’t female ..”

    Thank you for making this point. A gaggle of overgrown public school boys from the media in a nudge, nudge, wink, wink fit of hysteria because someone almost said a naughty word.

    Their reporting of the campaign against FGM will of course be “informed” by their “traditional” attitudes.

  • Duncan Brack 17th Mar '14 - 10:54am

    I was with Chris at the time in Cancun, as his special adviser, and I and my colleague in London spent an entire day trying to make sure he wouldn’t have to fly back (and then – Chris Manners, you are correct – fly back out again, as our junior minister, Greg Barker, did). It should be remembered that Labour were determined not to be helpful – it’s normal practice, when a government minister is at a key event overseas, for the opposition to pair with them, but they decided not to, despite many environmental NGOs asking them to.

    If Chris has just been observing, it may not have mattered too much, but in fact the Mexican presidency of the conference had asked him to co-chair one of the key contact groups, and he played an important part in keeping the conference on the road – which, after the failure at Copenhagen the year before, was pretty significant for the entire process. So I agree with tonyhill and Andy Hinton above – it was far, far better for the party and for Chris’s job that he stayed in Cancun, and that ought to have been recognised back in London. And Hugh is right – in the end it was Martin’s threat to fly back and cancel out Chris’s vote that ultimately persuaded Alistair to let him stay.

    The best outcome of the whole thing (apart from the conference reaching agreement!) was this version of ‘Stay Another Day’, recorded by the UK Youth Climate Coalition on the spot:

  • peter tyzack 17th Mar '14 - 12:03pm

    I have read and re-read, but can’t see where the headline makes sense.. unless it means ‘can’t-cun’, but..? Jo takes the other possible positioning for the mythical ‘t’, which I had naively assumed was not what the remark meant. Surely a witticism which escapes the minds of many is nothing more than a boy’s club in-joke, and so is out of place here, especially when the editors are so assiduous about avoiding offence.?

  • The man who turned ‘can’ into ‘can’t’ – but a weak joke, and as Ian says, better left unsaid.

  • Chris Manners 17th Mar '14 - 9:03pm

    “despite many environmental NGOs asking them to.”

    Have you any links on this, Duncan?

    Did Huhne have a formal pairing? I can remember ministers being flown back for votes before, I’m sure.

  • Chris Manners 17th Mar '14 - 9:06pm

    I also don’t understand why Huhne couldn’t pair himself with one of the many Lib Dem MPs who were voting aginst the tuition fee rise.

  • Sothere we are, Huhne and Carmichael. One whose recent behaviour shows that he has appalling judgment and is totally lacking in principle. The other one went to jail.

  • Duncan Brack 20th Mar '14 - 5:07pm

    Chris Manners – yes, for NGOs, see here: I’m no expert on pairing arrangements, but I think there’s a difference between ministers being away on overseas visits or trade missions (which they can always reschedule) and representing the UK at key international conferences (which they can’t). And in the end, of course, Chris did effectively pair himself with a Lib Dem MP (Martin Horwood) – but pairing has to be agreed by the Whips, and Alistair wasn’t playing ball, at least until the last minute.

  • Chris Manners 20th Mar '14 - 5:16pm

    Thanks for that link, Duncan.

    I think they’re overdoing it though. I don’t see making Huhne make a difficult choice as being too harsh for him being part of a government ramping up the cost of university.

    Glad a suitable arrangement was found to avoid it though- well done to Martin Horwood, the MP for my hometown.

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