Chris Huhne profiled by the Independent on Sunday

Today’s Independent on Sunday has a long profile of Chris Huhne and his work as a Cabinet minister and including some hints of criticism of Andy Coulson:

The one time he appears to choose his words carefully is when discussing Andy Coulson. On a biting Friday morning, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change does not yet know that the chill wind blowing along Downing Street will signal the resignation within hours of the coalition’s director of communications.

“I have no reason to doubt his position,” he says precisely, when asked if he was happy with Mr Coulson continuing in his role at No 10. There is the tiniest hint of a smirk. Maybe he does know after all…

He suggested that the scale of illegal phone hacking went further than the News of the World’s then royal editor Clive Goodman, who was jailed in 2007. “It was clearly a list of interest to all sorts of other people, to sports reporters, political reporters. Why would the royal correspondent need the voicemail hacking of Simon Hughes?”

Chris HuhneTurning to economics, he is very critical of the new Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls:

“I like Ed, but he is simply wrong on this economic judgement. He has left a trail of hostages to fortune – not only is he the person most associated with Brown and, in fact, Ed knows much more about economics than Gordon. It was Ed’s policy that got us into this mess.” He adds with a smile: “Ed Miliband has a warmth which Ed Balls sometimes finds it harder to project… put it that way.”

Yet the pair have quite a lot in common. Both former hacks – Balls on the FT, Huhne on The Independent on Sunday and The Guardian – they come from an economic background and lost out to a younger rival for their party’s leadership. But they clashed when Mr Huhne, with the Lib Dem Treasury guru Vince Cable, warned in opposition about the level of borrowing under Labour. “Right the way up to 2008 we were being pooh-poohed by the Labour Treasury front bench, accused of being sandwich-board men in Oxford Street, warning that doom is nigh. The arrogance with which they dismissed the concerns about what went wrong is breathtaking.”

The coalition has been left to clear up the “terrible mess”, but Mr Huhne has seen it all before. “I spent five years in the City advising pension funds and insurance companies about exactly what we are having to do about governments that face very serious fiscal legacies and having to put them right.” He has never seen a government tackle a deficit “without becoming unpopular”.

As for his own brief,

Having drawn up much of the Lib Dem climate change policy in opposition, he relishes the chance to put it into practice. Mr Cameron’s boast to lead the “greenest government ever” will rest on his shoulders. And he loves it. “This is something I feel passionately about. I think it is overwhelmingly the most important issue facing humanity, not just this country. This is absolutely on the scale we have not had to face outside wartime.” He is, it seems, our very own Churchill.

It means a major switch in how we generate and use energy. Mr Huhne believes his party has now made peace with the idea of new nuclear power stations, arguing that global warming is more serious, and anyway the coalition will provide no extra public subsidy. “I made it very explicit in my last speech at conference that we had to accept [nuclear power]. I got a standing ovation.”

Next in his sights is securing a pan-European deal on cutting carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2020, based on 1990 levels – up from the current target of 20 per cent. The French are also making the case, with the Spanish, Danes and Swedes on side. But Central and Eastern European countries, notably Poland, have doubts.

Not only is it key to his policy portfolio, the issue gives Mr Huhne chance to flex his Europhile credentials. “Without Europe, we would be powerless, so this is actually not an erosion of natural power but an extension of national power, so that we can have some clout in the world which we otherwise would not have.” You can almost hear the hackles of the Tory right rising.

You can read the full piece here.

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  • The thing about the phone tapping is why the police held-back. What pressure or undue influence was exerted on them or what did they fear could be brought to bear.

    Were the cops using private detectives – often ex-cops – to do things for them that were illegal but that the cops either didn’t think they would get Home Secretary approval for or might put a government minister in a difficult position because of their position in relation to the target. Perhaps they might even have worried about leaks to the target.

    I really don’t see Coulson as important in all this in relative terms – what is important are the reasons behind police inaction when there appears to have been reams of evidence that a lot of people had their phones ‘hacked’. Obviously Cameron has either been a fool over this with really poor judgement or perhaps someone senior in his party has used a private detective to have opposition of former government phones hacked – Brown complained to the cops last summer about it and they never came back to him – what is going on?

    Why did the cops back-off so fast and so far with one measly conviction. I don’t do conspiracy theories – but something stinks here.

  • Oh I meant to add – in recent years newspaper budgers have come under tremendous pressure and I find it hard to believe that any editor anywhere in the world would be sitting unaware of huge sums of money being paid-out without asking what it was for.

    If he did ask and was assred that it was better he didn’t know to maintain his or the paper’s ‘deniability’ then that doesn’t count as an excuse in my book. He was the boss, it was happening repeatedly on his watch for a prolonged period and yet ge was unaware.

    Not my experience of editors and I worked with almost a dozen in my journalistic career – they all knew what their reporters were up to because it was the editor’s head that was ultimately on the chopping-block when the sh*t hit the fan.

    But the jounalist had to protect sources as well so most of the names appended to expense receipts would be out of the paper’s Obit section – a practice that was carried-out at every paper I worked in 🙂

    But payments to contributors were different as they were made by cheque or paid into a bank account – sometimes payments were in cash from the slush-fund but that tended to be for one-off payments for exclusive stories rather than regular payments to someone.

  • Poppie's mum 23rd Jan '11 - 5:27pm

    No mention of the three Eastleigh Lib Dem councillors who have turned Independent and have been described as ‘scathing’ about Huhne and his cynical use of a happy family image in his election pamphlets and other issues.

  • Poppie's mum 23rd Jan '11 - 5:34pm

    eco [email protected]

    Did you see the report in the Guardian that an NoW employee is said to have made tapes of his interactions with other reporters and editors.
    No one knows if the tapes actually exist, although the employee is named.
    It is rumoured that NI is turning the place upside down trying to get their hands on them.

    Any connection with that and Coulson’s resignation ? We can only speculate.

    The article is :
    Secret tapes, Andy Coulson’s exit and the riddle of a story that won’t go away

  • @Poppies Mum

    I don’t know any reporter at the cutting edge that doesn’t have ‘insurance’ – it became obvious about a decade ago maybe even up to 12/13 years ago that reporters were being fed to the lions when things went wrong. Suddenly news editors upwards started denying the instructions they had issued.
    I remember that when I started in national jounalism that 2/3 years could go by without a lawyer’s letter being received. By the time I left we were getting dozens a week.

    The pressure on journos is intense to do anything to get the story and it takes a helluva lot of strength of character to be able to resist it and the temptation to improvise and invent is enormous. And then there is a new generation of journos who would do anything to get a story. Don’t get me wrong it’s always been competitive but there used to be some honour and real professionalism and there’s a helluva lot less now – another manifestation of Thatcher’s Children – they just don’t care about anything or anyone except their personal advancement.

    I was fortunate as I usually worked on my own exclusives so I couldn’t be pressured in the same way and I never revealed my sources even to my editor. They all learnt that they either took my word or didn’t run the story – their choice. However I never had a successfull PCC finding against me nor legal action in my whole career which I take great pride in. I knew that editors could never be trusted to keep their mouth shut and not give-up a reporter’s source to the cops, other polticians than the one being written about and so on or just to amuse dinner guests or to look important. Meanwhile a source could be put in real physical danger or lose their job.

    One of the funniest things I ever witnessed was a wild night in the pub celebrating a huge exclusive when the rounds were up to a dozen bottles of champagne a time. The editor was pretty drunk and ott and the barman refused to serve him any more to be told – Do you know who the hell I am?’ to be answered: ‘Yea, but more importantly I also know your coke dealer so just behave.’

    Scottish journalism lasted a bit longer but then we had a rash of English editors whose major claim to fame was that they had tamed the Scottish journo drinking culture – yea but it coincided with a dripping nose brigade of reporters.

    So I’ll go and read the link you supplied – I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if the ticking time-bombs exist and as I have said earlier the real story here isn’t Coulson it’s why the cops decided to stand-back and carry out the most ineffectual invesigation possible.

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