Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Cover-up, not points swap, put Huhne on road to ruin

The cover-up, they say, is always more devastating to a political career than the original crime. When the cover-up involves a crime, a mistress and a vengeful ex-wife, then you are definitely on to a loser.

Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce are guilty of evading traffic laws and misleading the police – and both have been sentenced to eight months in prison.

By all accounts, swapping points is something very common, so is this story really a big deal? I think so. But my focus is on the road crime – not the deceits.

Chris Huhne made a judgment call on what, I suspect, he saw as a minor infringement of the rules. In the same way that MPs once made bad decisions about their expenses, or journalists over-stepped the mark on phone hacking. Individuals make moral choices and must take responsibility for those choices, but those decisions are influenced by what people see around them.

I doubt that we will find any MPs claiming for duck ponds or flipping their houses in the near future. I imagine that the future relationships between journalists, police and private investigators will be less murky and more professional.

Rules may or may not have been tightened, but the real change is in the way that we all adhere to those rules.

The rules on our lawless roads are clear, signposted and widely ignored. Speeding kills and casualties are rising, but speed cameras are regularly vandalised as an infringement of our civil liberties. Try driving at, or below, the legal speed limit and see how often you are flashed, honked, tail-gated, or dangerously overtaken.

Perhaps I am giving Chris Huhne too much credit, but I suspect that, had he been caught breaking other rules, or laws, he would have felt obliged to take the blame straight away. I also doubt that Vicky Pryce would have been silly enough to let him pass the buck, either. In our culture, speeding is one thing, corruption, fraud and bribery is quite another.

Similarly, leaving the scene of a crash is against the law, but an ordinary mix of good and bad people regularly do it.

It is a crime so regular and widespread that, apart from individual fatalities reported in the papers, it is hardly remarked upon.

People apply different rules when they get behind a steering wheel. And politicians do the same.

The most ironic thing about the scandal of Chris Huhne's points is that, if he had put in a special plea to the local magistrate, he might not have been disqualified at all.

Such is the failure of our society to take road deaths and injuries seriously, tens of thousands of people are legally allowed to drive around with more than 12 points.

When I did a Freedom of Information request on this in October, I found that there were more than 2,800 people driving about who were let off because they needed a vehicle in order to do their job. One person even had 30 points on their licence.

Both Chris Huhne and Vicky Price made stupid choices and are now paying the price.

The punishment, as with the crime, reflects the culture we live in.

I think it would be much more fitting if such criminals did community service, rather than joined our overcrowded prisons.

But I would also prefer that Chris Huhne was banned from driving and had to use public transport for a few years.

That, for me, would send out the appropriate message about what really needs to change.

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