Monday 4 February 2013

Over-optimism and the Huhne legacy

Years ago, sitting over lunch while Iain King sketched out my horoscope in return for an omelette, I watched him peer suspiciously at some marks on the paper.  "Yes," he said.  "I see this in a lot of Liberal Democrat charts.  I think it means unreasonable optimism."

How right he was.  It is a defining feature.  That is what keeps the Lib Dems pushing when all about them are losing theirs, and so on and so on.  It keeps them cheerful in the most depressing circumstances.  It isn't necessarily a useful attribute, but it is better having it than not...

I thought of that conversation today when I heard the news about Chris Huhne.  It explains why I was told, on the highest authority, that he would not be charged.  It also explains why I was told, on equally good authority, why he would be acquitted.  The downside of having unreasonable optimism is that you believe the good news and ignore the possibilities of bad.

I have to say I felt terribly sad when I heard that Chris was stepping down from politics.  I will miss his sharp intelligence and tiggerish manner.  He brought a huge amount to the Lib Dems and, since they are in government right now, to the nation.  I may never have known him terribly well, but I feel like I've known him for ever - certainly back to the strange days when I was trying to make sense of running New Democrat.

It would be possible now to be hypocritical about guilt and otherwise, and I suppose one should be - since goodness knows who will read this blog.  But my main feeling is a sense of tragedy.  What must have seemed at the time like a simple error, compounded by a relationship breakdown badly handled, ends in - well, we don't really know the end yet.

So, since I am an unreasonable optimist, here are my three top things from the Huhne Legacy:

1.  The Green Deal, for all its short-comings, which is an ambitious programme to bring energy-saving at scale to every street in the nation.

2.  Mutual public services, the main recommendation of his ground-breaking 2002 report to the Lib Dems on the future of public services (which could do with re-visiting).

3.  An ambitious vision of renewable energy for the UK: perhaps in practice still not ambitious enough, but a good deal more ambitious than if there had been no Huhne.

I hope that I will continue to know him and work with him for many years to come.

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