He's a very naughty boy

Saturday, February 18th, 2006

Ahem.

In recent days I have made it pretty clear that I don't want to see the election for the leader of the Liberal Democrats won by Chris Huhne. From this, readers may have drawn the conclusion that I want to him to lose.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, I'd like to see him victorious. I'd also like to see Simon victorious. It's just, I'd like them to be slightly less victorious than Ming. Races aren't generally won by everybody who takes part, but I'm hoping that this one will end with everyone looking like winners* because then the party wins too.

Consequently, I was a bit concerned when rumours surfaced this evening that Michael Crick planned to give Huhne a monstering on tonight's Newsnight. Not hugely concerned, because something about this one didn't smell very dangerous owing to the general lack of excitement in the rest of the media, but a bit concerned.

In fact, the resulting revelations turned out to have the seismic impact of a fart in bathwater. I'd even go so far as to say, a very small fart in very shallow bathwater.

There was the now-obligatory photo of him as a student, looking up at the camera as he and a band of long-haired colleagues stormed some university building or other, a photo that gives me the wiggins because in it he's the spitting image of a girl I slept with during my student days who woke up the next morning, took one look at me, and promptly decided she was a lesbian.

But I digress.

There was a slightly cringeworthy claim by the man himself that he didn't know whether or not he was a millionaire. There were a few interviews with former friends revealing the startling and dubious facts that he's an economist, and that he could afford to run a car as a student (could these items be linked, I wonder?). And then, after the ceremonial raking up of the past was concluded, came the hammer blow. Except it was more like a tap on the knee with a rubber mallet.

So the Eastleigh Lib Dems used European publicity money to part-fund some literature promoting him when he was still an MEP and Westminster hopeful, leading to a complaint from the Tories that was rejected at the time? And he produced a leaflet that those poor fragile flowers in the Labour Party thought was a bit harsh?

Big whoop.

A funding dodge that was on the right side of legality by a whisker, and a campaigning trick that hacks of all parties (including me) have used from time to time. It's not exactly disgusting practices and dead dogs by the wayside, is it?

More importantly, it's not cash for questions or dodgy donations from motor racing entrepreneurs, either.

In fact, it's such a stunning expose that – at the time of writing this, a good couple of hours after the item was broadcast – the BBC doesn't even have a story about it on its news site.

Crick, I thought, looked ridiculous on occasions – especially when he talked of hundreds of pounds of European money in the sort of accusatory tones most reporters reserve for wasted millions.

I'd have liked to have seen Huhne deal with him better, though. There was a glorious moment when the normally EU-enthusiastic Huhne was able to mock Crick for arguing that European law rather than British should apply, but it was a very lawyerly, PMQish point and it probably didn't help much with the wider viewing public, such as it would have been.

Huhne tackled him by nit-picking, when it would have been far preferable to have seen him take a more robust line of action – such as delivering a swift kick to his backside then dropping him head first into a pond, for example. Still, you can't have everything.

All in all, this did very little to damage Huhne's reputation – or to enhance Crick's.

* except the unfortunate Mr Oaten.

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I'm Andy Darley. Sometimes I want to say things. This is where I do it.