Today’s Independent on Sunday has a long profile of Chris Huhne and his work as a Cabinet minister, 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?”
Turning 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.