The soap box and the soap opera
This morning Chris Huhne made me late for work. The irony of that, considering the charges he now faces, is far from lost on me. Like so many political nerds I was sat, enthralled, as Keir Starmer swaggered out to face the Westminster pack and deliver Huhne’s fate, like so many I was live-tweeting along with the action as though this was merely an extension of last night’s Question Time and, I hope, like so many I now feel thoroughly dirty about the whole thing.
A declaration of interest, I dislike Chris Huhne as a person and as a politician. I disapprove (somewhat sanctimoniously, I grant you) of the way in which he used his family on election literature whilst carrying on with his aide. I’m angry that he described Britain’s most prominent female BME politician as ‘Goebbels like’. I’m turned off by a man so desperate to win promotion that he allowed his colleague and supposed friend to be referred to as ‘Calamity Clegg’ in his campaign materials. But all the same, I wish I hadn’t participated in Mr. Huhne’s online lynching this morning and I am genuinely sorry that I did.
By way of an excuse, some of the blame must go Keir’s way. His dramatic embargoed statement, the keeping us guessing, the live address to the nation – it was all so, well so West Wing. It let nerds like me forget that we are Britain and imagine, instead, that we were Americans, with all the drama and the bombast that lies therein. Life imitating (crap) art as we all got to star in a real life episode of The Good Wife, albeit with a much less attractive cast.
Except we’re not America and, once the excitement fades, nor would we want to be. I live in a country where people are innocent until proven guilty, where justice is solemn and where trials are not televised. That’s the country I want to live in too. Not somewhere where the ‘perp walk’ presumes guilt and punishes through humiliation before a jury has had its say, not somewhere where soap opera is core to justice rather than simply an unhelpful by-product. What happened today was a perversion of our sense of justice, one in which I like thousands of others participated. We should all hope that this man’s trial, and that of his wife, will be a quieter and more serious affair and promise to play our part in making it so.