The travails of the Energy Secretary have dominated the UK media for the past two weekends. The best bloodhounds of Fleet Street are in full cry as they try to bring down their quarry. With a police investigation underway, and the risk of more revelations to come, the situation looks serious – certainly for Mr Huhne, whose career, it is said, hangs in the balance. But when considered in a wider context Mr Huhne’s alleged misdemeanours seem relatively trivial, if indeed he has done anything wrong at all. And I for one find that quite reassuring.
Of course, I do not for a second diminish the seriousness of the offence of which Mr Huhne is accused. But when it is juxtaposed with the allegations made in the other big scandal of the moment, the fall from grace of IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, it might well be thought to be small beer. Set aside the ramifications of the Strauss-Kahn case: even without any offence being proved it looks highly unlikely that the former favourite for the French Presidency will even be able to run; his tenancy at the IMF may well end prematurely; and it may be that even the latest bail out for Greece will be undermined. No, simply the nature of the accusations, and the rumours and innuendo now being reported (including a quite breathtaking aside in the Guardian that, in France, “not many female journalists are prepared to interview him [Strauss-Kahn] alone these days”), are just so astonishing and serious that they make our parochial concerns about Mr Huhne appear, well, parochial.
And that reflects a very happy truth about the UK. Compared to much of the rest of the world our politics is remarkably clean, our scandals are (generally) remarkably tame, our public officials remarkably honest. I am not complacent: we have our moments of cronyism and bad behaviour, and we must always be on our guard. And I’m not suggesting that the allegations about Dominique Strauss-Kahn are anything other than quite exceptional for France. But there are enough stories from other nations – our neighbours and friends in the so-called developed world – about politicians enriching themselves or their families, about rampant corruption in public works, about earmarks and campaign contributions, about genuine lobbying scandals, and about quite extraordinary personal behaviour and sexual peccadillos, to make me very glad to live in a country where allegations about a minor motoring offence can still dominate the front pages.