Huhne and His Nine Homes; Lib-Dem Favourite May Lack a High Profile ... but Not Money

The Evening Standard (London, England), February 23, 2006 | Go to article overview

Huhne and His Nine Homes; Lib-Dem Favourite May Lack a High Profile ... but Not Money


Byline: PAUL WAUGH

THE Liberal Democrat leadership race entered its final full week today with dark horse Chris Huhne the clear favourite to win.

The Eastleigh MP, only elected to the Commons last May, saw bookmakers shorten his odds to 8-13 to edge out Sir Menzies Campbell and Simon Hughes.

All three contenders meet for a hustings in Euston tonight in the final push of their campaigns. The deadline for ballot papers is Wednesday, with the winner announced a week today.

Yet the man known by his critics as "Chris Who?" is still something of a mystery. Although many of his fellow MPs know that he has an affluent background, few realise that his family has nine homes and he is a multimillionaire.

Mr Huhne has a house and flat in Oxford, a house in Clapham, which is his family's London home, and another house and two flats in other parts of London. He declares five of these in the register of members' interests because of the rental income.

He also has a family home in Eastleigh, Hampshire, and a share in a house in the Languedoc. His wife also has a family home in Greece.

The son of a businessman and an actress, his wealth was first noticed by his peers at Oxford in the Seventies - Huhne had his own car, a black taxi.

He then had a successful career as a business journalist. But he began making serious money when he founded Ibca Ltd, a City firm that rated the risk of foreign investments for pension funds.

After six years as an MEP for the South-East, Mr Huhne, 51, was elected to Westminster with a majority of just 568.

When Charles Kennedy quit in December, Mr Huhne told Sir Menzies he would back his campaign. But his Mr Anonymous image was suddenly transformed last month when he decided to stand for the party leadership himself, triggering claims of betrayal.

Although he insists there was no "explicit" deal, the incident left some MPs with a bitter taste.

Admirers point out that one man's arrogant ambition is another's determination. "He's got the finest brain I have come across in Liberal politics since Roy Jenkins," one says.

However, a former Lib-Dem colleague said: "Chris is - how shall I put it? - not a very good listener. Why do you think so few MEPs are backing him and most backing Ming?" Ironically, perhaps, for someone deemed so unclubbable, Mr Huhne is a member of the Hurlingham Club in Fulham, renowned for its polo and croquet traditions.

Allies say he is unashamed of his background but enemies point out that his attendance at Westminster School is absent from his Who's Who entry. …

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