It's funny how Pryce's belief in girl power led to fall
Like a character in a Shakespearean comedy, Vicky Pryce, in her delusion, was hell-bent on revenge, writes Eilis O'Hanlon
A FEW weeks ago, Vicky Pryce was throwing a cocktail party in her south London townhouse for a host of the great and good. This weekend she's in Holloway Prison, beginning an eight-month prison sentence for perverting the course of justice after admitting taking speeding points on behalf of her ex-husband, former Liberal Democrat MP and cabinet minister Chris Huhne, who is also behind bars for the same offence.
Pryce exposed her ex in revenge after he left her for his PR adviser, and she brought him crashing down all right. In doing so, though, she also laid the groundwork for her own fall, because if she took penalty points meant for him then she also committed an offence. She tried claiming she had no choice, using an ancient legal defence of "marital coercion", but the jury was unconvinced. Female liberation works both ways, after all. Now, torn apart originally by his affair, the couple are brought back together by fate, both serving the same sentence for the same offence. Physically separated, but symbolically joined. It's positively Shakespearean. No other word encapsulates so well how a heroine can be undone by a single fatal flaw in her own character.
Here was a successful career woman, on her way to a position on the Bank of England's monetary policy committee, possibly even the House of Lords, who was brought low by her inability to deal maturely with the end of her relationship to some dull, grey, puffed-up little man. No wonder she was said to look visibly shocked when the guilty verdict was read out. This wasn't how it was all supposed to end.
There's the clue to what made her tick. Because no one else was shocked. It may have crossed observers' minds that there might, theoretically, be a jury in England stupid enough to believe that she had no choice but to admit to someone else's speeding offence, but in practice few expected it to happen. She was headed towards a guilty verdict with more certainty than a bungee jumper is heading towards the ground. If the shock at finding her maidenly appeal to the jury going unheeded was genuine, it suggests she really did believe she could get away with this on the sole grounds that she was a woman.
There was nothing else to her defence but that fact. Look at me, little wifey, what could I do, he's a big bully, even if he didn't actually threaten me in any way if I didn't play along. She tried to play the victim, but the victim card was trumped by the facts.
She's not the only woman to want revenge after being dumped. Every woman's had those tearful, tipsy conversations with the girls, many of whom have been through the same situation, when the red wine flows and plots are hatched to ruin the cheating worm's life. That's all healthy and therapeutic. Then you get a good night's sleep, rise next morning to take the empties to the bottle bank, and start rebuilding your life.
Instead, Vicky Pryce set out on a six-month campaign to, in her own words, "nail" the man who'd betrayed her. By washing their dirty linen in public in this way, she ended up dragging her family into an upper middle-class version of The Jeremy Kyle Show, and digging an ever deeper hole for herself when her plan started to unravel. There was nothing liberating about it. It was all rather sordid and sad and pathetic.
If she was a victim of anything, it wasn't of her marriage, but of all that girl power bull which women often spout to one another when justifying their actions. The satirical US magazine The Onion had a funny take on that recently with a spoof article about a supposed new study which showed women were "now empowered by everything a woman does". This included buying shoes, "gossiping about the sexual proclivities of male acquaintances, lunching with other women in small groups", and, clearly in this case, destroying your former lover's career because he left you for another woman.
All that mattered was that it should be done whilst punching the air in the traditional gesture of female solidarity and saying "you go, girl!" or "whoooo!"
Some female writers are still trying to claim Vicky Pryce as a modern-day heroine, but they're struggling. It's not that she doesn't deserve some sympathy. Eight months in jail is a ridiculously harsh sentence, no matter how much the police huff and puff about the huge moral issues involved.
If the police cared that much about speeding, they'd track down the guilty parties, rather than pointing un- manned cameras at the road and then sending out automated fines to whatever address pops up on a computer. As long as someone takes the points and pays the fine, the system doesn't care. Jailing the couple was using a cumbersome and expensive sledgehammer to crack two nuts.
Make a martyr out of her for that reason, by all means, but let's not pretend she was anything other than the author of her own downfall. Her story may be Shakesperean, but it's one of the comedies, not a tragedy – an amateur production of The Merry Wives Of Windsor rather than Othello at the Globe; and what makes comedies funny is that the dramatis personae usually don't realise they're in one. They're so deep in self-delusion that they mistake the pratfalls of ordinary life for high drama, and over-react accordingly.
If Vicky Pryce could only have seen her ex-husband for the absurd minor character he really was, she could have saved herself a lot of pain, but then that would have meant being equally as honest with herself; and with reports emerging immediately after her conviction that she intends to appeal the guilty verdict, maybe she just isn't ready for that even now.