The dust is now beginning to settle on Chris Huhne's inglorious departure from the cabinet, and Ed Davey has started a new week in a new job. Our civil service will no doubt try and ensure that the change of secretary of state is as smooth as possible, but the effects for the Huhne and Davey's party could be much longer lasting.
It's hard to underestimate the political weight Chris Huhne had until last week, and quite how severely his wings have been clipped. His departure highlights a worrying lack of depth to the Lib Dem talent pool, with the reserve team increasingly having to be called up. With Jenny Willott and Jo Swinson promoted there isn't much left to come if anyone else falls under the bus, and it is a long term issue the party must seek to address (getting more MPs elected would help).
Ed Davey is less well known than the man he suceeds, but he was a key a contributor to the Orange Book, while one always got the impression that Huhne, who's picture adorns the cover of the rival 'Reinventing the State' publication, was never quite as committed to the cause. Davey is trusted by Nick Clegg, and is now in an increasingly powerful position to succeed him whenever the current leader chooses to stand aside. Notice I use the word succeed, not challenge. Davey is undoubtedly less of a political threat to Clegg than Huhne was, and is far more loyal to his leader. You'll find no Calamity Clegg documents in Davey's filing cabinet.
The obvious risk for the current leadership is that, should Huhne be cleared in court, in a year or so he will begin to use his significant political clout and ability to rally some disaffected Lib Dem parliamentarians who have as yet not had a credible leader. Unlike the most obvious left-wing leaders, Tim Farron and Simon Hughes, who are the party president and deputy leader respectively, Huhne does not hold official office in the party which could be used silence his dissent, and he may feel it is his only chance for a last hurrah. This is unlike Farron, who's obvious leadership ambitions have thus far made him nervous of openly knifing Clegg, and Hughes, who is conscious of being a deputy that votes against his leader (it is why he abstained on the tuition fees vote.)
Interestingly, Huhne's departure might be positive for the coalition cabinet. They have undoubtedly lost a significant intellect, but were becoming increasingly weary of his outbursts and leaks. It might not please the Lib Dem rank and file that they don't get to hear about rebukes to Cameron and Osborne, but Davey's more conciliatory style has the potential to smooth the path for more, not less, Liberal Democrat policy in the key area of the energy and climate change. It may also make for a more cordial and productive working relationship in cabinet as a whole.
The first few weeks will be critical for Davey to get his feet under the desk and stake his claim as a significant voice in the decision-making process. Party members will hope he can become a government big beast, holding a portfolio many of them are passionate about. Furthermore, with talk of differentiation strategies, 2015 general elections, and potential leadership successions never far from the surface, the personal drama may be Huhne and Pryce's, but the political one is only just beginning to play out.