How – or will – Nick Clegg replace Norman Baker in the home office?

jenny willottNorman Baker’s decision to quit as Lib Dem home office minister — citing significant differences with his boss at the department, the Tories’ Theresa May — means a vacancy has opened up. How will Nick Clegg fill it? We’re unlikely to have long to wait, but here are what I see as his options…

Nick could simply promote a current MP. If he does so, then the obvious choice would be Jenny Willott. She covered Jo Swinson’s maternity leave at the business department, earning good reviews along the way. A promotion would be well-merited and would mean a further Lib Dem woman in government; at least a nod in the right direction, given Nick Clegg’s failure to promote a woman to the cabinet.

On the downside, Jenny’s Labour-facing Cardiff Central constituency is vulnerable — her majority is just 4,576 — and she may prefer to spend the next six months nursing it, rather than bogged-down in a Whitehall ministry with little time left to drive her own agenda.

If Nick likes the idea of mischief-making, he could opt for a more radical choice. Perhaps Julian Huppert — a persistent liberal thorn in the side of the home office — might like a tilt? (Though his Cambridge seat is perhaps even more marginal than Jenny’s.) Or how about Tim Farron, shortly to stand down as party president, and guaranteed to put his liberal imprint on the post in the time remaining.

Other options include installing a soon-to-retire MP so that those fighting re-election are not tied-up (Ming Campbell QC?) or a Lib Dem peer (Brian Paddick has the on-the-job experience to face-down Tory taunts that Lib Dems are soft on crime).

Speaking to Lib Dems at conference there was some speculation of a wider reshuffle before Christmas to assist those who want to spend their time defending their seats to do so. Norman clearly gave Nick advance warning of his decision to quit, so there will have been time to plan this out. We’ll find out soon if Nick will take the opportunity.

This could mean the Lib Dems withdrawing altogether from the Home Office. After all, if such doughty liberals (and different personalities) as Lynne Featherstone, Jeremy Browne and Norman Baker have all failed to persuade Theresa May to be an inclusive cabinet minister, what’s to be gained by setting up another for a fall? Why not secure an additional Lib Dem minister in a department where the party can hope to make some progress? That would enable the Lib Dems to speak out on home office matters without being bound by collective responsibility.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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27 Comments

  • I support the idea of a retiring MP taking the job. Some like Jenny or Julian may be the best candidate but it’s not worth it if it costs them re-election. I don’t want to abandon our representation in the Home Office but also recognise that there’s little time to do something postive, I’m sure one of the many retiring MPs will be happy to do one last act of formal service.

  • David Evans 4th Nov '14 - 10:26am

    The problem is Peter that Julian has his work cut out in Cambridge retaining his seat. As a minister he would have massively less time to devote to his constituency. The Conservatives would just wait, and after 6 months – no more Julian Huppert.

  • I’ll join in the praise for Norman (were it not for Tom, my favourite Baker) but not in how he’s quit. It’s precisely because the Home Office is hard and Theresa May is a formidable and uncompromising Secretary of State that we need someone good there, and I can’t see how his resignation will aid the liberal cause in the Home Office. It weakens our argument that we’ve provided stable Government and deserve a second shot.

    We have to replace – the narrative of Theresa May driving the Lib Dems out of the Home Office would be fatal, and probably win her the Conservative leadership. My view is that it’s time for Tim Farron to get his hands dirty, or possibly moving Jo Swinson in (with Jenny Willott taking over her business role.)

  • Whilst I championed Jenny in the first thread about Norman’s resignation, as she is certainly able to take over the role, I can see the point about it being better for her to fight in Cardiff than in Westminster. I’m quite taken by Stephen’s suggestion of Ming. One of the finest parliamentarians of recent years (and decades for that matter) leaving the Commons after his only spell in government, and a department in which he could use his experience to great effect.

    I’d also mention Annette Brooke – for a department that sorely needs to be more humane, Annette is instincitvely liberal in much the same was Norman. Also, she is not facing an election, has the skill necessary and would certainly be a contrast with Theresa May.

  • Steve Comer 4th Nov '14 - 11:19am

    This could be an an opportunity to promote someone, but the trouble is it is six months before the General Election.
    So much as I’d love to see Jenny Willott, Julian Huppert or Tessa Munt take it on, they would be foolish to do so when they have such marginal seats to defend. Given the problems Norman Baker has identified then I think we need a tough operator who has experience in this government, and who is able to stand up to Teresa May in private, or in public if necessary.

    If the rumours about a wider reshuffle before Xmas are true then the obvious thing to do is to bring forward that reshuffle and do it in the next few days. On that basis my choice to replace Norman at the Home Office would be Susan Kramer. The debacle over the child sex abuse enquiry chair suggests that the Department is still as dysfunctional as it was in John Reid’s time, and I don’t think Baroness Kramer would be easily soft soaped by the HO’s senior Civil Servants!

  • Not a good time to resign, but I suppose there never is. There doesn’t seem much point in appointing a replacement, by the time they get their feet under the table it will be the Christmas holidays. A couple of months after that serious campaigning for the GE will begin and there’s hardly a LibDem MP that can afford to spend time away from their constituency. Not sure it would do any good anyway with the Tories just going more too right on immigration, it may give the LiDems more freedom to argue their case from outside the Home Office.

  • David, If Julians seat is threatened, given how well he is known this may help him and will give him opportunity to shine which he may not get should he lose his seat. If working to a safe seat appointee Nick Harvey seems a solution.

  • Julian Tisi 4th Nov '14 - 11:54am

    A good summary of the options. My most preferred option would be one of our women MPs (as the lack of women at the top of our party is somewhat embarrassing). My least preferred option would be to withdraw from the Home Office. I’d rather spend the next six months annoying and frustrating Theresa May than giving her a free run.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Nov '14 - 11:55am

    The post should not be filled by us. This resignation should be taken as the point where we move to establishing our independence in advance of the general election. The argument that we have to retain a united front in order to keep stability no longer applies – there is a general election in 6 months time anyway.

    We need from now on to be able to say what WE would do if we were running things on our own, and not be silenced on that by being in the coalition so we can only say those aspects that we would do which aren’t in conflict with what the Conservatives would do. So let the Tories take over the government just for themselves, so that people can see what THEY would do free from the restrictions of being in the coalition.

    Nick Barlow talks about “giving up” positions, but if we don’t establish a clear and separate identity in the next six months, we’ll definitely be giving it all up for the following five years. tpfkar talks about “the narrative of Theresa May driving the Lib Dems out”, but what does it say about us if we accept his line that what the Tories want is so popular and what we want is so unpopular that driving us out is an automatic vote-winner for them?

    So, handling this is very easy – ANY Liberal Democrat MP asked to take the post should say “No”.

  • @Matthew Huntbach

    Whilst that is how I’d hope people would take it – if an LD was not to replace Baker – I suspect the reaction would be closer to being “LibDems can’t be bothered”. Unfair, but such is the press.

  • Peter Watson 4th Nov '14 - 12:08pm

    It concerns me that there is so much talk of Baker and many of his potential replacements needing time to fight for their seats rather than govern their country.

  • Georg Potter

    “why not appoint a BAME Lib Dem peer to the job to give them a platform to counter the xenophobic anti-immigration rhetoric from the Tories?”

    Not really in favour of filling the slot, but if they did that would be the best idea. He/She would need plenty of support from the leadership because it would be a potentionally explosive situation.

  • @Peter Watson

    Fair point, but I think the concern is governing for the five years after May as well as the months before . More Bentham than Mill, but I think erring on the side of practicality is sensible.

  • @Peter Watson

    The argument behind that is that whoever fills it won’t really be governing. Theresa May seems to have little interest in listening to the Lib Dem minister in her department and it’s too close to election time to get anything significant done.

  • David Blake 4th Nov '14 - 12:51pm

    Please, not Susan Kramer. She’s had some absolute carcrash interviews in her current job.

  • Keith Watts 4th Nov '14 - 12:52pm

    Making Campbell a Minister of State after ignoring him for 4 years. Clegg should make him Deputy PM and put himself in the Home Office

  • Peter Watson 4th Nov '14 - 1:19pm

    I’m also uncomfortable with the notion of putting a peer into the job, whether Paddick or Kramer, as that seems to contradict our hopes for electoral reform.
    I appreciate the realpolitik behind the suggestions, but it all feels like an admission of defeat.

    P.S. Why not just put Browne back in the job?

  • David Allen 4th Nov '14 - 1:28pm

    Matthew Huntbach is right. If the Lib Dems want to have any chance of presenting themselves as independent of the Tories at the next election, they should not fill this vacancy.

    Over to you Nick.

  • Peter Watson 4th Nov '14 - 1:30pm

    So it’s Lynne Featherstone.
    That sounds like a positive sort of appointment.

  • George Potter 4th Nov ’14 – 12:02pm
    “……… why not appoint a BAME Lib Dem peer to the job to give them a platform to counter the xenophobic anti-immigration rhetoric from the Tories? ”

    Because that would be a creative, politically shrewd move and as we have seen over the last seven years Clegg is incapable of being either creative or politically shrewd ?

    What was Clegg’s reaction when a TV journalist asked him about this as he was climbing out of his ministerial jag today — “oh well, these things happen”.
    All the political good sense and planning of a hedgehog facing a forty ton truck in the middle of the road.

    Was he taken by surprise that a journalist should ask him a question about a Liberal Democrat minister resigning?
    Was he too busy thinking about what the Cabinet Office staff would serve him for lunch?
    What do the defenders of Nick have as their excuse today for his flat-footed, incompetence?

    Did he forget that he is leader of a political party that is more than just a dusty corner of The Conservative Party?
    Or was he worrying about the future of his good friend Lord Brittan?

  • Floella Benjamn’s experiences growing up in South London would make her an excellent choice to be a minister in the Home Office. For details see profile from The Independent–

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/floella-benjamin-from-big-ted-to-the-big-society-2114941.html

    Her background is not quite the same as that of prep school, public school, ski-instructor, Lord Brittan’s office boy.

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