Lib Dems should have had no part in ‘Knights of the Long Knives’ reshuffle honours

Nick Harvey’s had a tough week. On Tuesday his ministerial career was brought to an abrupt and surprising halt when Nick Clegg told him he was ‘trading’ his post of armed forces minister for a Lib Dem foothold in another department.

The North Devon MP has been a victim of his own success. So shrewdly has he overseen the Trident nuclear weapons review — the crunch defence decision which divides Lib Dems and Tories — that it is highly likely to produce more effective, better value deterrent options, with a final decision not needed until 2016, after the next election. We hear often enough about rewards for failure. Nick Harvey just encountered punishment for success.

So I can understand Nick Clegg feeling guilty. But it is nonetheless quite, quite wrong for Nick Harvey to have been offered a knighthood on his enforced retirement. It is an outrageous abuse of the patronage system which the Lib Dem leader so passionately denounced in the Commons on Monday when withdrawing his Bill to reform the House of Lords because of Tory and Labour opposition.

Last week, I named Tory MP Bernard Jenkin my ‘CentreForum Liberal Hero of the Week’ for his call for increased transparency and public confidence in the honours system. “We believe that no-one should be honoured for simply ‘doing the day job’, no matter what that job is,” said Mr Jenkin on behalf of the Commons’ Public Administration Committee. Damn straight.

Nick Harvey has done a sterling job at the defence department. For that he has my gratitude, and my sympathies at the manner of his departure. But he shouldn’t have been offered a knighthood, and Nick Clegg should have seen to it that no Lib Dem was implicated in anything as shabby as a reshuffle honours list.

* 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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  • Sam Barratt 6th Sep '12 - 12:49am


  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 6th Sep '12 - 3:50am

    Hear. Hear

  • More important is that this puts the Trident Alternatives review under tory control, raising the spectre of another generation of nukes being forced on the Clyde by English politicians against the wishes of the Scottish people.

  • In this way, as in a few others, it is clear that Nick Clegg doesn’t share many mainstream Lib Dem assumptions. I was shocked to see him this morning on BBC Breakfast, coming out fronting potentially damaging changes to planning rules when he is well aware that many of his councillors (and others) are doing their best, on the ground, to ensure the right things get through, and potential eyesores, overdevelopments and intrusions on neighbours don’t. Sorry to go offthread.
    I was interested to see Paul Walter’s blog, by the way, withdrawing his support from Clegg as Leader and this Government.

  • We should be calling for a whole sale replacement to the whole ludicrous honours system in this country but alas our MPs like their Knighthoods as much as any permenant secretary arise Sir Nick, Sir Malcolm, Sir Bob and Sir Menzies…

  • ‘simplify the planning system’ is a Tory shorthand for ‘let the developers have their own way – it won’t necessarily help the recovery but it will certainly benefit my shares portfolio’.
    But do we know what seat we gained in this trade-off? and what else have we got for our other losses?

  • David Allen 6th Sep '12 - 12:10pm


    I’m glad to see your off-topic post on the appalling abandonment of planning principles announced this morning. It has to be off-topic, because LDV has not yet provided a thread on the subject.

    Allowing boorish neighbours up and down the country to build the monstrosities which our planning system has previously stopped them doing is going to be the final nail in our coffin electorally, if we let it happen. This needs to be stopped!

  • I don’t agree David – if we are liberal then we should allow people to build homes in whatever style they want, rather than submit to the whims of planning officers who want to preserve some kind of ‘biscuit tin lid’ image of Britain.

  • Perhaps someone would like to do a thread on potential planning changes! Meantime, a comment on Martin’s post.
    I don’t think it is Planning Officers who wish to preserve a particular image. I think many people want to keep a reasonable level of control – that has not, in the past debarred interesting and different buildings, in appropriate locations. It is not illiberal to want some regulation, in this or otherareas of life. Such countries as Australia and the USA demonstrate the downside of a relatively uncontrolled planning regime, and they have more space than we do. Of course some people, both developers and objectors, get fed up with Planning sometimes, but that doesn’t mean it should be abolished.

  • Leekliberal 6th Sep '12 - 12:48pm

    Martin says ‘we should allow people to build homes in whatever style they want, rather than submit to the whims of planning officers ‘ I say that this is licence not freedom and would lead to all sorts of ghastly excrescenses ruining the appearance of our localities. Perish the thought!

  • As I said when Malcolm Bruce was knighted. And Bob Russell (and Beith, Kirkwood etc etc before that).

    As a sportsman you get a knighthood for being the exceptional top of your profession for years (Redgrave, Botham, Richards etc). As an MP you get one if you turn up for your paid job reasonably regularly for a few years.

    Parliamentary party of 57 now includes 6 Knights – that’s over 10% (though it may be a bit unfair to include Sir Robert Smith in that count 🙂

  • David Allen 6th Sep '12 - 2:35pm

    In my experience planning officers (and councillors) are perfectly well aware that personal taste is none of their damn business, so that whilst they do have the power to refuse an application on the basis of design and appearance, they would not use that power except in rare and extreme cases.

    What they do have the professional capability to rule upon is whether a palace built on a postage-stamp might overshadow the neighbour’s back garden, exclude all the light from it, stare down into it from close range, etc. They have guidelines to help them make consistent decisions on these issues, allowing extensions which only have a slight detriment on the neighbour’s environment, refusing those which have a gross impact, and referring borderline decisions to the Council committee, who do their best to make a judgment of Solomon on them.

    I’ve seen some awful applications get refused. You wouldn’t believe what some people think they ought to be allowed to build. Next year, those people will be dusting off the refused plans, and grinning at the neighbours who thought they’d seen the last of them.

    (Disclaimer, I’ve never been in this position myself so no, this is not a personal whinge, it’s a whinge of general principle!)

  • Peter Watson 6th Sep '12 - 3:05pm

    @David Allen ” Next year, those people will be dusting off the refused plans, and grinning at the neighbours who thought they’d seen the last of them.”
    I think you have hit the nail on the head. Before I read this I had wondered where the sudden rush of home developments would magically come from, but – unless there is a caveat in the planning law relaxation to prevent it – people will seize the opportunity to rush through their previously rejected awful developments.

  • Tony Greaves 6th Sep '12 - 4:02pm

    I really do despair. This reshuffle shows no understanding on the part of Cameron and Clegg about the public mood in this country now. And on the part of Clegg about what this party thinks about these things.

    Removing Nick Harvey from his work on Trident was a kick in the teeth for our party. It made me angry. But giving him a knighthood (after the appointment of Laws for goodness sake) will just increase public distaste for the whole set-up.

    As for the proposals for house extensions without permission, if Cameron and Osborne think they are going to kickstart the economy their thinking is more infantile than I thought. But they do show their backgrounds and complete lack of understanding for the kind of people who live in compact terraced streets for whom a big two storey extension next door (even worse on both sides) can spell disaster for their quality of life. A lot of the work of the planners (who Cameron sneers at so condescendingly) and local Councillors working with them is to find the best compromise for both parties in such situations. Allowing people to stick up what they want is a recipe for blood on the streets. But why should he care about such problems? The mystery is why Clegg allows this stupidity to take place.

    Tony Greaves

  • David
    I am sure people will come back now with dire refused applications – you are so right. However, you are wrong to say that design and appearance are rarely used to turn applications down. Many Councils use design and style guides (not as a “You must build it exactly like this” instruction, but as an aid to help all concerned to see what good and bad design can look like in a variety of cases).

  • Richard Church 6th Sep '12 - 10:41pm

    Lord Greaves is right about planning. It’s fanciful to imagine that a few nice extensions overlooking the next door neighbours are going to revive the economy. Worse, there is talk abouty removing the requirement for a proportion of affordable housing in new developments. We will be building homes in the green belt for the upwardly mobile, while young people on low incomes live in bedsits.

  • David Allen 7th Sep '12 - 12:29am

    Tim13 – yes, and I approve of Councils who try to encourage good design. But at the end of the day, they should – in general – be careful not to impose their own taste on others, in my view.

    As in so many things in planning, it’s a question of judgment and balance. If Joe Bloggs wants to build a hideously over-ornate conservatory in his back garden where nobody else can easily see it, he should probably be allowed to, as a good liberal principle. On the other hand, if he wants to build it as an extension to a beautiful old church then he should probably be refused on design grounds (yes, I do have a real local example in mind this time), because liberalism can stretch too far.

    Ah, well, judgment and planning can go out the window now!

  • Hard to care about this. High state honours are mainly about patronage not merit and are therefore completely meaningless. So what does it matter if ex-ministers are offered them? The only honours that matter are peerages which bring with them the right to make laws. We already decided that stopping that abuse of power is not important enough to fight for.

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