++ Norman Baker quits as Home Office minister

Norman BakerNorman Baker, appointed Lib Dem home office minister just over a year ago, is to quit his government post and “launch a stinging attack on Theresa May”, according to the Independent:

Norman Baker, the crime prevention minister, is stepping down after a year of internal battles within the Home Office with his Conservative boss.

In a scathing verdict on Ms May’s leadership, Mr Baker warned that support for “rational evidence-based policy” was in short supply at the top of her department.

The Lib Dem has publicly clashed with Ms May on issues including drugs policy and immigration.

He told The Independent yesterday that the experience of working at the Home Office had been like “walking through mud” as he found his plans thwarted by the Home Secretary and her advisers.

“They have looked upon it as a Conservative department in a Conservative government, whereas in my view it’s a Coalition department in a Coalition government,” he said.

“That mindset has framed things, which means I have had to work very much harder to get things done even where they are what the Home Secretary agrees with and where it has been helpful for the Government and the department.

“There comes a point when you don’t want to carry on walking through mud and you want to release yourself from that.”

His resignation is further evidence that relations are rapidly deteriorating within the Coalition ahead of next year’s general election.

Theresa May’s Home Office has become notoriously tricky terrain for Lib Dem ministers.

Lynne Featherstone had a frosty relationship and, once she’d helped secure cross-party support for same-sex marriage, she happily moved to overseas development.

Jeremy Browne was chosen as her successor to put a more liberal imprint on the department. However, his exclusion from the decision over the infamous ‘Go home’ vans (and hos freelancing on issues such as banning Muslim women from wearing veils in public places) saw Nick Clegg shuffle him out.

That he was replaced by Norman Baker — a tenacious and instinctive liberal, even libertarian, and self-confessed maverick — was widely seen as Clegg’s revenge on Mrs May. In public, he has never been less than polite about the Home Secretary. However, last week’s ground-breaking Government study looking at different approaches to drugs policy in different countries — and its finding that Conservatives’ preferred get tough policies were ineffective — exposed the tensions:

“I think she is quite competent and professional, and I have a lot of respect for her professionally. I just think it’s a pity that she took the mindset that the Lib Dems had to be put up with, and we were almost a cuckoo in the nest rather than part of government.”

I have a lot of time for Norman Baker, despite the sneering he attracts for not looking the part of the sharp-suited ministerial stereotype. He brought an unabashed liberalism to his department while sticking to collective responsibility and remaining very much his rough-hewn self. I hope he enjoys the “perspective and recharging” he’s seeking from the backbenches — and that his successor does the job a lot like he did.

Here’s the full exchange of letters:

Letter from Norman Baker to Nick Clegg

Dear Nick,

I am writing to confirm my request, which I first raised with you in August, to take a break from ministerial office when a convenient moment arises. I understand this is likely to be next week.

You will know that I have spent four and a half years in ministerial office, three and a half at the Department for Transport and the last year at the Home Office. I have enjoyed this time very much, and while I feel I have been able to discharge my duties effectively while also giving proper attention to my constituency, this combination has been very demanding and has squeezed the time available for my family and my outside interests, including my music.

You will recognise that it has been particularly challenging being the only Lib Dem in the Home Office, which I see a newspaper the other day likened to being the only hippy at an Iron Maiden concert. Despite these challenges, I am pleased with what I have been able to achieve, not least to have been the first minister with responsibility for drugs to have put prejudice aside and published an evidence-based approach to this important issue, despite repeated Conservative efforts to block release.

I am also pleased, amongst other things, to have been able to create a cross-departmental commitment to tackling FGM, to have nursed into law a new more effective approach to anti-social behaviour, and to have launched a ground-breaking government document that promotes alternatives to animal experiments.

However, in stark contrast to the Department for Transport, I regret that in the Home Office, the goodwill to work collegiately to take forward rational evidence-based policy has been in somewhat short supply.

I have concluded, therefore, that for the time being at least, my time is better spent out of ministerial office.

You will of course continue to have my full support in the run-up to, and beyond, the next election which I anticipate is likely to produce another hung parliament. You have been, and are, an outstanding leader of the Lib Dems and I have been proud to have served in your team.

Best wishes,

Norman

Letter from Nick Clegg to Norman Baker

Dear Norman,

Thank you for the brilliant job you have done as a Minister over the past four and a half years, first at the Department of Transport and more recently at the Home Office.

In both posts you have proved yourself as one of the most effective ministers in government: always determined to deliver a more liberal agenda for Britain, by consensus where possible but by confronting vested interests whenever necessary.

However complex the issues have been, or challenging the coalition relations have proved to be, you have handled the political relationships within Government with great skill, always focusing on how to achieve liberal reform wherever you can.

I fully understand the reasons you want to take a break after four and a half years in demanding Ministerial posts – but I very much hope that if the Liberal Democrats are in government after the next election, you will once again make yourself available for Ministerial office.

On a personal level, it has been a real privilege to work alongside you over the past four and a half years.

With very best wishes,

Nick

* 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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29 Comments

  • Matt (Bristol) 3rd Nov '14 - 11:03pm

    Who next for the Home Office, given its not exactly a good time to join?
    Will Nick be brave enough to suggest it to Tessa Munt (assuming she’d want to do it)?

  • Eddie Sammon 3rd Nov '14 - 11:04pm

    Thanks for this Stephen. However, wasn’t Jeremy only trying to stop girls from having the veil imposed on them by adults?

    When it comes to Norman Baker: I think he’s been a hero by resigning. I’ve supported pulling out of the coalition since conference period. The Conservatives are morphing into UKIP.

    Regards

  • Max Wilkinson 3rd Nov '14 - 11:15pm

    Norman Baker: liberal hero.

  • I think Norman did well and generally agree with his drugs premise plus of course his fame in music !

  • May that man throw rocks from the benches!

  • Norman is a man with very strong principles who is by nature sceptical of authority and mistrusting of elites. How he could have survived inside a Tory government this long is something of a mystery. He can now spend 6 months fighting to save his seat without a day job getting in the way. Replacing him with an MP who is seeking reelection would be insane. Tessa Munt and Julian Huppert both have real battles on their hands.

  • Surprised and sad to read about Norman’s resignation, but he has been superb in both government and resignation.

    Understand the calls to put the Farron/Huppert amongst the pigeons, but Jenny Willott would be a good decision. She has government experience and could get stuck in. Tim and Julian and key non-government voices and they will be key in the months ahead.

  • Eddie Sammon 4th Nov '14 - 12:38am

    A Lib Dem spokesperson has said Norman Baker’s replacement would be announced shortly – this is a banana skin.

    The country has been made aware there is a problem at the Home Office and Lib Dems should either threaten to vote down her policies or walk down the lobby with Yvette Cooper and whatever coalition she can come up with. Yvette seems very able.

    Regards

  • With May seemingly looking towards a future leadership bid and edging further rightwards it must have been a real uphill battle. Good on him for standing up and being counted regarding treatment as opposed to punishment for some drug offences, let’s hope his replacement enters the department re-emphasising that approach….

  • David Evershed 4th Nov '14 - 12:57am

    Disappointing that Norman Baker feels unable to organise his time to continue to fight for Lib Dem drug policies at the Home Office.

  • David Evans 4th Nov '14 - 6:33am

    The problem raised at the start of the coalition was what the exit strategy was. Nick has made it ever more clear that the strategy is tie yourself to the ship and go down with it or float away to the azure blue waters of everlasting life in coalition, depending on the result in 2015. Sadly almost half the crew have been washed away already and Norman has wisely, having fought and exposed the Tory’s true agenda in the Home Office, decided to stop wasting his time pretending things have gone brilliantly and instead will do all he can to save Liberalism in Lewes. He has my total support.

  • Leaking that report was Norman Baker’s greatest political achievement. Shame it’s probably his last, why didn’t other Lib Dem cabinet ministers join in endorsement of the report?

  • Paul in Wokingham 4th Nov '14 - 7:06am

    Stand down from the ministry with a ringing BBC news headline; declare you can’t work with a right-wing Tory like Mrs. May who suppresses evidence that contradicts her opinions – thus creating clear blue water; and then go back to your constituency for the fight of your political life.

    Sounds like a template for other Lib Dem ministers in marginal constituencies who want to still be MPs after next May.

  • I agree with Simon Shaw, Joe Otten and Paul in Wokingham in what they say about Norman Baker.

    I would add that Norman Baker deserves maximum Liberal Democrat support from outside his constituency to get him re-elected in May. He is just the sort of experienced and instinctively Liberal MP that we will need to rebuild the party after the disaster.

  • andrew purches 4th Nov '14 - 8:37am

    Bless you Norman: a true liberal Social Democrat putting down a marker for others to follow,I trust.

  • John Roffey 4th Nov '14 - 8:39am

    Yes – there is no need to doubt Norman Baker’s straightforwardness on this issue – he has just worked hard at doing what he has been asked to do and has come out of the affair with honour.

    However, looking at the MSM coverage of this there must be the underlying suspicion that – with the Rochester by election being the next a very significant event for both NC and Cameron – this has been stage managed.

    NC and the Party generally gets good publicity with an LD minister resigning on a fundamental point of principle and one of Cameron’s main rivals for the leadership being put into a difficult position.

    It will be interesting to hear Cameron’s take on the issue and whether the event does have any impact on the voting intentions at Rochester.

  • You’ve got to respect the man for being able to hold his nose that long to stick it as long as he did.

  • John Critchley 4th Nov '14 - 9:42am

    Back when John Major (I was in his constituency) and Ken Clarke were leading the Conservatives I joined for a while. I soon realised that I was in the wrong place, not because of them but some, though not all, of the membership and their attitudes. At one meeting a couple of us tried to get drugs issues discussed but they just were not interested, even though there was some particular reason at the time (I’ve forgotten now exactly what it was). Nothing changes!
    A great pity to see Norman Baker resign but I can understand how frustrated he probably was.

  • Ian MacFadyen 4th Nov '14 - 10:30am

    Foolish.

  • Steve Comer 4th Nov '14 - 10:40am

    I found Nick Clegg’s comments on Radio 4 headline news to be pretty weak, but I accept that may just be poor editing from a longer interview. In his letter to Norman Nick says “I fully understand the reasons you want to take a break after four and a half years in demanding Ministerial posts….” but does he REALLY understand? Norman’s resignation reminds me of the old joke about banging you head against a wall, and I expect he’ll find it nice now he’s stopped!

    I went to the excellent fringe meeting at Conference on drugs policy hosted by Transform, and it was clear then that Norman was frustrated at being blocked by Tories trying to block publication of the report on experience of drug policies applied in other countries. Norman as a Minister was someone who could pick up a brief and understand its complexities very quickly, he did that in Transport and at the Home Office. I hope the release from office will enable him to spend even more time in Lewes – we need him back as an MP in 2015.

  • nvelope2003 4th Nov '14 - 10:46am

    He was right to resign if he felt he was wasting his time trying to work with Mrs May but I am not sure how many members of the public would support his views on drugs policy even though they may very well be right. Treating addiction instead of punishing addicts seems to make more sense but unfortunately the press and the Conservatives will simply portray him as being “soft on drugs” although they are probably all drugged up themselves to quell their consciences while they pump out the lies they are paid to tell.

  • Nigel Jones 4th Nov '14 - 11:26am

    Norman has made clear that he believes in telling it as it is. In doing that he has shown the need to improve the way we do politics and that the established way is no longer satisfying the public. I was disappointed therefore that Nick Clegg gave the usual standard political response in his letter and did not take the opportunity to explicitly refer to the disagreements between Lib-Dems and the Conservatives on Home Office affairs.
    I have been constantly disappointed with our leadership’s inability to make clear our differences; thus, last week David Laws declared his view that politicians should not interfere directly in the school curriculum; better late than never, but why did not he and Nick say that a few years ago when Michael Gove was doing just that and alienating teachers who have now taken their support away from our party ?
    It has been one of the mistakes of our party that in spite of what members have been saying at conferences, our leadership has been afraid to change the way government operates and speaks as a result of having a coalition. Have we been too scared of the media, who, of course, will jump on spoken disagreements as a way of trying to undermine government ? Where is the statesmanship of saying what we believe, revealing to the public how things really are, doing what is practicable, even though it often has to be a compromise and thereby changing the perceptions of the public ?

  • Steve Comer 4th Nov '14 - 11:29am

    What is really “soft on drugs” is giving the manufacture and distribution to criminal gangs, which is precisely what we’ve done for decades! Our party’s policy is anything but ‘soft,’ we need to start treating drug abuse as a problem of public health.
    Conservatives and the right-wing Press will always denounce any liberalisation of anything as “soft.” Their whole agenda is authoritarian,so its hardly surprising that there is a constant demand for ‘crackdowns’, ‘clampdowns’ from them. In this respect our demands for rational drug policies are no different than our opposition to 90 day detention or the snoopers charter.

  • Dave G Fawcett 4th Nov '14 - 11:33am

    nvelope2003. ‘ I am not sure how many members of the public would support his views on drugs policy even though they may very well be right’. If a policy is right, the number of people who support (or oppose) it, should never be an issue. We fight for what we believe in and we work to convince others of the justice of our cause.

  • Steve Comer 4th Nov ’14 – 11:29am
    “…….. we need to start treating drug abuse as a problem of public health.”

    Quite right, Steve. That is of course what the Home Office report said. So why did the Tories want to bury the evidence? Why has Clegg failed to drive home this point, using Norman’s resignation as a peg to launch promotion of LIberal Democrat policy.
    Huge open goal for Clegg to score on behalf of the party and what does he do? Not much! Same old tory.

  • “nvelope2003. ‘ I am not sure how many members of the public would support his views on drugs policy even though they may very well be right’. If a policy is right, the number of people who support (or oppose) it, should never be an issue. We fight for what we believe in and we work to convince others of the justice of our cause.”

    @ Dave G Fawcett

    If you fought hard for policies that were so liberal that only 40% of the population agreed with them and the majority (60%) were against and you got 40% of the vote as a result you would win the General Election.

    The SNP in Scotland fought hard for a policy that 55% of Scots didn’t agree with and will probably win in Scotland as a result. Problem is MPs like Tom Brake campaigned hard to get the (then) Labour government to get tougher on drugs and ban head shops and the like… When the Lib Dems are defeated at the General Election, sadly, nothing will have been lost. I’m not gloating, I’m asking you guys to consider that and what that means.

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