Norman Baker’s advice to his successor: Be firm, be fair, be courteous, promote Lib Dem policies – but don’t give in

Norman Baker’s departure from Government has been done in a clear, principled and utterly reasonable manner. In an interview with the BBC’s Norman Smith shown on the BBC News Channel, he even praised Theresa May as formidable, intelligent and competent, before saying her problem was that she didn’t recognise that she was in a Coalition Government. Here are the highlights of the interview:

I’ve ben thinking about this for some time and disused it with the Deputy Prime Minister over Summer. I feel I need a break 4.5 years is a long long time. It’s particularly onerous if you’re the only Liberal Democrat in a Department as I have been for 4.5 years in the coalition government. I think we don’t always have to cling to office as ministers if we think there is a time to go and I want a break. I want to spend more time with my family, in my constituency and doing my music.

NS How much a factor was the bad relations you had with Theresa May?

NB: I think it’s disappointing the relations in the Home Office. I arrived determined to make it work, to co-operate and to make sure we had a good coalition relationship.

And I’ve a lot of time for the Home Secretary. I think she’s a formidable, intelligent, competent Home Secretary and I respect and admire her for that. The difficulty is she believed she was running a Conservative department in a Conservative Government and that Liberal Democrats were almost there by default. That didn’t make for good coalition relations. It was in stark contrast to my 3.5 years at the Department of Transport where I think I worked really well with Patrick McLoughlin, with Justine Greening and even with Philip Hammond in the early days.

Why quit now?

It’s become difficult because clearly I want to achieve what I can for the Lib Dems. I have been able to achieve quite a lot both in terms of the drugs policy last week which is the first time in 43 years we’ve had an evidence based drugs report, work on FGM on animal experiments on anti social behaviour and so on but clearly it was like walking through mud. The Home Secretary was reluctant to let me have my head and it was a constant battle just to get things through. I think it was unfortunate, not just for the Home Office but for the Government.

Challenged on Damien Green’s comments that he was trying to set himself up as an alternate Home Secretary, he said:

I didn’t but we are in a  Coalition Government so it was right that I took an interest in matters across the Department which is no different to how I behaved in the Department of Transport and any other Liberal Democrat Minister acts in their Department.

I’ve done it for a year. It’s very hard work. The Home Office is the cutting edge of the Coalition. It’s the place where most policy areas are difficult be they Europe or immigration. It’s not been helped by the lurch to the right by the Conservative Party as they chase UKIP off to the fringes but I gave it a year which was quite a challenging tax and I want a break

What does this say about coalition relations?

I think the Coaliton relations are going to clearly become more difficult in the run-up to the elections but we have a functioning government. We’ve had 4.5 years when the Coalition has been working very well. If we hadn’t had a Coalition the economy would be in a far worse state than it is now. We’ve achieved a huge amount together in a whole range of departments with investment in transport and cycling so there’s a great deal to to celebrate in that.

I think the Coalition works very well but there are one or two ministers, and I’m afraid I include the Home Secretary, who take the view that this isn’t a Coalition Government but a Conservative Government with Lib Dems in it.

Does he feel unsupported by Farron and Clegg who haven’t attacked Theresa May:

Nick’s letter to me was very friendly and he says he wants me back in government if I wish to at some point in the future.

What does this mean of this successor?

Well the manner of my departure relates to what I said. It doesn’t mean that someone else coming in will have the same viewpoint but what it does mean, I hope is that the Home Secretary will be rather more careful to recognise that this is a coalition in the future. She doesn’t presumably want two Liberal Democrat ministers making the same accusation.

Does he have any advice for his successor?

Be firm, be fair, be courteous, make sure you promote Lib Dem policies but don’t give in.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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7 Comments

  • Non of the conservative ministers have recognised they are in a coalition govt. There sense of entitlement to power is in their genes. They have just ploughed on regardless. Lib Dems have gone along with this for 4.5 years. Nick Clegg has taught the Tories they need not make compromises. Only now some lib Dems make a stand. This is why they are in the mess they are in. Too little , too late.

  • According to the BBC Lynn Featherstone is taking over but her old job is being taken by a peer. This is disappointing as it really doesn’t show commitment to reform of House of Lords. Once again somebody with no electoral mandate is making decisions on behalf of the British people

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 5th Nov '14 - 8:42am

    Fine and principled LibDem. Best wishes to Norman and to Lynn.

  • This assessment of both Norman Baker and his less distinguished predecessor tells it like it is —

    http://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2014/11/04/don-t-mock-norman-baker-he-accomplished-more-than-most-minis

    It is the perfect answer to the various media hatchet jobs.

  • @rob, I suspect that most of the backbench Lib Dem MPs don’t want to be ministers for six months and would prefer to have more time in their constituencies. Recruiting ministers is going to be hard for Clegg.

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