Sarah Teather shows how to do an exit interview with dignity, empathy and thoughtfulness

Sarah TeatherSarah Teather’s announcement that she was standing down as a Liberal Democrat MP on the eve of our conference in 2013 did create some waves at the time. She was very critical of some of the things that the party had done in government, most notably welfare reform. Since then, she has done what she’s always done – been a strong voice speaking up for poorly treated asylum seekers and was a strong voice in the campaign against cuts to criminal legal aid.

She’s now done an interview with the Telegraph in which she talks about her time in Parliament. She’s thoughtful, reflective and does not show one trace of bitterness. In fact, she shows sympathy for Nick Clegg, despite the fact that he sacked her in the 2012 reshuffle.

Her appointment as Minister for Children meant that she could address special needs education, something which meant a huge amount to her personally:

Back in 2010, however, she found the new job a positive challenge, and felt a particular, personal, satisfaction in bringing forward legislation to transform the teaching of children with special educational needs.

“I have rather an odd educational background, I was very ill as a teenager, I missed four years of school so I suppose I have a particular affinity for children who, for one reason or another, had not found education an easy process.

“I spent a lot of that time wheelchair bound. For me it was a bit of a passion, that reform on special educational needs and disability.

She talked about her struggles over welfare reform, how she fought and won concessions and how she thought she was going to have to resign over the issue. I can understand her dilemma. I remember writing to one minister who might have gone over tuition fees to ask them to stay because of the good things they would be able to achieve for other people in their government role. For Sarah, she didn’t want to leave without making a difference for kids facing the same problems as she had.

I had a set of conditions, and they were that I was never going to vote in favour of it, I was never going to evangelise about the policy and I wanted concessions in terms of mitigating funding for those who were affected and I wanted a review of the policy after a period of time. And I got those concessions.

“In a way I’m quite sympathetic to the plight of Nick [Clegg] in this situation. We had had some quite big rows in private about what the concessions should be and what was acceptable as a changed policy, but Nick was actually significantly more sympathetic than many other colleagues.

“And Nick was in quite a difficult position. He had a minister who had been saying for nine months that she wasn’t prepared to support this policy, he was doing his best to negotiate.

I was interested in what she had to say about Nick being more sympathetic than other colleagues. I have to be honest and say that the criticism I’ve heard of Sarah from senior male figures in the party has been much worse than that meted out to anybody else. She certainly gets an unduly hard time.

Hugely fond of Nick

She bears no bitterness for her sacking, which she saw coming and made sure she got the special educational needs measures through before it happened.

I focused on finishing the stuff on special educational needs but ironically I knew my decision to stay in was still going to result in my being sacked.

I was pretty confident that I would sacked in the reshuffle. I’d been a pain and for a brief period of time I’d brought quite a lot of things to a standstill.

If you’re leading a party and you’ve got stuff to do you can’t really be dealing with that.

I’m more sympathetic to Nick that you might imagine. I can see from his point of view how it was a monumental draw on his time and I dare say they probably thought there are worse things than this coming down the lines, frankly if she couldn’t stomach this, she couldn’t really be dealing with anything else. We’ve had profound disagreements [but] on a personal level I’m hugely fond of Nick.

Ending child detention for immigration purposes was not particularly easy as she had to deal with Tory and departmental opposition:

The[n there was the] key work around the ending of child detention in the immigration system, which I negotiated. It was a tough old fight behind the scenes, my first bloodying in the Coalition. It was one thing to get that into the Coalition Agreement, it was another to persuade the Home Secretary or indeed Home Office officials that this was doable in practice. They were pretty determined not to do it.

She also talks about her help for two constituents stuck in Guantanamo Bay and other aspects of her 12 years as MP for Brent Central.

You can read the whole thing here.

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

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24 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Feb '15 - 2:58pm

    I thought it was a good interview. I have been a defender of Sarah Teather recently. She seems to spend her time in parliament trying to help people, rather than on cynical political games.

  • Helen Tedcastle 14th Feb '15 - 2:59pm

    I totally accept Sarah’s decision to stand down after a period of reflection and thought. I just feel very sad that the party is losing someone of such integrity and talent.

    I wish her well in her role with the Jesuit Refugee Service, who do vital work world-wide. She will do an amazing job.

  • I agree Helen. Sarah will be able to, and will, make a huge practical difference to the lives of refugees and asylum seekers. I heard her speak on this subject at an LDCF event and her commitment was awesome.

    I hope Sarah’s decision to stand down had nothing to do with her vote against Equal Marriage and the reported criticism she faced at the time. On matters of conscience, MPs of faith should be able to vote in line with their beliefs, even when it’s against party policy. Otherwise, what’s the point? This should particularly be the case for Lib Dem MPs because of the great value we place on freedom.

    Thank you for being an MP of great compassion and conviction, Sarah.

  • John Tracey 14th Feb '15 - 4:51pm

    Her vote against Equal Marriage was hugely disappointing. However, with an incumbency factor, she was the only chance of holding the seat.

    A good interview, an interesting read.

  • Helen Tedcastle 14th Feb '15 - 5:39pm

    @ judy Abel

    I couldn’t agree more. Conscience has traditionally been respected in the Liberal Party and then the Liberal Democrats. This is why we have been able to be a big tent party. I hope this does not change.

  • a very impressive interview and she gives a good account of herself. It’s been said that in a government the Tories have outsourced conscience to the Liberal Democrats, and the Liberal Democrats have sub-contracted having a conscience to Sarah Teather.

    She’s been an invaluable voice on asylum, the welfare cap, and migrant rights. we’re a far weaker party with her leaving parliament. good luck Sarah

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 14th Feb '15 - 8:11pm

    @TPFkar I think Sarah has been magnificent on all the issues you mention, but it’s a bit unfair on the others. I know we all think we could have done better than our parliamentary party and there’s no doubt they have made some howlers, but their hearts are in the right place.

  • Chris Rennard 14th Feb '15 - 9:08pm

    Dignified, principled and very decent. Her victory in the 2003 by-election was one of the party’s great highpoints of the party, resulting in us matching both Labour & Tories in the opinion polls nationally. This and her re-election campaigns in 2005 and 2010 were personal triumphs for her and her campaign teams. I hope that she will not be lost to the party. or to politics.

  • MP’s who stick to their principles and vote accordingly seem very rare these days, a big loss to the LibDems.

  • I always feel that politics as it currently exists in the Westminster establishment which the Lib Dems are now apart of is no place for people of principle. I imagine that such people get into politics wanting to improve things and very quickly find out that politics is not the way to do that. We have 650 MPs but I reckon no more than about a dozen of them at the top of their parties hierarchy have any real power or influence, the rest are just there as a sort of rubber stamp to vote as the party orders them to.

  • @David
    I suppose to keep an elected Government in power, implementing an agenda voted for by the majority of those who put a cross on the ballot paper – even if not by the majority of the electorate – there has to be a party whip system, otherwise chaos would quickly break out. (Of course, that doesn’t quite apply in a coalition situation because no one knows which bits of their party’s manifesto they will be delivering on anyway!)

    Obviously, there are not just a handful of ways of looking at the world so the party system is not that subtle. MPs must feel the same frustration, but no one has come up with a better system.

    Maybe we just need more free votes – it would certainly be great to hear more MPs saying what they really think, rather than them being relentlessly ‘on message’ all the time. I think voters would be more engaged in the process too.

  • Sarah Teather has no credibility whatsoever. He maiden speech to parliament included:

    “Fear of debt is as real to many people as real debt. Top-up and tuition fees are serious issues of concern to my constituents. All the evidence suggests that fear of debt will deter those from lower income families and ethnic minority communities. This is particularly the case for Muslims – a large community in my constituency – where attitudes to debt are very different. … I hope honourable members will oppose the measures when the time comes.”

    She then voted to treble them and couldn’t even justify her decision when asked to. She decided to turn her back on her constituents who voted for her. This is probably the real reason why she is leaving Parliament.

  • Jayne Mansfield 16th Feb '15 - 9:26am

    Sarah Teather’s success, and the reason that she will be a great loss great loss to politics as far as I am concerned, is that she comes across as a very normal, decent young woman who just wants to do good in her life. She is representative of so many young people that I have met over the course of my life.

    What is extraordinary about her is that she felt that she could cope in the world of politics. I wish that she had, but there are many ways to satisfy that inner impulse to help those who feel powerless. I am sure that she will continue doing positive things with her life, and that her life will continue be the richer for it.

    I wish her well.

  • @Sara Scarlett

    Not a very thoughtful comment Sara – actually thought it made no sense at all!

  • @ Caracatus

    Thanks for letting me know.

  • Sarah Teather was originally selected as candidate for a seat that was considered pretty ‘hopeless’ for the Lib Dems. The National election team (which knew how to do it in those days) won her her seat but, to her credit, she worked amazingly hard and must be credited with holding on to it. She didn’t set the world on fire as a Minister but then how man have done so – or been permitted to do so?

    I am still trying to work out why opposing Gay marriage is considered by some to be a ‘conscience issue’. It is a religious issue, which is a very different matter.

  • I have heard many comment favourably on the work Sarah did for children and that shows her ability in government, in spite of other areas where she was either inconsistent or not that skilled. She was young and had much to learn. BUT, she was concerned for the disadvantaged in a way that not many politicians are and her so-called difficulties with our leaders and others was based on them ‘doing politics in the normal way’ and Sarah’s determination to do it differently and stand up for the less fortunate in our society.
    I wish she had decided to stand again for Parliament, but nevertheless hope that she will engage in the politics that goes on outside the Westminster bubble, in order to continue her campaign for a fairer and more compassionate society.

  • “I think Sarah has been magnificent … but it’s a bit unfair on the others. I know we all think we could have done better than our parliamentary party and there’s no doubt they have made some howlers, but their hearts are in the right place.”

    Sorry Caron, but you’re the Lib Dem Polly Toynbee. Intelligent, knowledgeable, caring, massive blind spot when it comes to recognising anything your tribe has done wrong. Labour need to see past Toynbee, and Lib Dems need to see past Caron Lindsay.

  • My objection to Sara Scarlett’s comment has been suppressed, I imagine with good reason; but the essence of it, which I would like to reiterate, is that I think Ms Scarlett’s comment is cheap, unfair, insulting, and defamatory of Sarah Teather.

  • Caracatus 16th Feb ’15 – 9:16am
    @sara scarlett – what an incisive contribution from liberation vision. I see Mark Littlewood is back posting comments too – run out of things to do have we ?

    Yes indeed – what a contrast with Sarah Teather . Sarah Teather provides an interesting and very personal account of recent years in Coalition. I do not agree with everything she says but she says it in a dignified and credible way.

    In comparison the comment from the entryist Conservative and her Tobacco funded friend have always been bizarre.
    They no longer pretend to be Liberals thank goodness. It is time they changed the name of that misleading website of theirs.

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