Tim Farron MP writes… My thoughts on the Cabinet reshuffle

The first proper reshuffle for our party since the 1920s was always going to be a weird situation. I am extremely sad to see Sarah Teather, Nick Harvey, Paul Burstow and Andrew Stunell leave the government. Sarah’s work on the Pupil Premium will leave an outstanding legacy for the next generation, Andrew’s work on releasing empty homes to meet the needs of those in desperate circumstances will make the difference to thousands of people and Nick Harvey’s tenacity in ensuring that a like for like replacement for Trident is kicked off into the long grass has been a quite immense achievement. One gets the feeling that Nick Harvey has also managed the impressive feat of winning hearts and minds amongst the top brass in the armed forces for a replacement that is cheaper and far less aggressive. Paul Burstow is someone who will be judged very kindly by history as the man who protected our NHS from Conservative attempts to privatise it.

As a rural MP, I’m utterly delighted that we have David Heath in Defra, ensuring that the Liberal Democrats are correctly seen as the party of the working countryside. But I am sad to see Lynne Featherstone moved from her Equalities role. I thought she was doing fantastic work, so now, as a party we must fight to keep up the pressure and deliver the policies she is working on. Lynne’s move to DfiD gives us the chance to protect and extend our role supporting the developing world and tackling the most unspeakable poverty. I know she will do an amazing job there.

I’m also delighted that my friend David Laws is back in government – he has an amazing economic brain and I know he will be a one-man thinktank for our party.

But to secure those two roles in particular has meant sacrificing our places in the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. The one concern I have is that we should allow no backsliding on Trident. The Coalition Agreement dictates that the main gate decision will be put off until the next Parliament, which means that it will be an election issue. Given that Labour and the Tories are both signed up to chucking £100billion down this particular cold war toilet, that gives us a great campaigning issue – particularly amongst many voters who have been uneasy about us since 2010. The agreement also states that Liberal Democrats will have full MoD support in drawing up a more sensible alternative to trident.

Without the excellent Nick Harvey in post, who will be the guardian of this part of the coalition agreement? Step forward Nick Clegg. Nick Harvey has done the ground work, but Nick Clegg is now in the best possible position to ensure that this extremely distinctive Lib Dem policy is delivered and I will support him very step of the way.

I want to end this post by thanking Sarah, Nick, Paul and Andrew publicly for their commitment to the party and their service to the government. As President of our party I have thanked them privately but I wanted to also thank them on the record.

* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Agriculture and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

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  • I cannot believe what I am reading, in Tim claiming that Paul Burstow, who supported the original NHS proposals, will be judged by history, as somehow protecting the NHS from Tory privatisation.
    Remember that Clegg signed off the original proposals, in their entirety, possibly without reading them and Burstow was supportive throughout.
    Dr Mark Porter, in an interview in an article in the Guardian, on 31 August, certainly does not think that privatisation has been seen off and is concerned about the implications of letting hospitals raise 49% of income, in future from private work and from the introduction of ” any qualified provider”, thereby destabilising local NHS services by deliberately creating a market, where none currently exists.
    For me, the support to the NHS Bill, was the most shameful episode of all and I cannot think what Mrs Williams and the LD Mps, who could have kicked this bill into touch, as it was not in the coalition agreement, were thinking of.
    If it was all agreed in a carve up, by Alexander, as I read previously,[sorry I cannot remember where I read it and have no idea if it is true] to enable constitutional reform, I think it is a disgraceful act of betrayal to all the decent people who voted for this party.
    Matthew Huntbach has a very good letter published in today’s Guardian about not supporting Law’s return, as the latter promotes the idea that the coalition was formed mainly as an ideological coming together of like-minded figures, rather than being formed from necessity as the votes in 2012 and the distortions of the electoral system left no alternative.

  • So why did Andrew and Sarah Teather have to go?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 6th Sep '12 - 7:51pm

    Tim, a typically positive post with lots of good reminders about how much we have achieved in Government.

    However, I can’t understand for one second why we have given the equalities brief to the Tories. Why didn’t we put another of ours into that role? Giving equalities to the Tories is a bit like handing over a cashmere jumper knowing it’s going to be used for the dog to lie on.

  • Charles Beaumont 6th Sep '12 - 8:26pm

    I beg to differ on the equalities brief. We have a limited number of ministerial portfolios and we need to ensure that they are on issues that really matter to the public so that our work gets noticed. I don’t believe that equalities falls into that category. Even if we did a fantastic job on that subject, I don’t think the public would give us much credit.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 6th Sep '12 - 8:58pm

    Charles, equalities is something that matters very much to the party – and very much to the people who we need to be motivated to go out and bring the votes in at the next election. It covers things which are crucial to the development of a liberal society and giving it up to people who don’t care about is so wrong. In fact, I am probably more furious about this than I have been about anything else that we have done. Lynne Featherstone’s work on body image and body confidence is so important especially for girls. She understood the issues around domestic violence and other violence against women better than the Tories will. We have let people down by giving this valuable work away.

  • Charles Beaumont 6th Sep '12 - 9:18pm

    Caron – I definitely defer to your better knowledge of the issues that resonate on the doorstep. And I agree that these things should be taken seriously in a liberal society. But I just don’t know whether it is as important as some of the other things we could be fixing – like if we had better primary schools, these issues wouldn’t be so burning. If we had better sex education, if we had better economic opportunity and a more diverse economy I genuinely think this campaign would be unnecessary.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 6th Sep '12 - 9:48pm

    Well, sometimes you have to do what’s right as well as what’s popular. I really don’t want to give up on worthwhile work because the Daily Mail doesn’t like it. I’m not sure that better primary schools would tackle the cultural influences that put so much pressure on young girls. Lynne’s work, with media and advertisers was incredibly important in that regard.

  • “Paul Burstow is someone who will be judged very kindly by history as the man who protected our NHS from Conservative attempts to privatise it”. I can hardly believe I read that . As I recall Burstow was enthusiatic about ‘commercialising’ the NHS, along with Shirley Williams and Clegg. These people will be remembered for privatising the NHS just as surely as their Tory friends will. The next election has now been gifted to Labour; they will just promise to reverse the Tory/LIbDem NHS privatisation – and they will be in.

  • I think this is a good piece from Tim and to be fair he’s been the only MP to say anything on the reshuffle over the last 72 hours!

    I like what he’s said. As President I imagine he can’t say everything he wants to but we can guess what he thinks about Lynne moving from his comments.

    Keep doing what you are doing Tim!

  • Jolly good luck to all those LD councils when they get their constituents complaining about the extensions their neighbours are tacking on their houses – explaining that its all part of the government’s plan to kick start the economy will take some guts…..

    Boles performance on Newsnight frankly awful. Localism is dead in the water as far as planning goes with this clown in charge – chaos don’t you know is a good thing on this small island of ours.

  • Good comment by peebee. The government’s whole planning agenda now seems to be based on bullying local authorities into approving any, and all, development and curtailing the right of the public to object to development. It’s a massive extension of top-down power which makes a nonsense, not just of localism, but also of the LibDems “trust the people” philosophy.

  • Caron – your argument about “doing what is right sometimes, not just popular” is absolutely on the button. So why are you not supporting the total reversal of economic policy from the failed “deficit reduction” chimera which would both be economically, politically right, fair to those on lower incomes, and popular on the doorsteps as well?

    As a postscript, it seems to me that the 3 year suspension of certain planning policies will mainly benefit the well off, who can immediately afford (or have collateral to borrow) the money to do extensions immediately. A further move to give the rich the opportunity to opt out of collective state / public provision or regulation. How Nick Clegg allowed himself a) to support such an anti-local policy, and b) to agree to go into TV studios to promote it, goodness knows.

  • @jedibeeftrix

    Of course cutting down the paperwork should be applauded – but as John says the right of a local resident to feel that they have a say in very local development is fundamental – thats why as an ex chair of planning I would spend many a happy Sunday morning trudging to houses to listen to residents concerns – they may have been mistaken or they may have been misguided, but that way they had a chance to put their case forward at the most local and personal level.

    My feeling is that once people realise that this local participation is being taken away there will be many an MP’s mailbox filling up with complaints and the whole thing will be dropped quietly.

    By the way who are all these people with the spare cash to ramp up the conservatory market??

  • “I cannot believe what I am reading, in Tim claiming that Paul Burstow, who supported the original NHS proposals, will be judged by history, as somehow protecting the NHS from Tory privatisation.
    Remember that Clegg signed off the original proposals, in their entirety, possibly without reading them and Burstow was supportive throughout.”

    Well, quite. Lansley’s NHS reorganisation was not in the coalition agreement – in fact the coalition agreement specifically ruled out any further major reorganisations. It committed the government to the introduction of elected representatives on PCTs. The fact that PCTs have now been abolished – and the reorganisation in general – is as much a breach of the coalition agreement as the failure to reform the Lords; the only different is that it is a breach in which the Lib Dem leadership (with Burstow) is complicit.

    It was only because Burstow and Clegg agreed to Lansley’s “reforms” that they were introduced in the first place. And it was only because of the strength of the opposition to these plans that they later chose to back-pedal. It does Tim Farron no credit at all that he now seeks to rewrite history and ascribe credit to Paul Burstow for something regarding which Burstow is entirely blameworthy.

  • Bill le Breton 7th Sep '12 - 8:00am

    Tim writes, ‘I’m also delighted that my friend David Laws is back in government – he has an amazing economic brain and I know he will be a one-man thinktank for our party.’

    As Liberal Democrats, should we not be particularly cautious about ONE-MAN think tanks?

    And for good reason: this is the brain that advocated accelerated deficit reduction and proclaimed the discredited idea of expansionary fiscal contraction which has produced (in the real world) absolutely no growth! 28 months of stagnation.

  • jenny barnes 7th Sep '12 - 8:41am

    Charles – would you by any chance be white, male, hetero/cis -sexual, not-disabled, middle class? It’s called privilege, and someone in that position would naturally see no need for equalities to be worked on.

  • Why isnt Tim in the cabinet? There must be space for another northerner!

  • Stuart Mitchell 7th Sep '12 - 6:46pm

    Caron: “Lynne Featherstone’s work on body image and body confidence is so important especially for girls.”

    Lynne’s aims may be laudable, but she is not a fit person to front such a campaign. I say this because of the various derogatory remarks she has made about thin girls, such as calling them “stick insects”.

    Comments like that are hardly going to improve the body confidence of girls who, like my daughter, just happen to be naturally very thin.

    So I hope that Lynne backs off from this campaign now, and leaves it to people like Caryn Franklin who do a much better and more inclusive job of this kind of thing.

    On a more positive note, I share your admiration for Lynne’s work on violence against women.

  • Peter Watson 7th Sep '12 - 10:04pm

    @Ian Sanderson “he assured me that NO government could continue Labour’s “Building Schools for the Future” to 2015” Was that before or after he said, “The Tories’ schools plans are deeply flawed both in terms of money and on the curriculum. … On the curriculum, Conservative plans are in even more of an incoherent muddle.” Then again, Clegg said pretty much the same thing and look what good that’s done.
    Presumably though, everything in our manifesto about education must have gone through the Laws filter so might give an indication of his views, though like so much of our manifesto that’s not relevant now. (Cue the the replaying of those classic tunes: 75% of the coalition agreement is ours, or is it 40%, or is it the good bits, etc.)

  • Giselle Williams 7th Sep '12 - 10:54pm

    I’m sorry to intrude, as I am a Labour Party Member, but please ….. I think your following two statements are going to ensure you continue to be completely out of touch with most voters in the future:

    “Paul Burstow is someone who will be judged very kindly by history as the man who protected our NHS from Conservative attempts to privatise it”.

    “I’m also delighted that my friend David Laws is back in government – he has an amazing economic brain and I know he will be a one-man thinktank for our party”.

    Actually, margaret 6th Sep ’12 – 7:40pm , said it all for me. Well said margaret..

  • Far better to give David Laws a second chance to redeem himself and show his undoubted talents than a lingering death on the backbenches and hand his seat to the Tories at the next election.

    Also I’m not sure Tim should be so sorry to see our departing Ministers go. It’s important to give as many of our MPs ministerial experience as possible (apart from Tim of course who needs to stay outside the Government so he can lead the party), and it will give the likes of Sarah Teather in marginal seats a much better chance of defending their seats at the next election if they can spend more time being full-time MPs.

    We should rejoice that our MPs are so unselfish and committed to serving their constituents, their party and the national interest that they are happy to give up their places for others – unlike the greasy-pole-climbing Tories.

  • I’m still very disappointed that the party doesn’t hold any of the major portfolios. As a coalition partner, and conceding the office of PM, we really should have either the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary or Home Secretary.

    It’s not surprising we’re criticised for following the tory lead whilst no LibDem MPs are in any of the leading cabinet posts.

  • Peter Watson 8th Sep '12 - 12:41pm

    I agree entirely. AFAIR after the election it was mooted that we might have a Lib Dem Education secretary, but instead our major cabinet roles were shadowing the PM and shadowing the Chancellor. Clegg and Alexander might well be wielding influence privately, but the view from the outside is that Lib Dems are simply towing the tory line across the board. Being in charge of an important department would provide the opportunity to “own” something in government, hopefully demonstrating the successful implementation of policies with a distinct Lib Dem flavour.

  • David Laws should have been prosecuted, not promoted.

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