Today’s Lib Dem reshuffle: 4 thoughts from me on what it means

Four quick thoughts from me on what today’s Lib Dem reshuffle means..

1. Nick feels secure enough to be ruthless.

Sacking both Michael Moore and Jeremy Browne is not something Nick would have been able to contemplate a year ago. Then – with the economy still mired in recession, his apology video still fresh in the memory, and Vince reminding everyone he stood ready, willing and able should the need arise – Nick was vulnerable, in need of allies. Now – with the economy recovering, Eastleigh defended and all key conference votes won – Nick feels able to asset himself.

2. This was about the people, not factions.

Michael Moore has every reason to feel disappointed: he has arguably been the most successful Lib Dem in the whole government judged by his achievements. Yet Nick feels he’s not the dynamic  face for the party in a crucial year when Scottish politics will take centre stage. A shrewd legislator but not enough of a showman  seems to be the verdict. We’ll see. Certainly Alistair Carmichael has big shoes to fill.

Jeremy Browne’s sacking is perhaps even more surprising – not because he’s looked comfortable at the Home Office (not even his most ardent admirers claim that), but because he  above all other Lib Dem MPs including Nick himself, is seen as the Orange Booker’s Orange Booker, and therefore regarded as very much a Cleggite. The Clegg view of Browne’s performance is revealing: “He was given the chance to put a liberal imprint on the Home Office. Ask yourself if he took that opportunity,” I was told.

This reshuffle was all about performance, current and future, not which wing of the party an MP’s from.

3. Norman Baker: the clearest sign yet of LibDem differentiation.

When the ‘Go home’ vans row broke out, Nick Clegg was on holiday. In his absence the party response was sluggish. That explains a lot, I think, about Norman’s appointment. It’s not that Nick expects Norman to get more of an inside track on the Home Office than Jeremy did, and be able to prevent Theresa May’s authoritarian knee-jerk — but he can rely on him to project a liberal message when the leader’s away. Jeremy’s appointment was all about trying to get a liberal influence within the department. It’s hard to see Norman’s as anything but a calculated move to seriously annoy the Home Office, and put clear yellow water between us and the Tories.

4. One unelected woman: is that the best we can do?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Susan Kramer, and I think she’ll be a great asset at Transport. But it’s a shame we’ve lost the last opportunity to appoint a female cabinet minister with the chance to make a difference. (Perhaps there will be a mini-reshuffle next year, post-referendum, but by then there will be just months til the 2015 election.) It wasn’t probably the ideal time for the obvious candidate, Jo Swinson, who’s fighting an ultra-marginal seat and about to go on maternity leave. And with Sarah Teather ruled out, that leaves just 5 female Lib Dem MPs. Among them, only Lynne Featherstone has the ministerial experience but no obvious vacancy for her to fill. But it is shaming that, after our first stint in power in peace-time in a century, we still will not be able to say that a female Lib Dem has say at the cabinet table.

* 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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  • Alisdair McGregor 7th Oct '13 - 6:23pm

    The change at scotland can be summed up as “No Moore Mr Nice Minister”

  • perhaps the public are sick and tired with “the nasty guys” Michael is articulate, respected around the parties and was shrewd negotiator…does Nick look better for this, I dont think so.

  • typo? should this be sat?
    “…a female Lib Dem has say at the cabinet table.”

  • Peter Watson 7th Oct '13 - 9:00pm

    Is it just my browser, or has the Jeremy Browne article ( disappeared from the front page of LibDemVoice?

  • peter – its not just you, maybe the comments were too bad for Browne so Lib Dem voice decided to be ‘proactive’

  • Peter Watson 7th Oct '13 - 10:20pm

    The Jeremy Browne article has returned. Will he?

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Oct '13 - 11:16pm

    I agree with all points. However the party needs to show more liberal solutions to its diversity problem, for instance getting rid of the archaic conference voting structure.

    I think Normal Baker sounds a bit too libertarian on the security front for my liking, but I like an independent thinker who isn’t afraid to speak out. A risk taker. Also, how can we forget this: (his band!).

  • Ian MacFadyen 7th Oct '13 - 11:43pm

    Nick Clegg has behaved disgracefully. Michael Moore did not deserve to be sacked and to have the humiliation of being the main news story on the reshuffle throughout the day with “Sacked” screaming from the headlines. His achievements as Scotland Secretary stand comparison with Nick Clegg’s. His style may a little under-stated, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Neither did Jeremy Browne deserved to go, apparently for being too loyal – and therefore dispensible. Appointing Susan Kramer toTransport is folly. Deferring the third runway at Heathrow was a misjudgement on a par with the student loan debacle and putting its chief advocate in a position to do more damage shows the party has not yet learned all the lessons of its first few naive months in government.

  • Peter Chivall 8th Oct '13 - 12:01am

    Norman Baker will be sadly missed – the greenest Transport Minister this country has ever had he has virtually changed the direction of transport thinking in the UK. Susan Kramer could do one thing to make a mark at Transport: with the Heathrow issue still in the air (literally?), she could push for a revival of London’s 4th airport plan from the 70s and boost HS2 at one stroke by bringing back the *Wing/Cublington* airport proposal. The runway on this proposal would almost touch the proposed route of HS2 and Google Earth shows no significant development from the 50s onwards.
    Linked by HS2 it would be only 25mins from both London centre and Birmingham and would kill stone dead any plans for either Heathrow 3 or Boris Island and expansion of B’ham International on its already congested site. Eventually it could prove to be the one remaining Hub airport that allows us to finally close Heathrow and give some peace to West and South London.

  • jones – perhaps “has a say”?
    Caracatus (why not Caractacus, by the way?)
    At least, as far as we know, anyway, NC has not been heard anywhere discussing such briefing with Danny Alexander in the presence of journalists!!

  • Maybe Jo Swinson’s pregnancy counted against here, but it seems mad that she didn’t get a Cabinet job. Really poor from the Lib Dems.

  • Matt (Bristol) 8th Oct '13 - 11:59am

    I don’t know a lot about Michael Moore outside of his work at the Scottish Office, and I’m not a Scot so probably not qualified to comment on the details of campaigning and presenting the government’s position in the run up to the referendum, but he seems to have done well and been the epitome of the ‘early coalition’ spirit inasmuch as it applied to non-economic areas: consensual, detailed, thoughtful, adroit, able to work with all-comers in the nation’s best interests, but still robust and able to exercise judgement and authority on a difficult area of policy.

    Obviously the Tories in general seem to have moved away from this consensual way of working a long time ago (well, around the time of the AV referendum, really), but it’s a shame someone who represents what is needed to make modern coalition politics work should be removed rather summarily without anything else for him to work on.

    I am given to wonder whether Mr Moore with his grasp of detail and ability to build consensus could have made moore (sorry) of constitutional reform in general and secured more advances than have been ultimately achieved by a necessarily busy and outward-facing Deputy Prime Minister?

  • Simon Banks 8th Oct '13 - 5:13pm

    Anyone who heard Michael Moore’s superb speech at Glasgow will know how effective he can be, deploying depth and feeling without losing rationality. coming across as authoritative and never seeming rattled or irritated.

    I’ve noticed outside politics that bosses often undervalue the qualities in underlings that they’re short of themselves.

  • David Evans 9th Oct '13 - 8:53am


    Should your article have said “All key conference votes ignored”?

  • David Evans 9th Oct '13 - 8:59am

    @ Simon Banks

    “I’ve noticed outside politics that bosses often undervalue the qualities in underlings that they’re short of themselves.”

    Nick comes up short of Michael Moore in almost every way possible! 😉

  • It is a bit late to ask this timewise, but does the appointment of Baroness Jolly as a Baroness in Waiting involve the departure from government of another Lib Dem Lord in Waiting/Baroness in Waiting, or does her appointment give us an additional government minister in the Lords ? Maybe one of her noble friends can provide the answer.

  • To answer my own query above, it appears that Baroness Garden of Frognal, up till now a Baroness in Waiting and one of our Lib Dem ministers in the Lords, has left the government and that Baroness Jolly has replaced her. How about some thanks to Sue Garden for her past services on this website and on Liberal Tweets from Caron, Tim Farron et al ?

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