Lib Dems should have had no part in ‘Knights of the Long Knives’ reshuffle honours

by Stephen Tall on September 5, 2012

Nick Harvey’s had a tough week. On Tuesday his ministerial career was brought to an abrupt and surprising halt when Nick Clegg told him he was ‘trading’ his post of armed forces minister for a Lib Dem foothold in another department.

The North Devon MP has been a victim of his own success. So shrewdly has he overseen the Trident nuclear weapons review — the crunch defence decision which divides Lib Dems and Tories — that it is highly likely to produce more effective, better value deterrent options, with a final decision not needed until 2016, after the next election. We hear often enough about rewards for failure. Nick Harvey just encountered punishment for success.

So I can understand Nick Clegg feeling guilty. But it is nonetheless quite, quite wrong for Nick Harvey to have been offered a knighthood on his enforced retirement. It is an outrageous abuse of the patronage system which the Lib Dem leader so passionately denounced in the Commons on Monday when withdrawing his Bill to reform the House of Lords because of Tory and Labour opposition.

Last week, I named Tory MP Bernard Jenkin my ‘CentreForum Liberal Hero of the Week’ for his call for increased transparency and public confidence in the honours system. “We believe that no-one should be honoured for simply ‘doing the day job’, no matter what that job is,” said Mr Jenkin on behalf of the Commons’ Public Administration Committee. Damn straight.

Nick Harvey has done a sterling job at the defence department. For that he has my gratitude, and my sympathies at the manner of his departure. But he shouldn’t have been offered a knighthood, and Nick Clegg should have seen to it that no Lib Dem was implicated in anything as shabby as a reshuffle honours list.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.