++ Norman Baker quits as Home Office minister

by Stephen Tall on November 3, 2014

Norman BakerNorman Baker, appointed Lib Dem home office minister just over a year ago, is to quit his government post and “launch a stinging attack on Theresa May”, according to the Independent:

Norman Baker, the crime prevention minister, is stepping down after a year of internal battles within the Home Office with his Conservative boss.

In a scathing verdict on Ms May’s leadership, Mr Baker warned that support for “rational evidence-based policy” was in short supply at the top of her department.

The Lib Dem has publicly clashed with Ms May on issues including drugs policy and immigration.

He told The Independent yesterday that the experience of working at the Home Office had been like “walking through mud” as he found his plans thwarted by the Home Secretary and her advisers.

“They have looked upon it as a Conservative department in a Conservative government, whereas in my view it’s a Coalition department in a Coalition government,” he said.

“That mindset has framed things, which means I have had to work very much harder to get things done even where they are what the Home Secretary agrees with and where it has been helpful for the Government and the department.

“There comes a point when you don’t want to carry on walking through mud and you want to release yourself from that.”

His resignation is further evidence that relations are rapidly deteriorating within the Coalition ahead of next year’s general election.

Theresa May’s Home Office has become notoriously tricky terrain for Lib Dem ministers.

Lynne Featherstone had a frosty relationship and, once she’d helped secure cross-party support for same-sex marriage, she happily moved to overseas development.

Jeremy Browne was chosen as her successor to put a more liberal imprint on the department. However, his exclusion from the decision over the infamous ‘Go home’ vans (and hos freelancing on issues such as banning Muslim women from wearing veils in public places) saw Nick Clegg shuffle him out.

That he was replaced by Norman Baker — a tenacious and instinctive liberal, even libertarian, and self-confessed maverick — was widely seen as Clegg’s revenge on Mrs May. In public, he has never been less than polite about the Home Secretary. However, last week’s ground-breaking Government study looking at different approaches to drugs policy in different countries — and its finding that Conservatives’ preferred get tough policies were ineffective — exposed the tensions:

“I think she is quite competent and professional, and I have a lot of respect for her professionally. I just think it’s a pity that she took the mindset that the Lib Dems had to be put up with, and we were almost a cuckoo in the nest rather than part of government.”

I have a lot of time for Norman Baker, despite the sneering he attracts for not looking the part of the sharp-suited ministerial stereotype. He brought an unabashed liberalism to his department while sticking to collective responsibility and remaining very much his rough-hewn self. I hope he enjoys the “perspective and recharging” he’s seeking from the backbenches — and that his successor does the job a lot like he did.

Here’s the full exchange of letters:

Letter from Norman Baker to Nick Clegg

Dear Nick,

I am writing to confirm my request, which I first raised with you in August, to take a break from ministerial office when a convenient moment arises. I understand this is likely to be next week.

You will know that I have spent four and a half years in ministerial office, three and a half at the Department for Transport and the last year at the Home Office. I have enjoyed this time very much, and while I feel I have been able to discharge my duties effectively while also giving proper attention to my constituency, this combination has been very demanding and has squeezed the time available for my family and my outside interests, including my music.

You will recognise that it has been particularly challenging being the only Lib Dem in the Home Office, which I see a newspaper the other day likened to being the only hippy at an Iron Maiden concert. Despite these challenges, I am pleased with what I have been able to achieve, not least to have been the first minister with responsibility for drugs to have put prejudice aside and published an evidence-based approach to this important issue, despite repeated Conservative efforts to block release.

I am also pleased, amongst other things, to have been able to create a cross-departmental commitment to tackling FGM, to have nursed into law a new more effective approach to anti-social behaviour, and to have launched a ground-breaking government document that promotes alternatives to animal experiments.

However, in stark contrast to the Department for Transport, I regret that in the Home Office, the goodwill to work collegiately to take forward rational evidence-based policy has been in somewhat short supply.

I have concluded, therefore, that for the time being at least, my time is better spent out of ministerial office.

You will of course continue to have my full support in the run-up to, and beyond, the next election which I anticipate is likely to produce another hung parliament. You have been, and are, an outstanding leader of the Lib Dems and I have been proud to have served in your team.

Best wishes,

Norman

Letter from Nick Clegg to Norman Baker

Dear Norman,

Thank you for the brilliant job you have done as a Minister over the past four and a half years, first at the Department of Transport and more recently at the Home Office.

In both posts you have proved yourself as one of the most effective ministers in government: always determined to deliver a more liberal agenda for Britain, by consensus where possible but by confronting vested interests whenever necessary.

However complex the issues have been, or challenging the coalition relations have proved to be, you have handled the political relationships within Government with great skill, always focusing on how to achieve liberal reform wherever you can.

I fully understand the reasons you want to take a break after four and a half years in demanding Ministerial posts – but I very much hope that if the Liberal Democrats are in government after the next election, you will once again make yourself available for Ministerial office.

On a personal level, it has been a real privilege to work alongside you over the past four and a half years.

With very best wishes,

Nick

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.