Richard Reeves's departure is a big loss for Clegg

Reeves was as much an ideologist of Cleggism as a strategist for the Lib Dems.

The Liberal Democrats have problems bigger than the departure of Nick Clegg's Director of Strategy, announced last night. Still, the loss of Richard Reeves will be felt keenly by the Deputy Prime Minister. Reeves is leaving for the US for family reasons (his wife is American) and any suggestions that the political health of the Clegg project might be a consideration are fiercely denied. Nonetheless, Reeves has been quite central to the Lib Dem leader in mapping out and articulating the strategic approach to coalition with the Tories. (Not surprisingly, given the party's poll ratings, that strategy is not universally cheered as a triumph in the party or Westminster at large.)

It was Reeves who effectively drew up the roadmap that started with maximum harmony with the Conservatives - to demonstrate that coalition was a viable form of government - followed by "differentiation" - carving out the party's autonomous position within the coalition - and later, some time shortly before a general election, separation. For more sceptical observers this looks suspiciously like a post hoc rationalisation of a process that started out as naive cosying up to Cameron and was followed by desperate clawing back of political identity in the face of possible electoral annihilation. In reality, like all political strategies, some of it has been planned and much of it busked. Reeves is certainly a good busker - always articulate, engaging, intellectually animated, clever and candid. Journalists like him for that reason.

But a problem has been the suspicion among many in the party that he is not authentically Lib Dem. Reeves is seen as a classic liberal, with perhaps tinges of New Labour - one of the many Blairite refugees floating around Westminster looking for the fabled centre ground of politics. That has played to anxiety in the party that Clegg is insufficiently sensitive to the wounded feelings on his party's old social democratic left flank. At its most extreme this translates into a suspicion that Clegg, encouraged by Reeves, would happily chase queasy lefties out of the party altogether.

That may be a little paranoid but it is a sentiment that Clegg needs to address in some way. It would certainly be simpler for him to run a slimmed down band of "Orange Book" liberals offering technocratic, centrist, coalition services to whichever big party happens to have the highest number of seats in Parliament. But that isn't the party he actually leads. Reeves, in that sense, was as much an ideologist of Cleggism as a strategist for the Liberal Democrats. It will be interesting to see whether the Deputy Prime Minister seeks the same service in a replacement.

Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. Photograph: Getty Images.

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad