Norman Baker has resigned from the Home Office. Photo: Getty
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Lib Dem Norman Baker quits as Home Office minister

Revealing the extent of coalition clashes in the Home Office, the Lib Dem minister has resigned.

In a tempestuous time for the Home Secretary Theresa May, in which she has had to apologise to child abuse survivors for her failure to appoint an appropriate chair for the inquiry, one of her ministers has resigned, criticising her treatment of Lib Dem coalition colleagues.

Norman Baker, who has served as Home Office minister since October 2013, announced his decision to step down this morning, telling the Independent in an exclusive interview that May viewed Lib Dems in government as "a cuckoo in the nest", and that trying to work in her department was like "walking through mud".

In his resignation letter, addressed to Nick Clegg, he regrets the lack of "goodwill to work collegiately" in the department, and refers to "repeated Conservative efforts to block release" of a report about drugs that has caused him to clash with May in recent weeks. Baker called for sweeping changes to the UK's approach to drug use, focusing more on treatment that "1950s" style rhetoric and punishment, following the results of a report published by the Home Office, which he suggested the Tories had been holding back on purpose.

However, speaking on the BBC's Today programme this morning, the Lib Dem president Tim Farron MP said Baker had "not specifically" resigned over the drug spat, revealing, "my understanding is that Norman indicated a desire to leave government some weeks ago", and was staying on to see the drugs report through. 

The BBC's Iain Watson is also reporting that the disgruntled Baker had been tempted to quit for some time, but Clegg had so far managed to persuade him to stay in the post. Clegg says he has been a "brilliant" minister, and claims that he has "handled the political relationships within government with great skill".

Farron told Today that "the issue" was with May in the Home Office, rather than with Baker, who has served under multiple other Tory ministers: "The issue really is on the other side. I’m not the one here to lay in to Theresa May but there is a sense in the Home Office, and across all sides of government, that Theresa May behaves as though the Conservatives won the last election, and they didn’t . . . it’s an insult to the electorate to act as though they did."

Baker was a surprise appointment in 2013, replacing the more hard-headed Lib Dem, Jeremy Browne, as Home Office minister. Many criticised the move due to his claims back in 2003, when he was a backbencher, that the government scientist David Kelly was murdered in 2003 and the UK authorities hushed it up; he wrote a book called The Strange Death of David Kelly in 2007. May was said to be "spitting tacks" over his appointment.

I remember speaking to a Lib Dem special adviser at the time, who said the motive to replace Browne was that he hadn't "shown he was doing anything particularly radical" while in his post, suggesting that the more right-wing minister had to an extent gone native in the Tory-run department.

Baker himself, though drastically more liberal than the Home Secretary, has up until very recently been insisting that there is no coalition rift in the department. I remember him telling Total Politics magazine earlier this year, when asked which Home Secretary he most admires: "I actually think Theresa May is a very competent Home Secretary so I admire her in that sense. You’ve got to be pretty reasonable to last in that job for that length of time."

Here is his letter to Nick Clegg, announcing his resignation:

Rt Hon Nick Clegg

Deputy Prime Minister

Saturday 1 November 2014

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,


Baker is also well-known for being a musician; he is the frontman in a band called the Reform Club, which released its first single Piccadilly Circus from its new album, Always Tomorrow, last year. Watch the video here.

The BBC reports that Baker has found his family and music time "squeezed" what with being a minister, but it's more likely that he had his work as a constituency MP on his mind when resigning. He is MP for Lewes, in Sussex, and has a relatively small majority of 7,647. Indeed, he only just wrangled it from the Tories in 1997 by 1,300 votes.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage