This morning, Norman Baker has tried to paint his resignation from the Home Office as a matter of principle. But this resignation is not because Norman Baker has re-examined his conscience. It is because he has re-examined his majority. Baker is desperately trying to preserve his seat in parliament in the face of some of the worst Liberal Democrat polling ever.
For four and half years, Norman Baker and his Liberal Democrat colleagues have backed the Tories all the way. Baker didn’t see fit to resign his post in government when the coalition decided to cut taxes for millionaires at the expense of ordinary working people. And he marched through the lobbies with his Tory and Liberal Democrat colleagues in support of this government’s callous Bedroom Tax. As for tuition fees – he talked a good game about how he “might resign” as a transport minister – but in the end he opted to hang on to his red box and he voted to triple fees, along with Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and the majority of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party.
The truth is that six months from the election Norman Baker is trying to create a row which will distance him from the Tories and help him save his own skin in his constituency. Even Liberal Democrat party members have realised that this isn’t about policy – it’s about polling. The Liberal Democrat Voice website joined speculation this morning about who might replace Baker but concluded that it was unlikely to be Jenny Willott or Julian Huppert as they have their own “vulnerable” constituencies to worry about. Perhaps rather than thinking about how to replace Baker, Nick Clegg should be more concerned about who might go next – given that there are seven Liberal Democrat members of the government with smaller majorities than the former Home Office Minister. In fact, Baker has the 15th largest majority of all 56 Liberal Democrat MPs – so if he’s worrying about his seat, they should all be worrying.
But no matter how many Liberal Democrats try to artificially distance themselves from their record in government, the voters won’t be fooled. They will judge Nick Clegg and his Party on their record – and it’s a record of failure and broken promises.
Norman Baker walks away from a shambles at the Home Office that, for all Theresa May’s faults, he and his Liberal Democrat party has made such a major contribution to. Baker claimed today to be “proud” of his achievements at the Home Office. But everyone else is asking what these achievements are. Baker boasted about his work on animal testing, which was actually a document that dropped the Government’s commitment to reduce the number of experiments conducted on animals. He claimed to have done work to combat Female Genital Mutilation but most of the changes are Labour proposals the Government were forced to adopt in the Lords.
But most importantly, we should remember that Norman Baker has been the minister responsible for violence against women and girls and it is telling that after more than a year in office Baker cannot point to one achievement or policy proposal in this area. Nothing on rising levels of rape and sexual assault, nothing on child sexual exploitation and nothing on the scandal of the National Crime Agency failing to follow-up thousands of suspected online child abusers. This is Norman Baker’s real legacy at the Home Office.
The Liberal Democrats have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories as they have taken the NHS backwards. It’s on the Liberal Democrats’ watch that we have seen a cost-of-living crisis with working people an average of £1,600 a year worse off. If it weren’t for the Liberal Democrats, nothing David Cameron has done in government would have been possible. In May, the voters will judge Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats on their record – a record of backing the Tories all the way.
Diana Johnson MP is Labour’s shadow Home Office minister