Norman Baker has launched a fresh attack on Theresa May, saying he resigned as a Home Office minister after facing a “constant battle” to introduce policies in the face of a Tory “lurch to the right” in pursuit of Ukip voters.
Nick Clegg was making plans to replace him with a woman. The deputy prime minister has faced intense criticism for failing to appoint any women to one of the Lib Dems’ five cabinet posts. Baker’s replacement will have the title of minister of state – one rung below a cabinet minister.
The preparations for the mini-reshuffle came after Baker resigned. He had likened his experience working under the home secretary to “walking through mud”. The former minister expanded his attack on May on Tuesday morning as he accused her of failing to allow him to develop policies.
Baker told the BBC News channel: “The home secretary was reluctant to let me have my head and it was a constant battle to try to get things through. That is unfortunate not just for the Home Office but actually for the government.”
The former minister dismissed criticism from Damian Green, who was sacked as a Home Office minister in the Tory summer reshuffle, that he had acted as a “Lib Dem home secretary” on a par with May.
Baker said: “We are in a coalition government and therefore it was right that I took an interest in matters right across the department which is no different to how I behaved in the Department for Transport.”
But he said that his battle was complicated by the Tories’ “lurch to the right” in response to the Ukip threat.
“I have done it for a year, it is very hard work, the Home Office is probably at the cutting edge of the coalition,” he said. “It is where most policy issues are difficult, whether it is Europe or immigration. It has not been helped by the lurch to the right from the Conservative party as they chase Ukip off to the fringes.”
Baker said there was no point in hanging on to office. “We don’t always have to cling to office as ministers. If we think there is a time to go, there is a time to go. I want a break. I want to spend more time with my family, more time in my constituency, more time doing stuff I want to do, like my music.”
The Lib Dem president, Tim Farron, accused the home secretary of insulting the electorate by acting as if the Conservatives had won an overall majority at the last election in her high-handed treatment of Baker.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There is a sense within the Home Office – and it is sensed around the rest of government, both sides of the coalition – Theresa May behaves as though the Conservatives won the last election. And they didn’t. It is important that we should respect the will of the electorate.”
Farron suggested that May’s behaviour was not repeated in most other departments. “Norman worked very hard to make that coalition within the Home Office work. The fact [is] that things across other departments of government are working stably – we have many disagreements – but you still work in a collegiate fashion. And the indications that have come – and is the case across all sides of government – is that Theresa May runs the Home Office as though she had a right to have a majority. They didn’t win the last election and it is an insult to the electorate to act as though they did.”
Baker’s replacement will be the only Lib Dem woman in the Commons to hold the rank of a minister of state. Mark Hunter, who recently resigned as a Lib Dem whip, will also be replaced. There is currently only one female Lib Dem minister of state – Baroness Kramer at the Department for Transport, who sits in the House of Lords.
Clegg had considered promoting Jo Swinson, the business minister, to take over as Scotland secretary after the referendum. But the uncertainty over the devolution of further powers to Holyrood persuaded Clegg not to move the incumbent, Alistair Carmichael.
Swinson and Jenny Willott, a whip who stood in for the business minister during her maternity leave, are highly regarded by Clegg, who believes they are long overdue promotions.
In a sign of the loveless nature of the coalition in the final six months before the general election, Baker announced his resignation in an interview with the Independent, apparently without notifying the home secretary.
But as he arrived at Lib Dem HQ on Tuesday morning, Baker told the BBC: “The coalition is fine.”
The Tories said that they first heard of Baker’s decision from the Independent. “He resigned to the newspaper,” one source said.
Clegg’s aides disputed the Tory account as they said the deputy prime minister’s office had alerted them “directly” to Baker’s resignation earlier on Monday. Clegg said on Tuesday morning that he would announce a replacement for Baker later in the day.
Baker had said that he decided to stand down after a row over drug policy with the home secretary showed there was little support for “rational evidence-based policy” in the Home Office. He had criticised May for sitting on an official report for three months that showed that tougher drug law enforcement does not cut drug use.
Lib Dem sources said the row was the final straw for Baker, who had indicated to Clegg in August that he would like to stand down to concentrate on the general election fight in his Lewes constituency and on his musical career as the main lyricist and singer with the band the Reform Club.
Baker, who likened his position as a Lib Dem Home Office minister to that of a hippy at an Iron Maiden concert, told the Independent of May 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. 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.”
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