What does Norman Baker’s exit from the Home Office tell us about the coalition? In many ways, the situation in that department was quite unlike any other, but if another Lib Dem does fancy going in a blaze of fury, then Justice Minister Simon Hughes was assigned to his department for similar trouble-making reasons, and apparently ranks second in the great league table of problematic coalition relationships. But Norman Baker was sent in to antagonise a Home Secretary notorious for micromanaging ministers from her own party, let alone those from another. As Damian Green pointed out on the Today programme, Baker had told his local paper he was the ‘Lib Dem Home Secretary’ and had acted accordingly once installed in the department.
Green was deliciously biting about Baker in his interview, saying in a polite and kindly tone that ‘he was a guitarist who was only interested in his own solos while the rest of the band was trying to play a close harmony number’. But this was all part of Nick Clegg’s plan: to make the disagreements of coalition more obvious by sending in troublesome junior ministers who couldn’t help but annoy their Secretaries of State. That the leader of a party which wants to show Coalition works has adopted such an aggressive strategy is intriguing. That he described Baker as ‘brilliant’ once the man had resigned is more intriguing still.
What is a minister supposed to do? Is he or she supposed to do what most Lib Dems manage, and what Baker did appear to manage at Transport and just get on with the job, or take a more public role than many Conservative ministers of equivalent rank and mouth off about their Coalition colleague in public? Clegg clearly thinks the latter, at least for the next few months.