Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Norman Baker "accomplished more in one year ... than most people do in their entire career"

Ian Dunt gets it spectacularly right on politics,co.uk.

First on Norman Baker's achievements in his year at the Home Office:
Baker accomplished more in one year in the Home Office than most people do in their entire career. Baker went into the Home Office as the Liberal Democrat's man. He performed that task with aplomb, forcing through an international study of drug policy - an investigation long-resisted by the department because it suspected it would show its policy caused harm. ...
Baker fought the battle over that report behind the scenes for months. The department refused to publish it. The civil servants involved in writing it were blocked from making any recommendations on the basis of their findings by the prime minister. The establishment is terrified of any accurate assessment of British drug laws. 
Baker eventually succeeded in forcing publication. It was arguably the most important government drugs report for a generation. It found that half a century of drugs policy was mistaken. Harsh drug penalties do nothing to reduce drug use, but they do significantly reduce the health of drug users. 
Against a hostile media, dogmatic Labour and Tory MPs, and a hugely bureaucratic department, he had scored a significant victory. It will be mentioned as a key moment in the drug debate when, a decade or two from now, Britain finally adopts a more liberal policy.
One might add that Norman was highly regarded in his time as a transport minister too. And, as the video above shows, he sings too.

Second, he is right about the silly attacks on Norman today:
The attacks on Norman Baker could almost have been pre-written. As soon as his resignation was announced, his critics reminded everyone of his weakness for conspiracy theories. Videos of his band were circulated, mockingly. Others focused on the fact no-one outside the Westminster bubble knew who he was, which is true for pretty much all ministers. And there was criticism of his admittedly theatrical astonishment at the fact the Home Office does not proceed on the basis of evidence.
Among those making the attacks are the Guardian - though note the supportive comments from readers and and even a Lib Dem blogger.

And Dunt is most right of all when he contrasts the reputations of Norman Baker and Jeremy Browne.

I am too much of a party loyalist to quote what he says about Jeremy, but the moral he draws is spot on:
And yet Browne was treated almost like an elder statesman when he left the Home Office. And therein lies the key to media treatment of politicians: Look vaguely presentable and don't rock the boat – they'll treat you like a sage. But fight for radical policy and they consider you an embarrassment. 
Baker accomplished more than most ministers one can care to think of. It is entirely unsurprising that he is now a subject for mockery.
My suspicion is that the worlds of politics and political journalism are now so dominated by the products of public schools and Oxbridge that they find the idea of someone from outside playing a role ridiculous.

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