Monday, October 07, 2013

Jeremy Browne, Norman Baker and the Home Office

One of the political arts is to be all things to all people. John Major made it all the way to Prime Minister because the moderate Conservatives were convinced he was one of them and the Thatcherites were equally convinced that the opposite was true.

What John Major's career also shows is that people who have mastered this art may find their luck running out one day.

Which brings me to Jeremy Browne. Because a lot of people are upset at his demise today.

Benedict Brogan, blogging for the Daily Telegraph, is distraught:
Mr Browne was one of the successes of the Lib Dem end of the Coalition, and an exemplar of the party's seriousness in government. His sacking is baffling, but not nearly as baffling as his replacement by Mr Baker.
So is John Rentoul, blogging for the Independent. To him, Jeremy Browne is "a Blairite reformer".

Quite why Jeremy has won these rave reviews I am not sure. It is hard to point to any achievements from his time in government.

True he seemed at home at the Foreign Office, but then as Stephen Tall said earlier today, "unless you accidentally start a war I’m not sure what the criteria for a bad stint are".

I suspect that Jeremy is a victim of Nick Clegg's last major reshuffle when he had to make concessions to David Cameron to ensure the return of David Laws, and giving up a Lib Dem presence in the Foreign Office was one of them. Call it Nick Harvey Syndrome.

Perhaps the moral is that pointed by Stumbling and Mumbling the other day. Quoting Adam Smith, he said we have "a disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful".

In short, if you wear a good suit and look well brought up then people will assume you are a good minister even in the absence of any tangible achievement.

If, like Norman Baker, you are cutter from rougher cloth it will be harder to win that reputation. Yet everything I hear about him suggests that he is a competent minister and highly thought of by those he works with.

Perhaps there is a Lib Dem inferiority complex at work here. Yes, it is great to be a campaigner like Norman Baker, we reason, but when it comes to being a minister and to leading the party, we think we need someone more like Jeremy Browne.

Some will question Norman's conspiracy theories about the death of David Kelly. To that, I would merely point out that in an age of Prism and Tempora, it is the state that is paranoid not its citizens.

I am pleased to see Norman Baker at the Home Office and wish him well.

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