UK Politics

Profile: Norman Baker

Norman Baker walking to the Lib Dem office in central London adter his resignation Image copyright PA
Image caption Norman Baker compared his Home Office experience to being the only hippy at an Iron Maiden concert.

Conspiracy theorist, freedom of information campaigner, musician, drugs campaigner, family man - the many faces of the Lib Dem MP, Norman Baker, who has resigned as a Home Office minister.

I first met Norman Baker in 1997, when I was a journalist working in the South of England.

He had just been elected MP for Lewes in East Sussex, overturning a Tory majority of 12,000 votes.

Already, it was very clear that he was a maverick who would ruffle feathers at Westminster. Earnest, unashamedly wonkish, outspoken and socially awkward, he was far from the mould of the conventional career politician.

But it was also clear that he had a fierce commitment to politics and was Liberal Democrat to the core. I particularly remember a passion for transport policy which bordered on obsession.

Maverick

I never would have predicted then that this eccentric character would end up as minister in one of the most high-profile government departments.

And indeed, many commentators were surprised when he was appointed as Home Office Minister in 2013 after the sacking of his predecessor, Jeremy Browne.

Not least because the MP had written a highly controversial book claiming that the UN weapons inspector, David Kelly, was murdered and the security services had staged a cover-up.

How, critics asked, could an apparent conspiracy theorist serve in the department which oversees the security agencies?

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Baker spent three years as a transport minister before surprisingly moving to the Home Office

I was told at the time by a senior Lib Dem that Norman Baker's unconventional, rebellious temperament was, in fact, the reason he had been given this promotion.

As the Lib Dems had embarked on a more determined strategy of differentiation from their coalition partners, Jeremy Browne was seen as too cosy with the Conservatives.

Norman Baker would put the cat among the pigeons. And so it proved.

Born in Aberdeen, he moved to Hornchurch in Essex in 1968. He studied German at the University of London.

He held a variety of jobs after university, including running a wine shop, teaching English and as a director of a record shop. Music has long been a passion.

The Trilby-wearing singer and guitarist of the band The Reform Club said he was quitting to devote more time to his family and outside interests, including his music.

One of his band's videos shows him serenading slightly bemused tourists in Piccadilly Circus.

The 57-year old will also no doubt be spending a lot of time campaigning in his marginal seat of Lewes.

Ann De Vecchi, chair of the Lewes Liberal Democrat constituency party, said she had spoken to Mr Baker at length about his decision, which he had been thinking about for "two to three months".

The man she described as "a complete workaholic" will now have more time with his wife, Elizabeth, his daughter and two step-daughters.


Image copyright Getty Images

Career snapshot

Lib Dem councillor 1987-1997

MP for Lewes since 1997

Spectator magazine's "Inquisitor of the Year", 2001

Married in 2002

Transport minister 2010-2013

Minister of State, Home Office 2013-14

Music, cycling and railways enthusiast


Mr Baker has a reputation for a terrier-like tenacity in pursuing single issues.

His dogged questioning helped cause the second resignation of Peter Mandelson from government. He also led campaigns for disclosure of MPs' expenses under the Freedom of Information Act.

When he was appointed as a crime prevention minister in the Home Office, critics claimed he was a poacher turned gamekeeper.

But he clearly saw his role as fighting the Lib Dem corner in government.

Mr Baker told the Independent that Home Secretary Theresa May saw the Lib Dems as a "cuckoo in the nest" and criticised the department in a letter to party leader Nick Clegg.

Mr Baker and Mrs May have clashed over drugs policy, with the Lib Dem recently calling for sweeping changes to the UK's approach following the publication of a Home Office report which he accused the Conservatives of blocking.

Although Mr Baker had described his relationship with Mrs May as "friendly", the atmosphere had clearly soured.

Mr Baker said that in the Home Office "the goodwill to work collegiately to take forward rational evidence-based policy has been in somewhat short supply".

Despite seeking a break after four years as a minister, Mr Baker has said he believes coalition governments are here to stay and indicated he would be willing to serve again in the future.

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