Tag Archives: Norman Baker

Ex-government minister Norman Baker on the Coalition & mad Prime Ministers

The Reform Club, with Norman Baker |(centre)

Reform Club, with Norman Baker (centre)

Politician Norman Baker served 28 years in elected office – 18 as an MP. He lost his seat at the general election in May this year.

In 2010, as part of the Conservative & Liberal Democrat Coalition government he was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport.

In 2013, he was appointed Minister of State for Crime Prevention at the Home Office. That means he was based at the Home Office, preventing crime – not that he was preventing crime happening within the Home Office.

In 2014, he resigned, citing conflicts with Home Secretary Theresa May.  (Bear this fact in mind later.) He was quoted as saying that being the only Liberal Democrat at the Home Office was like being “the only hippy at an Iron Maiden concert”.

The music analogy is not random. For the last 20-odd years, he has been lead singer and lyricist for The Reform Club, a band which he describes as playing “retro-1960s pop” music.

There is a video of them on YouTube, performing at Piccadilly Circus in 2013.

“Did you want to be a rock star?” I asked him yesterday in Soho.

“No,” he told me. “That’s a ridiculous thing to want to be. I just wanted to have some fun. It’s a therapy, a release. It’s like playing pinball. I’ve got a pinball machine.”

“I have never,” I said, “seen the point of playing pinball.”

“It’s a bit like playing snooker or playing in a band,” he told me. “You just switch off. It’s like meditating for an hour.”

“You are,” I said, “President of the Tibet Society and you were a member of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet. Why?”

“Well,” he replied, “it’s a matter of human rights and justice and trying to take on bullies.”

“But you’ve been quoted,” I said, “as saying: Compromise is a useful thing.”

“It is a necessary thing. No-one gets 100% their own way.”

“But you have to,” I said, “do deals with nasty people.”

“Yes, you do. Sometimes you have to work with them.”

“In the Home Office?” I asked.

He did not reply.

Norman’s books include The Strange Death of David Kelly

Norman Baker’s books include The Strange Death of David Kelly (on the alleged ‘suicide’ of the UN’s pre-Iraq War weapons inspector)

“You seem to be a terribly principled man,” I said. “Don’t you compromise your principles by talking to and doing deals with shits?”

“Well, otherwise,” he replied, “they run the show themselves. People asked why didn’t I resign, why didn’t the LibDems resign from the government? The answer is because all the people you don’t like would be left there and we’d be gone. Do you really want to hand the government over to the people you disagree with most?”

“So you’re a left wing LibDem,” I said.

“Yes.”

“The LibDems have got lost somewhere,” I said. “I don’t know where they are in the spectrum.”

“We need them,” he replied. “We need a liberal voice.”

“So what’s the book you’ve just written? – Against The Grain?”

“It is,” he said, “a political memoir. 1987-2015.”

“Why write it?” I asked. “To justify your time in office?”

Norman Baker with his latest ’tell-all' book

Norman Baker with his latest ’tell-all’ book

“No, to close a door on it. And so the public know what happened. It’s the first Coalition book and shows how it worked. But it was quite selfish of me in a way. It was cathartic, rationalising the last 28 years in my head, putting it in some sort of order and shutting the door on it.”

“Do you have an elevator pitch for the book?” I asked.

“Truthful, controversial, humorous, contrary, pleasingly insulting. That sort of thing.”

“Is that a description of you or the book?”

“Me… Well, both.”

“You have said you’re not interested in going back into politics.”

“I’m not. I have done 28 years in elected office.”

“But, if you’re really passionate about changing things…”

“I’ll do it in a different way. I’ll write books or lecture. Tony Benn famously said he was leaving the House of Commons to spend more time on politics.”

“I’m not an admirer of Tony Benn,” I said. “He was a bit too far up his own arse.”

“It’s a good quote, though,” said Norman.

“Do you think the book you have written will have as big as an effect as being an MP?”

“Probably not.”

“Books are on the way out,” I said. “You can only have an effect if you’re on TV.”

Norman Baker as a LibDem MP “in goverment on your side

As a LibDem MP – “in goverment on your side”

“I don’t have to have an effect. I need to do what I think is right. And I need to put myself first for a bit. I spent 28 years serving the public. I don’t want to sound too grand about it, but that’s the sum of it. You don’t become a LibDem if you are after power; you do it from the ground up. If I can make a pittance writing books or doing music, then that’s fine. I don’t have to be ‘out there’. I’ve done that.”

“The irony,” I said, “is that people became LibDems thinking they would never actually be in power and then they ended up in the Coalition government.”

“We had a big effect. You can see the effect we had, because it’s all being undone by the Tories.”

“What,” I asked, “is the worst thing they’re un-doing?”

“Well, reducing the tax credits is clearly just vicious.”

“It seems to me,” I said, “that, with the tax credit thing, George Osborne is undermining his own chances of becoming Prime Minister. Boris Johnson is going to become Conservative Party leader now…”

“Well,” said Norman, “out of all the candidates, it may sound unlikely but I would rather have Theresa May. At least she’s got principles, even if you don’t agree with them. Osborne is just terrible. Boris is a nasty bit of work and Osborne is just power crazy.”

“But being power crazy is OK in politics, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Well, Osborne is interested in two things: becoming leader of the Tory Party and winning the 2020 Election and everything is being sacrificed to those two ends. That is not in the interests of the country; that’s the interests of Osborne.”

“I think Boris will make a good Prime Minister,” I said, “because…”

“Boris has not been a very good Mayor of London,” Norman told me. “He’s had his back covered by a lot of people. He’s made a lot of mistakes.”

“Why is he a nasty piece of work?” I asked.

“You need to listen to the interview with Eddie Mair.”

(It was on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show in March 2013)

“What does it show?” I asked.

“Well, it shows he’s a nasty bit of work.”

“Did you used to read Scallywag magazine?” I asked.

“Yes, in fact, the guy who wrote it (Simon Regan) sent me some information.”

“About what?’

“About MPs allegedly involved in child sex exploitation.”

“You didn’t live in Dolphin Square?”

“No.”

“The male prostitutes allegedly in that place…”

“That’s one thing, There’s nothing wrong with that. I take the view, if you’re over 18, you can make up your own mind what you do.”

Scallwag 'knew' it was true but it was not

Scallywag had the wrong woman as mistress

“The scandal Simon Regan got wrong, though,” I said, “was the John Major affair with…”

“…Edwina Currie,” said Norman.

“No, the caterer,” I said. “Scallywag wrongly kept going on about Claire’s Kitchen. Everyone was thrown by that.”

“I think it’s nobody’s business,” said Norman. “I feel quite strongly about that.”

“John Major was married, though,” I said.

“But so what?” said Norman. “You’re entitled to a private life. Mitterrand and everyone else has all these affairs and no-one worries about that. The question is: Are you, in public life, doing what you are supposed to do for the benefit of the public? Yes or No? End of question.”

“I think,” I said, “that the problem was John Major was talking about Victorian Values a lot at the time.”

“No,” said Norman, “to be fair to John Major, it was Back To Basics and, by that, he meant things like the Three Rs in education, but it was taken by the press to mean some sort of puritanical view. I don’t think he ever meant that.”

“John Major,” I said, “seems to have grown in stature since he stopped being Conservative Party leader.”

“Well, he is not mad.,” said Norman. “He’s the only Prime Minister in recent times to leave office not mad.”

Margaret Thatcher?” I asked.

“She was hopeless,” said Norman. “She went to the Sistine Chapel with all the other European leaders on some EU trip and they were all in there admiring the Michaelangelos, or pretending to, and there was silence and she barked out: My goodness! How do they keep the floors so clean?”

“That’s surely good PR,” I said. “…I’m the woman next door.”

“Completely gormless, actually,” said Norman.

“Mrs Thatcher wasn’t a great brain,” I suggested. “She got where she got by being really hard working. But no Einstein.”

“She was hard-working,” agreed Norman. “She wasn’t Einstein, but she thought she was in some ways: I’m a chemist, therefore I understand this.”

“By the end,” I said, “she thought she knew better than the public.”

“Yes,” said Norman. “Blair had the same fault. It’s a sign of madness.”

“Blair talked to God,” I said. “and, it seems, God does not always make good decisions.”

“Well,” said Norman, “Blair became a Catholic and, within two weeks was telling the Pope he was wrong, which must take some medal for arrogance.”

“You asked questions in the Commons on UFOs,” I said, “which seems totally out-of-character.”

Animal Countdown - an EP by ‘Norman Baker and Friends'

Animal Countdown – a new EP by ‘Norman Baker & Friends’

“I didn’t ask any UFO questions,” said Norman. “This is a slur put about by my enemies. I asked about expenditure by the Ministry of Defence on a particular area. I was interested in the potential of other countries invading our airspace without being detected by radar. I’m afraid you’ll find that people who want to try to disagree with my arguments seek to character assassinate me. That’s what people do. They’ll go for the player rather than the ball. It’s a standard technique.”

“It must be a relief not being in Parliament,” I said. “You don’t get all that crap.”

“Yes. I enjoyed it and I achieved quite a lot, but I’ve now shut the door on it and I’m feeling rather better for it. The new Reform Club album is out on January 16th. It’s called Never Yesterday.”

YouTube also has an audio track from Animal Countdown – the latest EP by Norman Baker and Friends.

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Yesterday’s quirky day from The Great Terror to a woman not playing a horse

Nick Awde singing opera in the streets of Edinburgh yesterday

Nick Awde seemingly sings opera in Edinburgh’s streets

In my opinion, this blog may meander around a bit in its subjects, but one uniting factor is a little bit of quirky detail. And yesterday had some quirkiness woven into it.

I had bumped into Nick Awde the day before.

He is a writer and critic for entertainment industry weekly The Stage, has published books under his Desert Hearts imprint by comedy people Phil Kay and Bob Slayer and he himself co-wrote Pete and Dud: Come Again (about Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) and, solo, wrote Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show which (as a title) Ellis & Rose infamously performed at the Edinburgh Fringe – though, it has to be said, mostly without much reference to the original script.

Anyway, Nick Awde invited me to go and see the world premiere aka a rehearsed reading of Midnight at the St James’s Theatre yesterday. He told me it was a very serious Azerbaijani play about the Stalinist Terror.

In the last couple of weeks, I have seen the West End musicals Showstoppers! and Bend It Like Beckham – both bright, jolly, uplifting, toe-tapping feasts of singing and dancing and primary colours – so I cannot honesty say that an Azerbaijani play about the Great Terror seemed wildly appetising. Well, it would not be an attractive proposition at any time but – Hey! – I thought – It might be interesting or eccentric or both.

Midnight - the Great Terror musical

Midnight – Stalin’s Great Terror as a musical

So I went yesterday afternoon and realised I must not have been paying full attention to Nick when he described it to me, because it was a MUSICAL about the Great Terror written by Elchin Ilyas oglu Afandiyev, who has been Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan since 1993.

And it was not eccentric. It was wonderful. It was a serious and very dark musical about The Great Terror which I thought owed a little bit to J.B.Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. Although, I should point out, I have never actually seen An Inspector Calls.

Well, I possibly may have seen it years ago on the London stage but, as is well documented, I have a shit memory – I can’t remember the plot but have a vague memory of a two-storey stage set.

Midnight did not have a two-storey stage set.

Anyway, Nick Awde’s involvement in Midnight is as artistic director of the Aloff Theatre company which staged the play/musical and which is “dedicated to the promotion of new and classic works from East Europe and Central Asia” and which is “currently focusing on the interchange of dramatic resources between Azerbaijan and the UK”.

So Nick Awde, in my eyes, should be described as – and, indeed, is – an Englishman raised in Africa living in France with a Georgian passport involved in an Azerbaijani theatre company who wrote about Jimmy Savile as a Punch & Judy show.

I think that qualifies as quirky.

At St James’s Theatre yesterday (left-right) Hannah Eidinow, Norman Baker, Christopher Richardson and Nick Awde

At St James’s Theatre yesterday (left-right) Hannah Eidinow, Norman Baker, Christopher Richardson and Nick Awde

After the show, Nick told me that one of his relatives had been in the British Army and had been carried onto one of the boats evacuating the troops at Dunkirk in 1940. He had not been wounded. He had been carried on because, like many of the British troops at Dunkirk, he was paralytically drunk.

Retreating through a not-totally-devasted France, they had been taking shelter in abandoned farmhouses, most of which retained their wine cellars. His relative could remember little about the evacuation from Dunkirk except being carried onto a boat.

Inevitably, Nick had invited interesting people along to see the Midnight musical yesterday afternoon.

Notably:

  • former Liberal Democrat MP and Minister of State for Crime Prevention at the Home Office, now author and rock singer, Norman Baker who bizarrely, like me, was born in Scotland, partly brought up in Aberdeen and partly brought up in Essex.
  • and Christopher Richardson, founder of the Pleasance venues in Edinburgh and London who, it turned out, had previously designed theatres and theatre seats – it was suggested my buttocks may have rested on one or more of his creations – and who, in a previous incarnation as a teacher, had taught Stephen Fry.
Jody Kamali - Spectacular!

Jody Kamali – eternally Spectacular! and eccentric

I then had to rush to see Jody Kamali’s excellent Spectacular! show at the Museum of Comedy (I had already seen it at the Edinburgh Fringe in August). Afterwards, he told me about someone he knew who had a dispute with Rowan Atkinson at a press conference at the Fringe in 1971. As a result, his friend’s show was sold out despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that Rowan (very popular on the Fringe at the time) allegedly stood outside the venue every day screaming to the public NOT to go in and see the show.

Anyway, eventually, in the early hours of this morning, I got home to an e-mail from this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith (who seems to be spending less and less time on the South Coast).

The email said:


I went to the Camden’s People’s Theatre in London this evening to see Lou aka LoUis CYfer, from the Admiral Duncan pub, Soho.

Louis Cyfer welcomes Sandra with open arms (Photograph by Sandra Smith)

Lou welcomes Sandra into dressing room with open arms (Photograph by Sandra Smith)

She got a Guardian review and is booked for Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Fringe next year. I really enjoyed her one woman show Joan

She wove her late grandmother, Catherine, into the piece, complete with reserved empty chair. It was beautifully done.

I got to play a cannon instead of a horse and gave it my all.

My efforts were clearly not appreciated because the audience all laughed.


As is often the case in this blog, I have no explanation and it seems wiser not to ask.

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Music, Theatre