Britain is sleepwalking into a “one-party state” as Labour’s collapse combined with Conservative policies on the unions, boundary reform and BBC independence threaten the country’s claim to be a functioning democracy, a former minister has warned.
In his first comments on the political landscape since his Liberal Democrat party was “reduced to a pile of rubble” on 7 May, Norman Baker argues that David Cameron’s Government is driving through moves to stifle opposition and scrutiny while his opponents are “cowed and aimless”.
Writing in The Independent, he says: “Those interested in the continuation of a viable multiparty democracy need to wake up, act, and act together, before it is too late.”
Mr Baker, a former transport and Home Office minister, narrowly lost his seat of Lewes, East Sussex, to the Conservatives at the election. He argues that a feuding Labour Party’s hopes of winning the next election are a pipedream.
The Conservative presence in Parliament will be further increased by changes to constituency boundaries and the arrival of a “phalanx of new Tory peers”, he says.
“We are to have fewer elected opposition MPs and more unelected peers appointed by the Conservative Prime Minister.”
He adds: “In parallel, we are seeing attacks on other balancing elements essential to a functioning democracy.
“The appointment of John Whittingdale to be Culture Secretary is a very clear sign that the BBC is to be eviscerated when Charter renewal comes up shortly, to the delight of Rupert Murdoch and the rest of the right-wing media.”
Mr Baker is also critical of plans for fresh curbs on the unions, which he says are designed to reduce Labour’s income, and condemns a proposed review of the Freedom of Information Act which has “been much too effective at producing embarrassing information about our rulers”.
The former minister said he was deeply sorry about his party’s election performance nationally and in his constituency, and confirmed he would not stand for Parliament again.
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat
He also revealed he was “mentally ready” before the election for a new career and had already begun preparing for life outside Westminster.
“I had done 18 years in Parliament, I had gone up from being a backbencher to being a government minister. I knew I wasn’t going to be back in government again – even if there was another coalition – and I didn’t really want to go back to being a backbencher.”
Since losing his seat, he has written his political memoirs, which will be published next month and provide the first post-election account of the travails of life within the Coalition. It will also cover his investigation into the death of David Kelly and his controversial conclusion that the government scientist could have been assassinated and his murder covered up, as well as Mr Baker’s part in asking the questions which contributed to Lord Mandelson’s second resignation from Tony Blair’s cabinet.
Mr Baker is presenting two music shows on a Sussex radio station and is about to release a new album with his band, The Reform Club, in which he is lead singer. A keen cyclist, he has also taken some consultancy work in the transport sector.
He confirmed that his Lib Dem career was at an end, but added: “I will still be doing stuff which is political, but it just won’t be party political any more.”
Lewes had been a safe Conservative seat since Victorian times until Mr Baker captured it in 1997. But he was swept away with almost all of his colleagues when the collapse in Lib Dem support on 7 May saw the party lose all but eight of the 57 seats it won at the previous election.
He gained a reputation as a maverick backbencher and was a surprise appointment as a transport minister when the Lib Dems went into coalition in 2010. He was switched to the Home Office in 2013, but resigned last year, telling The Independent that working with Theresa May was like “walking through mud”.Reuse content