By Eaton, George
New Statesman (1996) , Vol. 142, No. 5187
When I meet Norman Baker in the Regency Cafe, MPs' greasy spoon of choice in Westminster, he is busily devouring a large portion of buttered toast. The Liberal Democrat MP is refuelling for another day in what he calls "enemy territory". Baker's appointment as Home Office minister, after three and a half years at the Department for Transport, was the most contentious of the recent reshuffle. The promotion of a man best known for suggesting that the British security services may have covered up the murder of the government scientist David Kelly was said to have left his boss, Theresa May, "spitting tacks".
Baker does not attempt to hide the extent of his disagreement with the Home Secretary, describing the atmosphere as "hostile". "It's no secret that the Home Office is quite a political department and that the Lib Dems and the Tories probably have more challenges in reaching common positions in that department than in many others," he tells me. "I think the Conservatives will probably say that because of the external threats we have to have more security than liberty and we have to sacrifice a bit to achieve that. We start at the other end; [we think] that liberty is a precious thing and it's always possible for someone to say, 'Give me some of your liberty and I'll give you more security.' And going down that road is quite dangerous."
When I ask him whether he would like to see an inquiry into the allegations of mass surveillance by the British and US intelligence services, he replies without hesitation: "Yes. In my view, it's perfectly reasonable for the Guardian to raise questions about the balance between the state and the individual to take account of the fact that technology has moved on a huge amount and the law was drafted when we didn't have the means of communication we do now--Skype and everything else--and the capacity of the security services, or the Americans, to engage in trawling for stuff."
It is just 13 minutes before I succumb to the temptation to ask him whether he still favours a new public inquiry into Kelly's death. So exercised was Baker by the event that he stood down from the Lib Dem front bench in order to devote a year to writing a 424-page book (The Strange Death of David Kelly) on the subject. "People who attack it by and large haven't read it," he says. "And I'd like them to come back and deal with the facts, if they want to deal with the facts, ten years on, but I concluded in 2007 that it was unfinished business and nothing much has moved since then." Will he use his new berth at the Home Office to lobby for an inquiry? "What would have to happen is: the Attorney General would have to reopen the inquest, which was absurdly curtailed. So that's a matter for him."
He adds: "The fact that there was no coroner's inquest appeared to be of no interest to the collective media; I just find that absolutely astonishing . …