18 Dec 2013

Operation ‘get up Tory noses’

It’s not the first time Simon Hughes has been offered a job in government. But this time he felt he couldn’t refuse.

Operation “get up the Tory noses” (my title not theirs) kicked off with Norman Baker’s appointment to serve under Theresa May. It gains pace with Simon Hughes joining Chris Grayling’s team at Justice.

Can it be long before Tim Farron moves to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)?

Justice minister Chris Grayling is said to have been “taken aback” by the appointment, made possible because the veteran peer, Lord McNally, is to take over at the youth justice board.

Lib Dems want to differentiate themselves more from the Tories, focus on core passions like civil liberties and reassure their target voters that their heart still beats where it did. These two reshuffle appointments are all part of that.

Simon Hughes said when he took over as deputy leader from Vince Cable that he did so because the party needed a deputy not encumbered by office. So he is expected to step down, triggering a contest that bigwigs are currently pondering.

Duncan Hames would normally be a name in the frame – an up-and-coming favourite of the leadership. But he’ll be sharing paternity/maternity duties with his wife Jo Swinson in the New Year so that’s ruled him out.

Whoever lands it is likely to be labelled a leadership contender for the future.

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