The current state of politics and the prevailing atmosphere in Westminster leave Norman Baker, the MP for Lewes until 2015, filled with horror.
“It’s insane, an absolute shambles, very divisive and I’m appalled at the extremes some people are going to,” he says. “The House of Commons is not a good place to be now.”
He may be dismayed at what is happening now. Still, throughout his long and distinguished career on the political scene, he was a thorn in the flesh of the government, never afraid to challenge authority and always determined to get wrongs righted.
‘The most annoying man in parliament’ is how David Cameron once described him. Such an epithet didn’t cause the then MP for Lewes any qualms - instead, he regarded it as recognition of his determination to challenge the powers that be and stand up for what he believes.
This political heavyweight prides himself on his reputation for always being ready to throw down the gauntlet. His determination to tackle injustices goes back long before he entered the political arena.
When the SDP formed, I didn’t think I was in the same party as them, so I became a sleeping member.
“I was always interested in current affairs, always seeing things that were wrong and yet not seeing anyone trying to sort them out,” he says. “I don’t believe in accepting things as they are. Too often the people who should be taking responsibility ignore the elephant in the room - I want them to look at the elephant and act when needed.”
Born in Aberdeen in 1957, his mother was a nurse and his father, a trawler skipper, died when Norman was just eight. The family moved to Hornchurch in London in 1968, and he attended the Royal Liberty School near Romford before graduating from the University of London in 1978 with a degree in German and History.
Always passionate about music, he became a regional director for a record company for five years and in 1981 took his first steps on the political ladder by joining the Liberal Party.
“When the SDP was formed, I didn’t think I was in the same party like them, so I became a ‘sleeping member’,” he says.
By the early 1980s, he had moved to the Lewes area and was living in Beddingham, teaching English as a foreign language.
“In 1987 the Liberal councillor for Ringmer called round to see me and asked if I would stand for Lewes District Council. I was elected and also joined the parish council. Two years later I was also elected to East Sussex County Council.”
Already making his mark as a politician, he became a leader of the district council in 1991, holding that position until he won the Lewes parliamentary seat in the 1997 general election, standing as a Liberal Democrat.
He had contested the Lewes seat at the general election in 1992 but was defeated by the sitting Conservative MP, Tim Rathbone. Five years later he gained the position with a majority of 1,300 votes.
“In 1997 I became the first non-Conservative MP for Lewes since 1874,” he says. “It was a huge turn round, the result of several factors, I think. There was a lot of anti-Tory feeling at the time, we’d had Black Wednesday, and John Major’s government was in complete disarray, the Back to Basics policy was a shambles.