Theresa May livid at having to work with ‘conspiracy theory’ Lib Dem minister

Theresa May was said to be outraged last night after she learned she would have to work with a Liberal Democrat minister who believes an Iraqi hit squad killed David Kelly.

Norman Baker, a colourful Lib Dem spokesman who has also raised questions over the death of Robin Cook, replaced Jeremy Browne in the Home Office yesterday as part of Nick Clegg's strategy to bolster his party's influence in the department.

"He has shown himself to be an enormously effective minister of the Crown," Lib Dem chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander told the Today programme.

"He has a great track record on civil liberties issues and that's exactly what the Liberal Democrats need in the Home Office."

Home Office officials are less likely to be pleased with the appointment, considering that they will now be working closely with a man who considers them guilty of covering up murder.

Baker took a year off from the Lib Dem front bench to write The Strange Death of David Kelly, which argued that the death of the Un weapons inspector could not have been suicide, as the Hutton Inquiry found.

"It was not an accident so I am left with the conclusion that it is murder," he told a town hall meeting at the time.

Baker was also quoted in a local newspaper suggesting Cook, who stepped down from government in protest at the Iraq war, may not have died of natural causes when he passed away during a walk in the Scottish highlands in 2005.

"Robin Cook was on Ministry of Defence land, I believe, when he died and certainly I have doubts over what happened," he told the Argus.

He later distanced himself from the comment.

Asked about the label 'conspiracy theorist', he said people "tend to use the term when they want to insult people".

Lib Dems want their new Home Office minister to beef up the party's commitment to civil liberties so that they do not find themselves facing the ire of supporters following illiberal measures such as the so-called 'racist vans'.

Browne's failure to be informed of that pilot project partly explains his downfall, but there was also increased discomfort at the extent to which he was siding with Conservative colleagues.

A recent New Statesman article saw him argue that Lib Dems should seek to own all aspects of government policy, rather than act as an internal government opposition.

Browne's sympathy to the Tories was so strong some even suspect he might cross the aisle.

He is said to be furious at being dumped as minister for crime prevention with responsibility for the national crime agency, drug and alcohol policy and forensic science.

Should the Tories manage to poach him, the Taunton Deane MP sits on a Tory/Lib Dem marginal with a majority of 3,993.

May is said to be equally angry with the decision – not least with David Cameron and Clegg, who failed to notify her of the move.

The decision suggests Clegg is now putting appeals to the party's rank-and-file above natural alliances with similarly-minded right-wing Liberal Democrats.