Sam Coates over at Red Box has just questioned why Baroness Vadera, the former banker turned minister, wasn’t doing the “heavy lifting” on Northern Rock in the Lords when she “knows more about the subject than anyone else”. Speculating over her role in any and every controversial policy decision is a popular parlour game in Westminster. The question is, can anyone prove she had any role at all?
Over the past few months, people have grumbled to me about her malign influence on everything from banking regulation to the reorganisation of the defence export services organisation. If these critics are to be believed, she stays in the shadows but her influence is unmatched. The problem is, they have almost no evidence to support their claims.
On a fact-finding mission, I recently submitted some freedom of information questions to discover whether she spent any official time as international development minister meeting people about Northern Rock. I asked whether she was present at any meeting about the bank or met Goldman Sachs to discuss the subject. The answer: an unequivocal No.
This does not disprove the theory that she is all-powerful figure with the ear of the prime minister. But it does make you stop and think. Can it be that her influence has been dramatically overplayed?
At least one Labour insider thinks so. He told me her “stock had never been lower”. His theory is that had she truly been a indispensable aide to Mr Brown she would have been given a job much closer to Downing St. The ministerial reshuffle that took her from international development to the department for business was less a promotion, he suggested, and more a sign that some more senior ministers find it difficult to work with her. Most controversial of all, he claimed Baroness Vadera was finding it harder to win face time with Gordon Brown.
It is hard to find the absolute truth because Baroness Vadera rarely gives media interview. But it is certainly worth remembering what the Labour insider said the next time someone moans to you about a policy being shaped in secret by the mighty Baroness. Much to her dismay, she may have had nothing to do with it at all.