Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat minister at the Department for Education, has been coming under fire at her party's conference from delegates who object to coalition support for academies and free schools. She has just been defeated on the conference floor over the policy. Yet, in defending herself, Teather makes an extraordinary confession about her own lack of influence in her department:
"We got significant changes by working with our people in the House of Lords, negotiating behind the scenes, significant changes to improve accountability."
What she is admitting is that rather than managing to influence the original Academies Bill - and anticipate backbench criticism - Teather had to bow to the demands of her party members in the House of Lords. That is a sign not of influence, but of weakness. What she is saying is that, as a coalition minister, she has little power over the content of legislation, but her backbench Lords colleagues can do her job for her. No wonder her audience were unimpressed.