Jeremy Browne talks to the Times on his sacking and not being a Tory

Clegg and BrowneIn today’s Times, Jeremy Browne reveals that he has been approached by senior Tories, including Grant Shapps, who “he suspects were seeking his defection” (£). He describes his sacking from the Home office as disorienting, puzzling and painful. He says that he received a black mark over the Go Home poster van row. The Telegraph’s Benedict Brogan, however, has tipped Browne for defecting and joining a future Tory cabinet.

Talking to the Times, Browne signals his dismay with Clegg’s effort to distance the Lib Dems from the Tories. He urges the party to take credit for the government’s “central pillars”: reducing the deficit, crime and education reforms, and also curbing immigration.

He says the party is a “shopping trolley that defaults to the Left” and accuses a “substantial number” of Lib Dems of being happy as a “peripheral force that campaigns against the Conservatives.”

Browne sees himself a victim of years of trying to apply “corrective pressure” to this leftward default:

I saw my role and continue to do so, as doing everything I can to accelerate the Lib Dem’s journey from a party of protest to a party of government.

Appealing for the party to address the 91% who are not likely to vote for it, as well as the 9% that are, he says the party can’t be half in and half out of government. The Lib Dems must not look like a party that is a reluctant party of government. He says this ambivalence is why David Cameron got away with claiming credit for raising the tax threshold to £10,000 (see Danny Alexander’s rage on this here on Lib Dem Voice).

Francis Elliott, the Times political editor, describes Jeremy Browne’s dress style (£):

[He] strikes a distinctive presence in a crisp white shirt in a party of socks and sandals.

Elliott clearly hasn’t been to a Lib Dem conference or meeting in recent years.

On those poster vans, Browne repeats that he wasn’t told about them. He was in Honk Kong airport when he heard:

It seems unduly critical to be blamed for not stopping something I didn’t know about.

On his replacement Norman Baker, he says:

I think Norman is underestimated. He’s a talented politician.

On Conservative Home, Paul Goodman says that Jeremy Browne is a “natural conservative partner.” The Telegraph’s Benedict Brogan gives Browne a sympathetic hearing and considers whether he might eventually join the Tories:

As Westminster denials go, [Browne’s] doesn’t rank very highly. Given that his Taunton Deane constituency is one of the Tories’ top targets – and Mr Browne is so highly regarded by many Tories that he would have a good chance of a Cabinet berth in a future Conservative government – I suspect Mr Browne will be given plenty of chances to change his mind.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Shropshire, and a former editor for Lib Dem Voice

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43 Comments

  • Tom Papworth 18th Oct '13 - 10:03am

    NOW the Telegraph and ConHome love-bomb Jeremy. I wonder what they were saying about him six months ago. I wonder what could have changed their minds.

    Most senior politicians get a demotion/sacking at some point in their career.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 18th Oct '13 - 10:07am

    It is interesting that a person that has been so closely associated in pouring fuel on the fires of the intolerance that exists towards migrant members of society sees himself as a victim.

    As for the Party being left leaning, I only wish that it was! I left labour and joined the Liberal Democrat Party because it had a history of espousing immense support for equality, social and welfare reform, as well as delivering excellent services at a local level. Personally I feel that the Party still has the ability to have a very positive influence on these issues if it can only just pull itself away from the apparent desire of a few to ‘go down with the [Tory] ship’.

  • For once Nick got something right.

  • Simon McGrath 18th Oct '13 - 10:37am

    @Ruwan : “It is interesting that a person that has been so closely associated in pouring fuel on the fires of the intolerance that exists towards migrant members of society sees himself as a victim.”

    This is nonsense – can you give some examples of how you think Jeremy has done this ?

  • honk Kong eh?

  • a “peripheral force that campaigns against the Conservatives.”?????

    No, the Clegg Lib Dems are a central force, which was decisive in establishing a hard right Conservative government, and the marketisation of health and education. And hence, a major acceleration of the trends toward increasing social inequality, and neglect of our responsibilities to rescue the planet from catastrophe.

    And Jeremy Browne thinks we haven’t done enough harm yet?

  • Peter Andrews 18th Oct '13 - 12:40pm

    I would say the fact he didn’t know and wasn’t told about the ‘Go Home’ vans rather demonstrates his incompetence and powerlessness as a Home Office Minister

  • Geoffrey Payne 18th Oct '13 - 1:03pm

    He must has campaigned incredibly hard to win the seat from the Tories. I have never understood why.

  • @PeterAndrews Finding out about the expenditure of £10k in part of the department which is not your responsibility must be difficult. But perhaps the fact that T.May and co assumed that he wouldn’t kick up too much of a fuss when he found out afterwards was part of the picture……

  • paul barker 18th Oct '13 - 1:18pm

    We should not be so quick to respond to this sort of crude baiting from The Tories & their Papers. Browne makes it perfectly clear hes not defecting.
    Brownes criticism of Clegg is as unfair as the more usual attacks from the Left. Cleggs job is to hold together a Coalition between Members , Voters & MPs, three groups that often pull in different directions.

  • Paul Holmes 18th Oct '13 - 2:42pm

    I really do not understand this repeated refrain that to ‘be a serious Party of Government’ we have to be purist Economic Liberals in the Gladstonian tradition we, thankfully, left behind at the start of the twentieth century. Especially as small Economic Liberal Parties like the FDP in Germany can appeal to narrow section of the electorate and often (although not in this years elections), survive because of the PR systems that we do not have for Westminster elections. We cannot survive by pursuing such a small ‘market segment’ of the British electorate in a FPTP system.

    Neither do I understand the belief that we have to ’embrace and own’ everything the Coalition Government does if we are ‘serious about Government’. As a junior Coalition Party of course we have to accept many Tory policies we don’t like but that absolutely does not mean that we have to embrace and defend them. The Tories notably have not embraced and defended policies of ours such as Electoral Reform, Lords reform or Europe.

  • Martin Caffrey 18th Oct '13 - 3:02pm

    I shall be in Betfred within the hour to put a fiver on Mr Browne defecting to the Conservatives by 2015.

  • Following on from Paul Holmes’ comment, the economics that ‘economic liberals’ espouse is as full of holes as a colander. Unlike physics where theory has to be reconciled to observation to survive very long, much of economics serves mainly to provide a gloss of respectability on the thoroughly unrespectable. It’s job is not so much to explain as to justify which is why, over five years after the financial crisis started, mainstream economists’ best plan is to declare victory and carry on as before – inflating house prices and the rest – and continue with a ‘theory’ that is a proven failure. It’s a kind of bad theology – theonomics.

    So, when Clegg et al say that we have to ‘be a serious party of government’ what they are really signalling is that their deepest ambition is to be admitted to the inner circles of the power establishment and that naturally involves signing up for the ruling theonomics that justify it’s self-serving policies. A liberal programme that might tackle abusive concentrations of power in private hands is certainly not on the agenda.

  • Malcolm Todd 18th Oct '13 - 5:49pm

    GF
    “mainstream economists’ best plan is to declare victory and carry on as before – inflating house prices and the rest – and continue with a ‘theory’ that is a proven failure”

    I’m no expert, but I don’t think that most economists do agree that “inflating house prices and the rest” or “carrying on as before” is the best plan at all. The problem is that’s what mainstream politicians are doing, and they’re the ones in charge of the economy…

  • Graham Evans 18th Oct '13 - 8:27pm

    Jeremy Browne is right to suggest that the default position for Liberal Democrats is left of centre, and 20 years ago I might have put myself in this category. However, the Blair and Brown years disabused me from the idea that a Labour Government is ultimately better than a Tory one. Indeed, apart from its attitude to a few social issues concerning equality, Labour is just as authoritarian as the Tories, who at least have a libertarian wing. As for the idea that the Party prospered under Paddy and Charlie because it was perceived as left wing, the reality is that most of its gains were from the Tories, where we were perceived as a moderate force, not a left-wing one. If we were perceived as so left-wing, why in 2010 did we lose seats to Labour, and fail to gain others from Labour, when Labour achieved one of its lowest shares of the national vote?

  • A Social Liberal 18th Oct '13 - 8:53pm

    Grahem

    You do understand that there is a difference between left of centre and left wing, don’t you

  • Graham Evans 18th Oct '13 - 10:57pm

    Whether you are left wing or left of centre depends entirely upon where you perceive the centre to lie, so in reality the distinction is pretty meaningless. However, while accepting the point that under Paddy and Charles the Party projected an image of being on the centre-left, the reality is that such an image has brought few permanent rewards in essentially Labour areas. In fact I think this whole left-right issue is way past its sell-by date. The key to bringing about real change is by building alliances, sometimes with people perceived as being on the left, sometimes with those perceived as being on the right. However, you are more likely to succeed by being in Government, rather than being little more than a glorified think-tank on the Opposition benches.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 19th Oct '13 - 12:21am

    Dear Simon’s,

    To answer your questions together is simple. Merely look back over the responses from many very credible advocacy and campaigning organisations for race relations and immigration rights. I admit that I am biased as I work with such groups.

    If you have a question as to the authenticity of the article that I commented on, perhaps you should request the answers from the author rather than myself? I note that neither of you are overly keen on challenging what anyone else has said. Why is this?

    Personally I cannot wait for us ‘Lefties’ to take over and achieve world domination, but I suspect even with the number of socialists (more than I saw in Labour) that do exist in our Party that this will not be in my current lifetime.

  • Malcolm Todd

    A fair point. There are clearly problems with the mainstream economics take on things even when it stays safely in academia but there are also many schools of economics, each with a different understanding of how the world works. Politicians can therefore cherry pick the version that suits them, distorting it further if that helps their case. It’s only human to do so – but we do need to call out those who twist the logic too far and we should certainly not let anyone linger under the misapprehension that ‘economic liberals’ have any particular claim to insight when their recent record is rather the opposite.

  • I don’t think Jeremy gets it. He aspires to move the party towards the Tories, which presumably includes the authors of the alternative budget (Thatcher Day etc.) . It is also the Party that delights in calling the Labour Party the “Welfare Party” as an insult. Aren’t we the Party of Lloyd George & Beveridge? Doesn’t Shirley Williams describe Welfare as a mark of a civilised society? Jeremy wants to move towards those who have contempt for these things.

  • jedibeeftrix 19th Oct '13 - 10:07am

    “I saw my role and continue to do so, as doing everything I can to accelerate the Lib Dem’s journey from a party of protest to a party of government.”

    In my own – infinitesimally smaller – way I hold the same ambition. 😉

  • Peter Watson 19th Oct '13 - 11:22am

    @BrianD “He aspires to move the party towards the Tories”
    I had a similar feeling when I read Browne’s comments. I had the impression of somebody who did not want to defect from the Lib Dems to the tories if he could take the party with him instead.
    Looks like we can add Browne to Clegg and Laws as senior Lib Dems who have been “mistaken” for tories by senior tories. Thank goodness we know better. 😉

  • Simon Banks 19th Oct '13 - 2:31pm

    No doubt he’s capable, and if he resists enticements to go somewhere else where the benefits to him come quicker, he deserves respect for that. I agree that there is no reasonable charge against him of intolerance or prejudice. But his remarks quoted here repeat yet again that dishonest equation of being driven by concern about poverty and injustice (in other words, broadly being on the left) with failing to engage with the realities of power and preferring to strike postures in opposition. Plenty of Liberal Democrat local authority groups have handled real power without sliding to the right.

    I am also concerned, from having heard him debate with David Howarth, that he simply doesn’t understand the “community” bit of “liberty, equality and community”.

  • Graham Evans 19th Oct '13 - 3:28pm

    I note Helen Tedcastle puts her emphasis on pursuing the interests of public sector workers, with not even a mention of all those who work in the private sector whose wealth creation pays for public services. I am sure an overwhelming majority of Labour politicians would honestly say they believe “in redistribution, a mixed economy, public service and core enabling professions such as teachers and doctors/nurses/social workers”, so on this basis why should anyone even consider voting Lib Dem?

  • Jeremy Browne has made clear that he remains, and intends to remain, a Liberal Democrat, and we should take his statement as to that at face value. My own feeling, for what it is worth, is that once freed from his ministerial shackles and able to breathe purer air on the Lib Dem backbenches, he will work constructively with other Lib Dem colleagues on issues that are of common concern to Lib Dems, and this is not the moment to write him off as some sort of crypto-Tory.

  • @Graham Evans
    I note you misrepresent Helen Tedcastle, but anyway, I’m curious, how to do you manage to believe this right wing nonsense that only the private sector creates wealth? Public universities are the key drivers of the information economy. Why do you think there is a boom in bio-tech and IT companies in Cambridge? Quite apart from the role universities play in research and innovation the HE sector is currently classified as the 7th biggest export industry in the UK. Why doesn’t that count as wealth creation in your world?

  • Graham Evans 19th Oct '13 - 10:00pm

    @AndrewR
    I actually believe in the social market economy as practiced in Germany, and that without the provision of certain services, directed, if not necessarily provided, by the state a modern economy cannot prosper. I also accept that the distinction between the private and public sectors can sometimes be artificial, the university sector being a good example, though apart from the provision of undergraduate education to foreigners the transition from state sponsored research to profitable application involves investment from private finance. However, the key difference between providers in the private sector and the public sector, at least in theory, is that unless the private sector meets consumer needs it will go bust and those working in the sector will loose their jobs. However, the default position in much of the public sector is that poor service is the result of insufficient funding , rather than inefficient or outdated modes of operation. My concern is that too many Lib Dems seemed far more concerned with defending the interests of public sector workers, rather than recognising the concerns of the “squeezed middle” of those working in the private sector.

  • Graham Evans 19th Oct '13 - 10:48pm

    @Helen Tedcastle
    I had always thought that it was the role of public sector unions to defend their members interests, not that of a political party, whose purpose should be to promote the interests of the wider general population.

  • Graham Evans 20th Oct '13 - 9:24am

    @Helen Tedcastle
    There is a fundamental difference between supporting teachers, doctors and nurses,and blindly defending existing inefficient and outdated structures and modes of operation, particularly when this is perceived as ignoring the wider interests of those working in the private sector. Moreover, it is just a parody of the reality to suggest that Tory ministers (and by implication LD ministers too) ignore those working in the public sector. For instance, Mike Hancock and his predecessor John Hayes are strong supporters of the further education sector and vocational education, as is the present Tory Chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, Graham Stuart. If only the schools sector had been willing to make the radical changes which have occurred in the further education sector, then it might not have had Michael Gove imposing change upon it.

  • Charles Beaumont 20th Oct '13 - 10:22pm

    Surely the key point isn’t about left and right wings but about independence vs dependence. Tories are dependent on big business; Labour on the Unions. Neither of these groups are necessarily bad but they can’t act in the interests of the entire country. LDs, by having no dependence on an outisde power class, are in a position to make progressive policies that are actually the best policies on their own merits, not because of an established interest group and its narrow priorities. As a result, some of our policies look a bit left of centre and some don’t.

  • Julian Critchley 21st Oct '13 - 12:16am

    To be honest, Graham, anyone who believes that wealth is “generated” in the private sector and then spent by the public sector, is so economically illiterate as to be unworthy of debate on economic matters. That’s the sort of nonsense which Tories believe in, and they’re not known as “the stupid party” for nothing.

    Clue : money circulates. It doesn’t get made here and burned there.

  • Graham Evans 21st Oct '13 - 8:56pm

    @Julian Critchley
    I’m not sure what is more annoying – being patronised, or being patronised by someone who clearly knows next to nothing about economics. I do hope you’re not a LD activist – your approach to debate will cost the Party votes by the bucket load.

    Clue: Money is an artificial creation, a means of simplifying the exchange of one form of wealth for another. It has no intrinsic value. Unfortunately, as the 2008 economic crisis demonstrated, in the exchange process, it is quite possible for wealth to be created here and destroyed there. I’m sure any banker will tell you how the process works.

  • Julian Critchley 22nd Oct '13 - 11:59pm

    @Graham

    Obviously, I’m not a member of the Bank of England Board, but a degree in Economics from Oxford does allow me to claim a small amount of knowledge as to how the economy operates.

    I didn’t say that money can’t be created. I said it doesn’t get created in the private sector and burned in the public sector. Only right-wing economic illiterates claim such nonsense. This is neither the time nor the place to write a textbook on this, but the public sector is just as capable of increasing wealth as the private, and the private sector is just as capable of decreasing national wealth as the public. What you wrote above was simply more blind “private=good, public=bad” prejudice of the sort which delights Daily Mail readers everywhere. It’s also wrong.

  • George Anders 24th Oct '13 - 9:29am

    Now why would Tories think a LibDem MP would be open to defection. Perhaps the old adage applies ….if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck………!

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