In 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