Jeremy Browne on his upbringing, an unusual encounter with Michael Portillo and why he is staying put in the only liberal party

Jeremy Browne - Some rights reserved by Foreign and Commonwealth OfficeThis month’s Total Politics magazine carries an interview with Jeremy Browne, Lib Dem MP for Taunton and home office minister, by the Conservative MP for Reading East, Rob Wilson. He talks, among other things, about his aspirations for the Liberal Democrats as a true party of government, about his unusual upbringing (he was schooled in both Iran and Zimbabwe) and about why the Liberal Democrats is the party for him.

Here are some excerpts, starting with his time at school and university:

Aged 10, Browne was now at school in Harare with what he described as“moneyed” families, although his education was paid for by the Foreign Office. Although only there for four terms, he remembers it with affection, as quite old-fashioned and strict – where there were league tables of homework performance and times tables drilled into you. There was even the cane for good measure.

This is the first of a number of contradictions one can find in Browne. As a liberal he rather enjoyed this sort of school, yet aged 11 he found himself as a boarder at Bedales – every liberal’s dream school. No school uniform, teachers all on first name terms (think of “call me Tony” Blair), no real formality, as learning was an exploration. Browne hated it and told his parents – but it was a case of tough love for them: “I was very homesick and very lonely and you get used to it, but I think there are lots of children who have been to boarding school that would relate to [this]. I would say you develop a sort of slightly self-reliant thick skin.”blockquote>

And an amusing story on his experince standing against Michael Portillo in the 1997 general election:

“I spoke to a woman called Clemency Aimes, which sticks in my mind because I thought it was the only person whose name accords with the job description of her employer. Michael Portillo invited me to lunch at the House of Commons, in the members’ dining room, and I said that would be very nice of him.

“Out of curiosity, I asked how many people are coming, thinking maybe this was something bigger. She said: ‘He has in mind three − you, Stephen Twigg, the Labour candidate and himself.’ So I thought this is all the more interesting. I turned up at the House of Commons, we went to the members’ dining room and sat at the Conservative end, as you would do at lunch time.”

Browne continues: “Portillo was the host and it was a slightly guarded conversation. But he was very civil and polite and Sir Marcus Fox [then Conservative MP for Shipley] came up. He said: ‘Hello Michael, I don’t believe I’ve met your two friends.’
“Portillo, in his most sort of urbane, metropolitan way, said: ‘Sir Marcus, I’m so terribly sorry, this is Stephen who’s my forthcoming Labour opponent and this is Jeremy who’s going to be standing against me for the Liberal Democrats.’

“Sir Marcus popped out a look of total incomprehension on his face and it was such a brilliant sort of parody of a Yorkshireman. He just stood there for about three seconds; he then said, ‘Bloody hell, Michael, you do things differently in the south.’” Browne became a footnote in Portillo’s defeat, which is allegedly the third greatest moment in UK TV history.

And finally a word on why he remains committed to the Liberal Democrats, and won’t be joining Rob Wilson and his colleagues anytime soon:

Many Conservatives like his free market views. Browne is clear: “No, I don’t want to be in any party apart from the Liberal Democrats. There are Conservatives who I agree with and there are some Labour figures who I have much sympathy with as well. Both of those groups should be in the Liberal Democrats, but they probably felt they wanted the safety of numbers of being in a bigger grouping, rather than the ideological clarity which goes with being in the Liberal party.”

The full interview can be found in this month’s Total Politics magazine.

* Nick Thornsby is a day editor at Lib Dem Voice.

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  • John Heyworth 21st Dec '12 - 11:59am

    “Browne became a footnote in Portillo’s defeat, which is allegedly the third greatest moment in UK TV history.” Any ideas on what the top two tv events are?

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Dec '12 - 8:58pm

    Perhaps he remains in the Lib Dems to carry on the project of moving the party to the right – ripe for further alliances with one of the most right-wing Conservative parties in Europe – some Ministers look and sound more at home with the Tories than others, evidently.

    Tory- lite? Nein danke.

  • Have to agree with Helen above. Come back Jackie Ballard! When is there going to be some investment in West Country railways, especially between Taunton and Exeter?

  • Don’t worry Helen, even if the Liberals were to get dragged quite a long way toward the Tory party, they’d still be to the left of Labour!

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