Wednesday, 15 October 2014

In praise of Jeremy Browne

So Jeremy Browne has decided to step down at the next election. What should we make of this?

I've disagreed with many of Jeremy's choices - I certainly don't come from the same wing of the party as him. I also thought his spell at the Home Office was ineffectual at best. He may not have been aware of the 'racist vans' - but his job was to be aware. I've been very impressed by Norman Baker's subsequent performance as the Liberal Democrat minister in the Home Office. He seems to have got the hang of the job very quickly, and it is notable that Theresa May has made far fewer statements about her illiberal plans since he turned up there.

So you may think I'd be happy to see the back of Jeremy. Well, no. For three reasons:

  1. Jeremy has put forward a strong argument about what liberalism should be. And, have no doubt: he is a liberal. Whilst he may not grasp my social liberalism at times, and I may not grasp his economic liberalism at others, I'm sure we'd both agree we hail from the same tribe. We both agree that liberalism is important, and we both want to see a general election campaign that is unabashed liberalism. He is one of a few MPs to vocally oppose the party leadership's current split-the-difference approach. I may disagree with where he'd place the emphasis in the manifesto, but I was glad to have someone as respected as Jeremy trying to get the party to ditch an approach that places us in the squishy middle.
  2. I'm a Lib Dem loyalist. I'd much rather have people like Jeremy on board than not. Jeremy speaks to a sector of the population that those like me don't (and he does so very well!) - and I'm not foolish enough to believe that my own brand of liberalism can win everyone over. If we want Lib Dems to do well, then social liberals need to embrace people like Jeremy. Sure, we'll have a few internal scuffles along the way over our different priorities. But we're a stronger party for having people like Jeremy on board.
  3. Linked to the previous point is this: what I care about most is getting Liberal Democrat members of parliament elected to the House of Commons - so we can enact our policy goals, and make Britain a more liberal country. Jeremy has clearly chosen an unfortunate time to step down, only a few months before a general election. He could have given the local party more time to campaign for their new candidate - though I remain confident we will hold Taunton Deane.
Still, I doubt this is the last we have heard of Jeremy Browne. He's far too able to be away from the public spotlight for long. And if not - that's a shame. Liberalism is big enough for all of us.

Edit: And let's not forget his beard. It was such a fine beard.

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