Jeremy Browne, the Lib Dem MP Taunton Deane, is standing down at the next election. He has always been a divisive figure within the party. He has his fans but also plenty of detractors. I’m emphatically in the latter camp and have previously written a post calling on him to defect. My issue with him was that for all his posturing about being a libertarian or a ‘true liberal’, his thinking was actually pretty straight forwardly centre-right on both economics and matters like immigration.
Was what does his departure indicate about the direction of the Lib Dems. As is often the case Mark Pack provides the most astute analysis:
Jeremy Browne’s comment that in national politics “my race is run” reflects not only his falling out with Nick Clegg (who sacked him as a minister) but also is a conclusion he can only have come to if he also thinks the next leader of the party – who after all may only be a few months away with a post-election contest – won’t be congenial to his views either. This is not the action of someone who thinks an Orange Book coup has taken over the party and changed it. And if even he doesn’t think that…Standing down isn’t the action of a man with a serious chance of winning the party’s next leadership election. I think Jeremy is right in his views of his own chances, in part because he so often polled so relatively poorly in Lib Dem Voice’s polls of party members.
There has been much pontificating by journalists about the Lib Dem right wing. What Browne discovered is that there is little support within either the parliamentary party or the grassroots for such an approach. The Lib Dems clearly have evolved in the past few years but not into a kind of centre-right party Browne would have liked.