Liberal Democrats often suffer from an identity crisis. Nanny state bans and taxes are hardly liberal, while opposing an EU referendum is hardly democratic.
Ideologically, they are a startlingly incoherent amalgamation of different perspectives. While some are to the left of Labour, and others – like Nick Clegg – have a lot in common with David Cameron, there are some rare beasts who are almost Thatcherite in their outlook.
One such example is Jeremy Browne who, having been sacked for being too co-operative in coalition, is releasing a new book this week. Rachel Sylvester in The Times gives some examples of his radical prescription for the nation:
‘He calls for the reduction of the top rate of income tax to 40p — criticising the Government for “uneasily” splitting the difference at 45p…
On education, Mr Browne wants the introduction of vouchers and a vast extension of free schools, with profit-making organisations allowed to set them up. On health, he argues for more patient choice and the creation of new sources of revenue, including insurance payments. The NHS is, he writes, unsustainable in its current form…
He proposes a new hub airport in Kent with at least four runways, but preferably six, and a second runway at Gatwick as an interim measure. There should be an acceleration of HS2 and a great expansion of housebuilding, including on green- field sites, he adds. What is more, the Department for the Environment and Climate Change should be scrapped and the House of Lords reformed or even abolished…’
It’s remarkably good stuff – and not what you’d normally expect from a Lib Dem. But then, Browne is no ordinary Lib Dem (for a start, when he wears a beard it makes him look like a Victorian general rather than the washed-out hippy look achieved by many of his colleagues).
There has been plenty of speculation over the years about whether he would ever defect to the Conservatives.
Normally, he bats away such suggestions on the basis that we wouldn’t accept someone who is pro-EU and pro-immigration. However, consider the scale of the Tory Big Tent at the moment and it’s clear there’d be space for him. He’s certainly further to the right on economics and public sector reform than a lot of MPs (and ministers, in some cases), Mark Field’s recent campaign launch shows there’s room for Tories who want to make a pro-business case on immigration and there is even still a small rump of out and out europhile MPs.
His own party has now shown him how little they value his talent within the current Government, and it’s hard to imagine he’d be either welcome or happy in a Lib-Lab coalition. He would certainly be a positive addition to the stable of radical campaigning MPs currently in the Parliamentary Conservative Party. Maybe the time has come for Browne to go blue.