Jeremy Browne is an intriguing choice to write Biteback’s ‘why vote Liberal Democrat?’ book for the 2015 general election, not because I doubt his commitment to the party but because his previous book, Race Plan, argued that the party’s current pitch is wrong and should be changed.
There are discernible traces of that in this book, and even some policies in this one which many Liberal Democrats would disagree with him on (such as his opposition to minimum alcohol pricing and his opposition to plain cigarette packaging).
There is, however, a noticeable change of direction from Race Plan, with Why Vote Liberal Democrat? mostly if not fully eschewing those internal debates and instead concentrating on giving the public reasons for voting Liberal Democrat.
He does though defend the coalition government’s overall record much more staunchly that most Liberal Democrat ministers. They, including Nick Clegg, are much happier to point to Conservative ministerial policies that the Liberal Democrats disagree with than Jeremy Browne is in his book.
It’s also notable at the start of the book that Jeremy Browne writes with more enthusiasm, at greater length and with stronger language about liberalism involving protecting people from an over-mighty state than when he goes on to talk about it also involving protecting people against over-powerful businesses or taking positive steps such as education to help people fulfill their potential. When he moves on to talk about how important it is to liberals to give people opportunities to be whoever they wish to be, conformity gets plenty of bashing but inequality gets barely a look in.
Nonetheless, Why Vote Liberal Democrat? does act as a good quick guide to the outlines of what the Liberal Democrats stand for, why the party went into coalition and the sort of world it wants to bring about.
Browne is particularly good in reminding readers of all the gloomy predictions being made in 2010 about how a hung Parliament would produce political instability and economic chaos – a handy reminder of why forming a long-lasting coalition was so important for the party in the summer of 2010. It showed how massively wrong those predictors of inevitable doom were, even if at the big political cost of making the Liberal Democrats look to many that they liked governing with another party and its policies just rather too much. More regular public arguments and even threats to leave government would have made much clearer that the Lib Dems were fighting hard to minimise Tory policies rather than loving them – but at the cost of making those predictions of instability look more true.
Jeremy Browne both starts and ends the book arguing that this is a liberal age, with the Liberal Democrats best placed to meet and support that liberal mood:
This is the liberal age. It would be a tragedy if, at this time, our country did not have a viable liberal party to support. A party that both intuitively understood the liberal age and had the ideas that Britain will need to be successful. But in 2015, in Britain, we do have that party. It is tried and tested in government. It is uniquely equipped to lead Britain through an exhilarating new era. It is the Liberal Democrats.
If you like this, you might also be interested in my infographic on what the Liberal Democrats believe.
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Note: a review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher.