Parting shot: Sacked Lib Dem minister accuses party of drifting left
Sacked Liberal Democrat minister Jeremy Browne has compared his party to a "shopping trolley that defaults to the left" in a parting attack on the party's rank-and-file which has revived predictions of a switch to the Tories.
The former Home Office minister, who was demoted in favour of Norman Baker in last week's reshuffle, admitted he had been approached by the Conservatives to switch parties.
Browne admitted there was a "black mark" against his name after he failed to stop – or even be notified of – the Home Office's 'go home' immigration vans.
He attacked the party's natural inclination to be a "peripheral force that campaigns against the Conservatives".
He added: "Left to its own devices [the party] defaults to the left and to being the party of protest.
"You can't be half in and half out of government. We have to avoid the trap of looking like a party that is a reluctant party of government and looking uncomfortable and that we'd be grateful to be relieved of our collective responsibilities."
Instead, he argued, the party needed to embrace 'small 'l' liberals' in the Tory and Labour party.
The Times interview saw him react against two of Nick Clegg's conference speeches. In the first Clegg said the Tories were "a kind of broken shopping trolley, every time you try and push them straight ahead they veer off to the right-hand side". Browne mischievously repackaged that with his 'veering left' attack on his own party.
Secondly, he suggested the party take the opposite approach to coalition politics than that outlined by Clegg in his last conference speech, where he reeled off Tory policies the Lib Dems had managed to stop.
Instead, Browne argued the party should take credit for the coalition's "central pillars" – reducing the deficit, crime and education reforms and curbing immigration.
The last issue is one which is particularly difficult for the Liberal Democrats.
Browne's encouragement for the party to be comfortable with anti-immigration policies is a sign of how distant he has become from his fellow backbenchers, leading many commentators to predict a walk across the aisle to the Conservatives.
Browne reveals in the interview that he has been approached by Tory party chairman Grant Shapps but had turned down the offer.
He explained: "One, because I had no intention or desire to defect to the Conservatives . . . and, secondly, that it could, and probably would, be misconstrued if I had a meeting at all".
Browne's explanation of why he did not meet Shapps is not particularly strenuous and will revive questions about his intentions at the next election, where his seat is one of the Tories top targets against their coalition partner.