The riddle of Jeremy Browne

FCO Minister Jeremy Browne visits Olympics siteI first became aware of Jeremy Browne when he looked after the media relations for the party in the 1990s. I don’t know how it happened, but for some reason I found myself in the party’s press relations control room on the Saturday afternoon of a conference. I noticed Jeremy Browne because he was loudly demonstrating his great concern about…..wait for it….finding the remote control for the TV so that he could hear the commentary for the rugby.

I remember thinking at the time how admirable this was. Someone deep in the political world but with a sense of perspective.

I won’t be buying his book, but I have today invested in a copy of The Times to read his interview, and I have read Nick Thornsby’s excellent review of the book (he read it so we don’t have to).

By enlarge, I find Browne’s views very attractive and energising. His internationalism and progressive view of immigration are admirable. He is a very good liberal or Liberal thinker.

Should we be upset about the timing of all this? The book is published by “Biteback”. How appropriate. I am sure it must have been very “disorientating” (Browne’s word) to be sacked as a minister. It was not “out of the blue”, as The Times describe it. At the autumn conference, there were many in the party seething about his remarks about girls and veils. There were many saying he should be sacked. The remarks came after he had, to describe it charitably, bad luck at the Home Office. Go home vans. The David Miranda detention. Both happened on his watch. All this made him look accident-prone. It made him look as though he had fallen foul of Stockholm syndrome and got too friendly with his captors, the Conservatives. He was sacked, reasonably predictably. Now he’s biting back.

With a furiously active brain, it seems natural that Browne should write a book. And once you sign up for Mr Iain Dale, MD of Biteback, you have more or less given up your soul to the devil for six months. Dale is a fantastically skilful publisher (crazy skirmishes with protesters notwithstanding). He chooses the best timing for selling books, which is usually the worst timing for the party of the author.

So the riddle of Jeremy Browne is indeed the riddle of all liberals or Liberals. One definition of a liberal is “a pain in the arse”. So yes, Browne is being very liberal, at the moment, under that definition. But the shame is that all the furore and The Times “pointless” headline is detracting, shamefully in my mind, from an earnest liberal person with a first class political mind.

I’m off to deliver Focii.

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