It takes someone with the idiocy of Jeremy Browne MP to make me feel anything other than sad contempt towards Nick Clegg. Mr Browne, whose drift to the right is now providing salutary reminders of such statesmen as David Owen and Oswald Mosley, has spent a great deal of time telling Rupert Murdoch's organs how much Clegg is a lefty whose purpose is to block the more dribbling exemplars of Tory malevolence. For that he has to be thanked, as for most people Clegg is seen much more as a quisling in the pocket of the other professional politicians who put self-advancement before even party, and couldn't work out the difference between "principle" and "principal" even if locked into a shower with Michael Gove.
Browne was, as should be remembered, a singularly unimpressive Home Office Minister, pandering to the xenophobic populism of the ridiculous Home Secretary and supporting the anti-immigration hysteria beloved of his client group. For someone with his monstrous ego, to be supplanted by Norman Baker must be seen as humiliation on a grand scale. The fact that Norman understands that Liberalism is about the rights of the citizen rather than the enforcement of the state's iron fist implies that Jezza will join Nigel Farage in lauding Putin before the year is out.
Browne has also recently gone on record as wishing to cut the top rate of tax yet further, indicating both economic illiteracy and his desire to crawl up to Tories in places that they may well be feeling uncomfortable about. A progressive tax system is the mark of a civilised, liberal society, but not the slavering neo-liberal perversion espoused of the far right. So, why does he bother continuing even to pretend to be a Liberal Democrat?
This is a reminder that the left should wake up and recognise that much of the platform on which the Liberal Democrats fought the 2010 election remains intact, and that it is a broadly progressive, socially-driven manifesto that remains to challenge Labour's political framework. For the naive and the malevolent, who work purely on triangulation, the implication that the Liberal Democrats have been pushed to the right by coalition is simple to spout, but actually difficult to prove. There is now space on the centre-right vacated by the Tory festering back to the margins of Thatcherite misanthropy, but Labour seem more inclined to occupy the socially-authoritarian arena.
Browne forgets that Liberals, for over a century, have been people who believe in the freedom of the individual with an enabling state, which should be questioned but not condemned as a reflex action. This puts us in conflict with some social democrats of all hues, whose believe in the magnanimity of the state is a little too uncritical for libertarian comfort, but it does not either position liberalism as being tied to free-market ideology and an antipathy to any state involvement. Perhaps he should spend some time reading Mill or Hobhouse before he starts whining that Clegg is tied into a left-wing ideology.
As a footnote in history, he is clearly trying to make a name for himself as the man who pushed the Orange Book agenda to its limits. Or at least securing a Tory seat... This is a disgrace from a man who is now so far off the mainstream radar that even Cameron might find him too extreme - perhaps he will end up with the fools and poltroons of UKIP, where self-publicising inadequates find a natural and congenial pit of despond. An irrelevance, whose intellectual and political credentials are so shoddy as to make even Clegg's naiveté and fellow-travelling pale into insignificance.