A LIBERAL DEMOCRAT former minister has ridiculed Nick Clegg’s main party conference message and branded the party the political equivalent of struggling supermarket chain Morrisons.
Jeremy Browne said the party’s positioning showed a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the current political reality and mocked the Lib Dems’ “stronger economy, fairer society” conference slogan, repeatedly used by Mr Clegg in broadcast interviews.
Voters will not be won over by a party that makes reining in others and banning things its main pitch, he told the ResPublica conference fringe.
He said: “Our slogan really is stronger economy, invisible brackets, than you would get if Labour was in government on their own, close invisible brackets. Fairer society, open invisible brackets, than you would get if the Conservatives were in government on their own, close brackets.”
“So, the very slogan of our conference is about how we would aspire to mitigate others in government, that our raison d’etre in politics is not to advance our our ideas but to retard the advancement of other people’s ideas and that we will, quotes, anchor them in the centre ground, i.e., make sure people who believe something can’t put actually put their beliefs forward unimpeded.
“It feels to me like we are pursuing a second vote strategy in a one preference voting system.”
He added: “I think we need a message, I don’t just mean in this election but for the next 10 years, about what we believe in, what do we stand for as a party.”
While Ukip and the SNP are like Aldi and Lidl, the Lib Dems are like Morrisons, he said.
“The Lib Dems are the Morrisons of our day. We have to think what are we offering the customers that goes beyond those who shop at Morrisons out of habit or because it is the nearest to their home.”
“At the moment we are heavily reliant on habit and geographic proximity.”
Mr Browne, who earlier this year questioned whether it would be necessary to invent the Lib Dems if they did not exist, told the fringe he could see clear reasons why other minor parties, including Ukip, had been created.
“I do understand why it would be necessary to invent the SNP if they didn’t exist because otherwise the course of Scottish nationalism would be entirely borne by the Scottish Green Party.
“I can see why if Ukip didn’t exist it might be necessary to invent them, because at the moment, all the other political parties are in favour of staying in Europe but also because of the points we make about globalisation - that there are some issues there about the cultural identity which the other parties perhaps don’t speak to as directly.”
He added: “So, we have to make clear why it would be necessary to have an unambiguous Liberal party.”
Mr Browne, who was sacked from the frontbench by the Lib Dem leader, said it was a “fantastic era” for liberalism which would lead outside observers to believe that the party should be riding high in the polls.
He said: “’Oh, 6% - how come they are on 6%? Because they are not putting forward unequivocally and unapologetically the liberalism that chimes with the spirit of the time.
“’In fact what they are doing, the liberal party, is talking about what they would do to rein in other political parties and what they want to ban.
“Well, if that’s our pitch we are not going to be able to command a stronger place in the market.”
Mr Browne also appeared to take a swipe at Mr Clegg over his failure to appear in public with a cigarette despite being a smoker.
A large part of Ukip leader Nigel Farage’s appeal was the fact he smokes, he told the fringe.
“I think the fact that he smokes is quite appealing on different levels. One of it is quite attractive because quite a lot of politicians smoke but they never smoke in public because focus groups have told them that women voters don’t like it who have got 2.7 children and live in marginal seats and all the rest of it.
“So they pretend to be something they’re not whereas Nigel Farage says ‘I like smoking’ so he has a cigarette.”
Mr Browne was unexpectedly sacked as a Home Office minster in October last year.