Boles's call for a National Liberal Party is a plan to lure Lib Dem defectors

The revival of the Tory-aligned National Liberal Party would offer a path into the Conservatives for Jeremy Browne and other right-leaning Lib Dems.

The Staggers reported earlier on Tory MP Nick Boles's call for the revival of the National Liberal Party, which existed as a Conservative affiliate until 1968. The proposed alliance would mirror the relationship between Labour and the Co-operative Party. While Boles is claiming that this is a way of broadening support for the Tories in the country as a whole, and in three-way Lib Dem marginals in particular, I wonder if there's another thought in his head. He said in his speech to Bright Blue: "Existing MPs, councillors, candidates and party members of liberal views would be encouraged to join. And we could use it to recruit new supporters who might initially balk at the idea of calling themselves Conservative." 
 
Now, I wonder if, when he says "existing MPs", he means existing Tories, or in fact whether he is talking to disgruntled Lib Dems on the right of the party who have already been asked the question - and rejected the chance to join the Tories in their current form. One obvious candidate might be (if you believe the rumours from a few weeks back) Jeremy Browne.
 
I suspect this is the start of a sustained attack by the Tories on the Lib Dems, timed just as the differentiation strategy really takes hold. We've already alienated many of our former supporters on the left. Now, as we spin left to try and attract them back, we alienate those on the right who have stayed loyal to date. I always said it was a wrong-headed strategy. We're beginning to see why.
 
Anyway, could someone find out if Jeremy Browne is having coffee with Nick Boles in the next few days? I sense a plot afoot...
 
Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference
Liberal Democrat MP and former Home Office minister Jeremy Browne, who the Conservatives have urged to defect. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.