Jeremy Browne: not changing teams. Photo: Getty
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Does David Cameron realise he needs Lib Dem voters to remain PM?

The Conservatives need to woo 2010 Lib Dem supporters.

"What happened to David Cameron's 'liberal conservatism'? I suppose it was just a marketing gimmick. Like 'vote blue, go green'. Inauthentic."

Jeremy Browne is a Liberal Democrat MP, so on one level his attack on the PM's reshuffle shouldn't come as any surprise: just a spot of pre-election differentiation.

But Browne is not any old Lib Dem MP. He is regarded as one of the most rightwing Lib Dems - a Thatcherite with a europhile face - and his sacking in the last cabinet reshuffle was lamented just as much by the Conservatives than the Lib Dems. He had been the Conservatives' main target as a potential Lib Dem defector. That is clearly not now going to happen.

And there is a wider point: what is Cameron now doing to woo 2010 Lib Dem voters? Because the Lib Dems' 23 per cent vote share could easily be halved, these voters will be critical next May. The Conservatives are second in 38 of the Lib Dems' 57 seats. There are also 37 Conservative-Labour marginals in which the third place Lib Dem vote is more than twice the incumbent's majority. Alienating Lib Dems risks these seats turning red even if the Conservatives maintain their share of the vote.

This reshuffle has been designed for many groups. Women. Ethnic minority. Northern people. The working-class. Eurosceptics. And the Tory right, Owen Paterson's fate notwithstanding. But not, apparently, disillusioned Lib Dems. 

It could be a serious mistake. With there being almost no actual governing for the new cabinet members to do, the last year of the coalition risks descending into rows over semantic differences. The Conservative temptation will be to show what they would have done if only those pesky Lib Dems hadn't got in the way.

The danger is the political terrain this leaves clear for the Lib Dems: the more the Conservatives trumpet areas they would like to go further, the more the Lib Dems can say they have dragged the coalition towards the centre ground. One MP in an arch-marginal Lib-Con seat told me that his aim was to position himself as the coalition candidate and push the Tory challenger out to the Tea Party right. For those voters who actually thought the coalition had worked well - you could call them liberal conservatives - sticking with the incumbent Lib Dem would be the logical, steady option. With this reshuffle, David Cameron has only strengthened that argument.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

Photo: Getty Images
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.