It’s now official: Lib Dem schools minister David Laws will chair the party’s Manifesto Working Group. Lib Dem MP Duncan Hames, who chairs the party’s Federal Policy Committee, has just emailed members with the following message:
Last night at the party’s Federal Policy Committee we agreed Nick Clegg’s nomination of David Laws MP to Chair the Manifesto Working Group for the next General Election. Alongside David, we also appointed two Vice-Chairs – Sharon Bowles MEP and Duncan Brack – and nine further members of the group.
The Manifesto Working Group reports to the Federal Policy Committee, which has responsibility for preparing the party’s General Election manifesto, in consultation with our MPs, before it is put before the party’s conference.
Nick has charged David and the Working Group with thoroughly stress-testing the deliverability and affordability of our next manifesto and building on the approach of the last manifesto by clearly identifying our top priorities for a future government.
You can see the full list of people appointed to the Manifesto Working Group on our website.
Best wishes for 2013,
Duncan Hames MP
Chair of the Federal Policy Committee
P.S. I am keen that we should also draw widely on the ideas and expertise across the party in developing our policy. If you have suggestions for how best we can involve people, please do let me know, and I will share these with David and the policy committee.
The news had in fact leaked last night and Liberator’s blog reports here that David’s appointment was far from unanimous, eventually approved by 14 votes to 8. [Update: I'm since told this isn't quite the case. A motion from Gareth Epps saying the Manifesto Working Group shouldn't be approved until a full process and remit was agreed was defeated 14-8. However, David's position as chair was unanimously approved, 22-0.]
David is something of a marmite character within the party.[/understatement] Along with Paul Marshall he edited The Orange Book and his controversial championing of a social insurance health policy a few months before the 2005 general election irritated many colleagues and members. A few months ago he again demonstrated his ability to divide opinion by arguing that taxes should be cut to 35% of GDP. Almost one-third of party members opposed his return to the ministerial ranks in September following his enforced resignation over his expenses.
As an Orange Booker myself you might expect me to be over-joyed David is chairing the group. I’m certainly happy he’s involved in drawing up the manifesto. However, I have a concern. It’s not so much that he’ll divide the party by trying to sneak in something ‘unacceptably’ economically liberal; the working group is well-balanced in every sense, and FPC retains the final sign-off. To suggest David will manage to hoodwink them all is an insult to the others. I do worry that a serving minister has been given such an intense task. Yes, David’s phenomenal work-rate is the stuff of legend, but still — I would rather someone with lighter official responsibilities had this task, even if I disagreed with them more.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.