Facing the future – the Lib Dem policy approach

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Now is an exciting time for Liberal Democrats. We have the chance to implement ideas in Government – an opportunity denied our predecessors for many decades. For the next five years, instead of contributing ideas from the national sidelines with no real prospect of them ever being adopted, we have a real chance to realise key elements of our agenda. We have all come into politics to make a difference, to be effective. Liberal Democrat Ministers know that they carry the weight of the party’s principles and expectations as they work in coalition with Conservatives.

But even as we put our principles into action, we must also renew and refresh our ideas – and indeed since we are in coalition government, it is more important than ever to establish and maintain our separate identity as Liberal Democrats.

And so to review the likely policy challenges of the next few years, to assess how our existing body of policy faces up to those challenges and to assess where we as a party need to do further work, the Federal Policy Committee has set up a wide-ranging review, Facing the Future. It will build on our existing and widely respected statement of Liberal Democrat philosophy, It’s About Freedom, and like the similar exercise that we carried out at the start of the 2005-10 Parliament, Meeting the Challenge, it should set out the areas where the FPC will commission further work through this Parliament, and the approach it will take to developing policy in those areas.

If we are to succeed in creating a strong political and philosophical approach for the party for the next few years, then it is vitally important that party members engage in the work of the group as widely as possible and take charge of the direction that it goes in. We have started this process already: we have written a consultation paper which will be available shortly on the conference section of the party’s website, and conference committee has given us most of the Monday morning at conference for a very full consultative session.

I hope as many members as possible will come along to that and contribute their ideas and views. But I also want there to be other opportunities to engage with party members: I and other members of the working group will be very happy to speak to local parties about our work, I hope we will also be present at regional conferences, and we are also planning to support discussion by local parties. I urge every party member to have their say either by taking part in such a discussion or by writing to me and the group with your views.

This exercise, similar to that undertaken at the start of the last Parliament, is emphatically not an attempt to review every line of existing Liberal Democrat policy: our intention is certainly not to re-fight old battles on well-established party policy positions. But it is an attempt to establish and maintain a clear and distinct Liberal Democrat identity in the new Parliament particularly given the changed circumstances which we are now in.

We will address the widest questions possible about how Liberal Democrat ideas are relevant to the future governance of Britain and the world. For example, what is the right macro-economic policy framework to meet the challenges of the next few years? What view should Lib Dems take in terms of the balance between sectors such as manufacturing and financial services? How can we make the economy more environmentally sustainable? Should we be pressing for greater support for mutuals, co-operatives and worker participation?

On the environment – does the UK have the right overall policy framework for tackling climate change? How can we improve it? How can we ensure that renewed growth in the economy is green growth? How do we meet our future energy needs?

As Liberal Democrats, we talk a lot about the need to create a fairer society. What policy areas and actions are most important in advancing the struggle against unfairness? How should we tackle poverty and inequality without promoting dependency? Is digital inclusion a key to social justice, or a diversion?

What is the right balance between liberty and security in the twenty-first century? How can we take reform of penal policy further forward?

And in the context of political reform, once we have implemented the constitutional reform programme set out in the coalition agreement, what further reforms should Liberal Democrats prioritise? What more can we do to liberate local government from central control?

These and the many other questions in our consultation paper could not be more relevant, broad-ranging and exciting, and I hope party members will engage enthusiastically in helping us to think through these questions and help us define a clear and distinctive Liberal Democrat policy approach for the next five years.

Norman Lamb MP is Chair of the Facing the Future working group and the new Chair of the FPC.

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17 Comments

  • We have the chance to implement ideas in Government

    Unfortunately they’re Tory ideas…

    “Lib Dem principled” Vat Bombshell, anyone…….

  • Dominic Curran 23rd Aug '10 - 11:30am

    Hi Norman,

    Great to see us/you thinking about the long term. An idea for you – not new, but good: commit to building more social housing, whether council or housing association homes. I know ‘there’s no money left’ but this is prudent borrowing – in a keynesian way we reduce unemployment and add to tax revenue if we employ a new generation of workers to build homes fit for our families, and we reduce all the other social costs associated with poor and insufficient housing. plus, as a bonus, we shame Labour by highlighting their greatest social policy failure during their thirteen years and outflank them on the left, just when they’ll be posturing to woo our extremely disaffected left-leaning former voters (of whom there are loads now – thanks Nick).

    Although, as Macmillan said when housing minister: “Housing is not about Conservatism, nor is it about Socialism. it is a question of humanity.”

  • I understand that this is about bigger issues.

    However, I absolutely agree about the crucial importance of the housing issue. This should be a priority.
    In particular, we need an active commitment to reforming the private rental sector (and the laws that regulate it) along continental lines. This has to be a central part of that strategy, alongside the ‘more obvious’ issues of house building and sorting out social housing.
    It has to become possible in this country to live in a secure, long-term home while renting in the private market.

  • David Evans 23rd Aug '10 - 1:22pm

    While agreeing with Chris that jobs and housing are vital – my view is education should be even more important. It is the one thing that has been endlessly tinkered with since the sixties almost all of which has failed to deliver any real improvement for most of our community who need it and use it – social mobility down, massive debt for graduates etc etc.

    If you’re a public schoolboy/girl, you have an even bigger advantage over the other 80%+, than you have had probably since the 1940s. A scandal all politicians over the last 50 years should be ashamed of.

  • Dominic Curran 23rd Aug '10 - 1:25pm

    @ Alex – i think you’re quite wrong about the centre of political gravity of our voters. Most are left-leaning, not right-leaning. The Indy showed this consistently with front pages during our conferences a few years ago which put Labour voters on the furthest left of a straight line spectrum, Tories on the right, and our voters in the centre, but to the left. I think this is even truer for our actiavists. I’m sure from meeting and campaigning with fellow LibDems over the years (and thanks again for your help in May!) that we are generally lefty, and mostly hate the Tories more than Labour, although our differences with them after 13 years of power are fairly legion, too.

  • Alex Macfie 23rd Aug '10 - 1:42pm

    @Dominic: I didn’t say most of our voters were right-leaning (actually they overall seem to be evenly split, tho’ it varies from election to election). What I said is that most of our voters in seats we hold (mainly LD-Con marginals, tho’ I know that that’s changing as well) are. I’m not arguing against a future coalition with Labour either — just that we risk alienating a large section of our voter base whichever way we turn.

  • Alex Macfie 23rd Aug '10 - 1:43pm

    [and sometimes that's a risk worth taking..]

  • If we don’t get out of this deal with the devil, we’ll end up either like the National Liberals, or like the rump of the party of the 1950s – and we’ll deserve it for propping up the party that most of us joined up to fight against.
    It’s surely about time an anti-coalition party grouping be set up – if only on Lib Dem Act? Anyone care to start one?

  • Dominic Curran 23rd Aug '10 - 2:25pm

    @ Alex – i think that even voters in our LD-Con marginals are left leaning, not least as they probably include a fair smattering of labour voters who are simply voting for us to get rid of the tories. While i accept the principle of your point – that we will alienate some voters either way – i think the numbers of right-leaning voters for the libdems is small compared to the lefties (or even, shock horror, actual liberals).

  • “Deal with the devil”? How tribal and childish can you get?

  • David Allen 23rd Aug '10 - 4:30pm

    Well I dunno LKD, your post above is pretty bad, can you do any worse on a really bad day?

  • Dominic Curran 23rd Aug '10 - 6:10pm

    @ Neil bradbury

    How is dismantling the NHS and handing it over to private sector providers, removing security of tenure for the working class, and the diversion of funds from local schools to ‘free schools’ outside of rthe planning arrnagements for school provision in local areas doing what’s right for the country? And how much have we really added to the government’s stock of policy? AV? Maybe. But everything else was Tory policy anyway (Pupil premium, ID card abolition). And, important though it is, ending child detention at Yarls Wood isn’t what i joined up for all those years ago.

  • Alex Macfie 23rd Aug '10 - 8:46pm

    @Felix: A central plank of the National Liberals and their absorption into the Tories was the formation of electoral pacts. Nick Clegg has firmly ruled out any such pact.

  • Andrew Suffield 24th Aug '10 - 8:52pm

    the party that most of us joined up to fight against.

    Labour, right?

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