An open letter from working group & FPC members on Nick Clegg’s immigration speech

As members of the body setting up a review of Liberal Democrat policy on immigration and identity under Andrew Stunell MP, or members of the review itself, we feel the need to put a few facts in the public domain following Nick Clegg’s speech on Friday.

It would have been helpful had we been made aware of the contents in advance.  It would have been very helpful if members of the Policy Working Group had been sent an embargoed copy of the speech the night before.

There was much in the speech that reiterated Liberal values on immigration; indeed much of it was positively un-newsworthy.  Of course, those weren’t the passages that were reported.

The policy of an earned amnesty to speed up the regularisation of the immigration status of those here illegally who have abided by the law, and want to contribute to our society by paying taxes and taking part in the democratic process – a policy championed by Nick himself – remains Liberal Democrat policy until our Conference decides otherwise.  Unlike the other two parties, we do not believe in top-down policymaking by diktat.

The reason for that policy – the serious issues of whether UKBA is competent to manage this process, with which every MP is familiar from casework – were not touched on in the speech; an unfortunate oversight of the one issue without which public fears about immigration and the application of the rules simply cannot be tackled.

By contrast, the suggestion – it has no more formal status – of Liberal Democrat policy being changed to feature the requirement of a bond payment for visa applications from certain countries is unproven, and will need further development before our party supports it.  Have the implications and practicalities of “going on an English Language course” for those needing translation been thought about, and is the terminology even right?  The biggest need is for an interpreter not translator anyway.  However the public will now think that this is our policy, and it would have been so much more helpful if the suggestion could have been put to the working group in advance.

The debate on immigration in this country has been unhealthy for too long.  That the sudden surge of interest by party leaders appears to have been triggered by short-term expediency is a symptom of that.

For what it’s worth, we will play our part to encourage a more constructive and helpful policy debate.  However, we need the time and space, as planned by the Federal Policy Committee last year to do this.

Suzanne Fletcher, Member, Working Group on Immigration and Identity

Louise Bloom (FPC)

Gareth Epps (FPC)

Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera, Liberal Democrat English Party Diversity Champion
Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrat (EMLD) – Vice Chair, Member, Working Group on Immigration and Identity

Prateek Buch (FPC)

Lucy Care (FPC)

Will Dyer, Liberal Youth



* Suzanne Fletcher was a councillor for nearly 30 years and a voluntary advice worker with the CAB for 40 years. Now retired, she is active as a campaigner in the community both as a Lib Dem and with local organisations and author of "Bold as Brass?", the story of Brass Crosby.

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  • Richard Dean 26th Mar '13 - 5:15pm

    If you need time and space, fine, but practical politicians have to respond in the moment. It shouldn’t take much more than a single meeting for you to get together an initial draft for comment, you could even post it here on LDV. That would have the advantages of

    > being a lot more democratic than any eventual diktat from your committee,
    > providing you with important feedback in good time
    > allowing immediate issues to be flagged and addressed now rather than later when it’s too late
    > allowing ownership of the eventual policy to be grown rather than imposed
    > encouraging LibDems to participate in LDV

    Policy is always a work-in-progress, never finalised. Why not start taking part in the debate, rather than being so stand offish?

  • Richard Dean 26th Mar '13 - 5:52pm

    LDV actually has a members only area, doesn’t it?
    And if LDV doesn’t matter, why do you and Julian and others post here?
    If this party is truly democratic, why forgo the advantages of dialog?
    Why wait for a slow process with few inputs, instead of having a living process with many inputs?
    Modern times, Mark, Modern Technology – Get With It or Fade, as the saying goes.

  • Richard Dean 26th Mar '13 - 6:42pm
  • David Allen 26th Mar '13 - 7:06pm

    sounds like monolog to me….

  • Richard Dean 26th Mar '13 - 7:52pm

    Yes, David Allen, very amusing 🙂 , and I agree that it would be nice if Mark or Suzanne or both could respond to my suggestion in some relevant way. One does sometimes wonder what LDV is for, if it is not dialog(ue).

  • Suzanne Fletcher 26th Mar '13 - 8:26pm

    Richard – you ask me to comment further. I can assure you I have been very busy. Dealing with people very upset at the Nick Clegg statement, and many thinking he has pronounced policy, has taken up a lot of my time over the last few days. in the past few hours I’ve been attending to other matters and getting down to preparing evidence for the working group. You suggest that the working group gets together to produce a draft for comment. Having a meeting is not something we can just do at the drop of a hat. I have to arrange for travel to London and back from the NE, others from Scotland and Wales, and many have full time work commitments, so a meeting cannot be convened quickly. We have a timetable we all agreed on, with another 8 meetings timetabled in, and a topic for each meeting. There is a lot of evidence to hear, take note of and evaluate, as well as research between meetings for a working group with a wide remit (Immigration, asylum and identity). Dealing with this speech was not part of the timetable !
    Hope that helps explain a bit more.

  • Richard Dean 26th Mar '13 - 8:45pm

    Thanks a million, Suzanne, and apologies if I have been rude. Unfortunately my gangland upbringing has taught me to push when I come up against resistance, and Mark V is feeling the results. Poor Mark.

    Nick’s suggestions seemed astonishingly inept to me, as did his dropping of the amnesty policy. But the subsequent criticism seemed wrong – the gangland approach! Would it be a good idea if someone asked him why? Maybe there’s actually a reason.

    There are systems online which allow discussions to take place over distances. Email of course, but also software for online meetings and discussions. Who knows, it might be quite easy for the LDV programmers to arrange for a private forum for a specific policy working group, or a members-only forum.

  • Richard Dean 26th Mar '13 - 8:54pm

    Why not parcel some of the work out to ordinary members, using an online system set up by LDV? Could LDV do this? I’m sure that lots of ordinary members would be delighted to participate in many ways.

  • @Richard: Many of us have asked him, we now just need to await his response.

    @Suzanne: It is good to see you distancing the party from Nick’s comments. I implore you not to let our party get dragged to right on immigration.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 26th Mar '13 - 9:38pm

    @Richard Dean, please cut the Working Group some slack, we are doing our best to raise the concerns of Party and specific community members, whilst also trying to assist the Party out of its present predicament.

    As I have highlighted in other threads, please feel free to assist with helpful solutions, but sniping at the people who are actually doing more than merely writing on blogs is hardly helpful.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera,
    Liberal Democrat English Party Diversity Champion
    Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrat (EMLD) – Vice Chair
    Member, Working Group on Immigration and Identity

  • Richard Dean 26th Mar '13 - 9:53pm

    @Liberal Al. You spoke to Nick? What did he say? And why isn’t he saying it here?

  • Richard Dean 26th Mar '13 - 10:04pm

    All you actually seem to be doing, R Uduwerage-Perera, is trying to save face. Why don’t you stop telling me what to do – you might then find I’ll bother you less.

    The process that Mark V describes is not always one of democracy, but can be one of control. A very few members get control of policy. It’s a process well known to Marxist-Leninists and Stalinists, because when a debate eventually ensues it can be led, and when a vote is eventually taken the actual choice available to the membership can always be restricted by an appropriate wording of the motion, and all the details can be hidden.

    One of the strengths of modern information technology is that it gives us tools to prevent this from happening, in the hopefully rare cases that the members involved are undemocratic through malice or just from their own natural limitations.

  • @Richard: I should clarify; I was joking, (sorry, I am no comedian). I have e-mailed his office, thus the comment about ‘awaiting’ his response. While I wish Nick and I were in constant contact, alas I doubt he even remembers my name.

  • Richard Dean 26th Mar '13 - 10:59pm

    @Liberal Al. Me too! 🙂

  • Sounds lkke we need to perhaps give the leadership a gentle prod in the derriere, and bind them a little more tightly to the conference / membership when it comes to announcing / setting policy, or pronouncements that may be perceived as such. I seem to recall similar difficulty over the issue of secret courts.

  • If Clegg is pushing policy in advance of the party because the party structures are not fit for purpose why has he not vocalised this ? Surely he could have put this to any of the conferences between May 2010 and now and put forward alternative arrangements…

  • There is a real danger of the FPC being outflanked by the leadership and special advisors. In order for grassroots to not feel marginalised, particularly in key issues like this, is a key role for the party chairman.

    Political positioning in line with the media consensus can only be a short term tactic. Its the grassroots that can tap into households and small businesses.

    A few weeks from local elections in May, I’d hate to be the volunteer swallowing his/her beliefs and knocking on doors explaining why the lib dems think they need to pay an extra £1,000 for the grandmother to stay over, or the small business owner who faces ridiculous regulations just to hire staff he can’t find locally

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