Author Archives: Jeremy Hargreaves

Federal Policy Committee report January 2020

Our meeting this week covered a number of areas.

We had firstly a very useful chat with Neil Stockley, chair of the working group on utilities, which is still at an early stage and whose timetable has been heavily disrupted by the excitements of the autumn. We reviewed the use or, if you like I suppose the utility, of this exercise in the rather changed political circumstances since we decided to set it up last year. We agreed that it remains a helpful area for us to focus on, not least as it has a clear direct impact on people’s everyday experiences – and costs – in a way which some policy areas do not. A full discussion concluded that it was helpful to retain its planned focus on utilities, not to expand it into consumer affairs more generally, and that while it shouldn’t exclude consideration of rail as a utility, it would not aim to be a full rail or transport paper, which there is a good case for but which we will come back to for further consideration.

We reviewed a draft motion on constitutional reform we are submitting for spring conference, in discussion with Wendy Chamberlain MP, the party’s new spokesperson on constitutional affairs. We felt this was a useful area to focus on following the constitutional issues arising from the autumn’s shenanigans, and one where as Liberal Democrats we generally have a clear and strong view. A full discussion took the view that it would be most useful to narrow the initially planned quite broad scope of this to focus specifically on the electoral reform aspects. The intention of this motion is to highlight clear Liberal Democrat answers to the issues here, rather than to develop major new policy. We have submitted this motion for spring conference and it will be up to FCC whether they select it for debate. This discussion also threw up a useful early review of how we might approach some of the important and tricky challenges around UK and English federalism and devolution, which we will come back to.

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Federal Policy Committee report – 16 December 2019

The first meeting of the Federal Policy Committee since the recent internal committee elections took place on Monday night. Clearly our discussions were much coloured by the General Election and some of its consequences, but nevertheless we had a constructive and positive meeting. It was great to welcome several new members of the committee: Helen Cross, Aria Babu, Alyssa Gilbert, Peter Thornton, Elinor Anderson and Rob Harrison. We were very pleased also that the party’s new chief executive, Mike Dixon, joined us for much of the meeting, which was very helpful.

First up was some committee business: Sally Burnell and Jeremy Hargreaves were elected as vice chairs of FPC, and Belinda Brooks-Gordon and Duncan Brack were elected to represent FPC at Conference Committee (FCC). We elected Lizzie Jewkes to chair the group which will carry out equalities impact assessments on policy proposals, along with Helen Cross, Mohsin Khan and Tara Copeland to be part of it. They will also involve others from outside FPC. We elected Lucy Nethsingha to represent FPC on the Federal International Relations Committee (FIRC) and as FPC delegate to ALDE Congress. We decided to co-opt the new chair of FIRC, the Young Liberals policy officer, and a representative of LDCRE to FPC.

We had a good discussion about how we can develop as effective as possible working relationships with party SAOs, AOs and regional parties. We very much welcome them being as involved as possible as we develop policy, and are keen to do whatever we can to encourage this. We will make a more pro-active effort to contact them with information about what we are doing, and we are as usual compiling a list of FPC members to be link people to individual groups. In the past we have had an FPC working group looking at what we can do practically to encourage more members to engage in policy – we agreed to re-start this, and they will also look at what more we can do particularly with party groupings such as these.

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Federal Policy Committee report 16th October: Finalising the manifesto

The Federal Policy Committee is now on the final straight in to completing our manifesto for the expected General Election, and we cleared the agenda for our planned meeting on 16 October to focus on some key aspects of the document.

Our close collaboration with the Campaigns and Communications teams continues, and we started with a review of current research information about how messages are going down with voters, which was very helpful for our discussions which followed. Because of the way that we as a party make policy through conference, our policy on almost every area is already very well established.  So the challenge of writing a manifesto is not so much writing the policy as working with others so that we present it in the way which is most useful and appealing, especially to our target voters.

This is particularly visible in the area we discussed next, the few key headline policy commitments which will be most high profile. We want these, as well of course being the right policy, to make specific commitments which help to tell the wider story about areas that Liberal Democrats prioritise and the approach we take to them. Clearly Brexit will be central here, but there is plenty more we have to say about what we will do to help people in their everyday challenges.

One thing we are rightly proud of is that our manifesto is always accompanied by a robust set of costings which set out what our proposals will cost and how we will find the money to pay for these. This is something other parties tend not to do very properly, or not at all. We spent some time with Ed Davey, the shadow chancellor, going through these plans, and are now very well down the track of developing a strong plan for committing resources to our priority areas, funded in ways which make Britain fairer.

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Welcome to the Lib Dem Health and Care Association!

One of the great things about the Liberal Democrats is that whatever you’re interested in, there’s a group of like-minded people you can join to talk about it and exchange ideas with. Interested in the environment and climate change – join Green Lib Dems. Interested in Europe – join the Lib Dem European Group. Business your area? Join the Lib Dem Business and Entrepreneurs Network. From the Humanist & Secularist Lib Dems and the Lib Dem Christian Forum, all the way to the Lib Dem Friends of Vegans and Vegetarians, and the low-intensity Swiftian …

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Constitutional Amendments at Bournemouth conference

As vice chair of the Federal Policy Committee, I’m proud of the substantial policy papers that FPC is bringing for debate at this conference. The future of the NHS and care system (including the many threats to them from Brexit), making a serious effort to support the least well off in society, tackling knife crime and other crime, and a real actual plan for tackling climate change, are all major issues where our answers can really help us in communicating Liberal Democrat values to voters. They, and the many other motions, are the real work of conference and I hope they succeed in getting us lots of positive attention in September.

At the other end of the spectrum of political importance, conference will also spend an hour late on Sunday afternoon, doing one of its other jobs, some internal organisational housekeeping (F23 and F24). Back in 2016, the party carried out a substantial review of the party’s constitution and how the party is organised, and made a number of quite important changes. Following that, we committed to reviewing how the new systems were working, and to bringing back any further smaller adjustments needed. This set of constitutional amendments is just that: the bulk of it (what’s called Part 5 in the agenda) is really small changes, which will no doubt invite lots of amused satirical responses (putting in one committee which got accidentally missed out of a list of all committees, removing stray apostrophes, that kind of thing). But some are a bit more significant so I thought it might be helpful to explain the thinking behind them, especially as unless you know what they are about, it’s not always very clear!

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Federal Policy Committee report – 6 February 2019

FPC met on Wednesday 6 February. We started with a good discussion with Ed Davey, home affairs spokesperson, and Vicki Cardwell, chair of the working group developing new policy on crime and policing. Ed talked through the issues he is focussing on, including responses to the increase in violent crime and the Immigration Bill. It is clear that crime is an important and increasingly important issue to voters. We then discussed in more detail the consultation paper written by the crime and policing group (which will be available shortly here). This included a review of the current picture of …

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Federal Policy Committee report – 12 December 2018

FPC had a full and varied last meeting before Christmas on Wednesday night.

We started with a broad overview of the overall financial implications of our policy platform: our priorities for spending and how we would find the resources to pay for them. This ranged widely over a number of areas including spending on welfare and health. We had a particularly good discussion of the best way of supporting education. We also reviewed our various tax proposals, with the 1p on income tax for health as the headline commitment, and also drawing together various other proposals on tax recently approved by conference.

Next up was the motion and paper on Race Equality which we will be proposing to spring conference. This has some excellent analysis and proposals to tackle the deep and difficult issues in this area, and will be published with the agenda for spring conference. Many thanks to Merlene Emerson and the working group who have developed these.

We had a useful conversation with Paul Noblet, the chair of the working group A Fairer Share for All, ranging widely over the territory of this group. The group has taken evidence on and is discussing various proposals to help the least well off, both through the benefits and tax system and other ways. It will publish a consultation paper on its proposals before spring conference.

We had a brief but useful discussion with Mike Tuffrey – who co-chaired the policy working group that wrote the Good Jobs, Better Businesses, Stronger Communities paper – about some work he is supporting to look at the big economic questions facing the country, including the challenges of new technology, the relationship between business and society, and what the role of the state in the economy should be. This is at an early stage but it it is hoped that in due course there will be some proposals to contribute, that take the ideas in the original policy paper further forward.

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Federal Policy Committee Awayday

FPC members met for an awayday meeting on Saturday 19 May 2018, with a focus on reviewing our overall plans for policy development and how they can most usefully contribute to the party as a whole. It was an upbeat meeting, with lots of positive ideas for our next steps.

We started with a briefing from Nick Harvey, the party’s Chief Executive, on the party’s overall direction and current objectives, so that FPC’s plans could contribute most usefully to that. This led on to a presentation of some recent research and polling on messaging. Next we reviewed a paper on the …

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Federal Policy Committee report – 10 January 2018

The Federal Policy Committee met on Wednesday night, with an agenda mostly of finalising items for debate at spring conference.

First up was reviewing the policy paper produced by the working group on education, and finalising it for proposal to spring conference. This is an impressive paper covering a wide range of aspects of education, especially funding, supporting and promoting teachers and good teaching, and inspection and improvement arrangements. It also covers the curriculum, schools structures, Further Education, Early Years, SEND and health (including mental health) in education. FPC has discussed this twice through the autumn and last night had a further good discussion on it, especially around arrangements for inspection, testing and league tables. The motion and paper will of course be published and launched publicly once the agenda for spring conference is decided and published.

The second policy paper item was on rural affairs. The discussion of this last night focussed in particular the section on agriculture following the important speech by the secretary of state last Friday on the planned post-EU future for agriculture and land. We have also discussed fully on previous occasions its sections on supporting local rural economies more broadly, tackling the housing problems, supporting greater communications, both physical and electronic, and flood protection. Other areas such as animal welfare were also discussed in some more detail. This will also be published in due course.

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Opinion: Fairer taxes

You don’t have to talk to many people about tax these days before someone brings up how unfair it is that some of the biggest international companies and brands seem to be able to find ways of getting out of paying any.

And at the same time, many people are themselves feeling the financial squeeze in their own budgets.

So in preparing new tax policy for the party to debate at autumn conference, we have worked to create a fairer balance: a tax system which helps those on low and middle incomes, and ensures that the richest companies and individuals …

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That ‘jewelry tax’ proposal

Jewellery shot for RK Jewellers 01“Now they want to tax jewellery: New Lib Dem wealth plan to target ALL assets” screamed a headline in the Mail on Sunday yesterday, warning their readers of the latest appalling imposition that Lib Dems in government were about to put upon the public.

“Families will be forced to pay tax on jewellery and other heirlooms under controversial new plans drawn up by the Liberal Democrats. Under the scheme, tax inspectors would get unprecedented new powers to go into homes and value rings, necklaces, paintings, furniture and other family treasures.” they said. If you really want to, read the full article here.

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Opinion: Creating a fairer tax system

As Benjamin Franklin wrote back in the eighteenth century, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. So while tax policy may not set hearts racing, anything that takes money from people’s pockets will provoke a strong response.

Already, in government, we’ve had major successes. Our flagship tax policy of a £10,000 tax-free allowance is being implemented, which will provide millions of taxpayers with an tax cut of £705 per annum by the end of this Parliament; we’ve raised capital gains tax for higher rate taxpayers; and we are clawing back £7bn worth …

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Launch: Engage, the new Lib Dem Policy Network

The chances are that when you join the Liberal Democrats, just about the first thing that will happen to you is that a friendly local member will welcome you to the party, and ask you if you’d be willing to help out by delivering a round of leaflets in your area. Or would you perhaps be willing to come out and knock on some doors one evening? It’s certainly what happened to me when I joined the party nineteen years ago in a ‘black hole’ seat.

This overwhelming focus on campaigning has served the party well: it’s been the engine …

Posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters | 9 Comments

How to sign up to the Lib Dem Hospital Governors’ Network

Liberal Democrats have had an interesting relationship with the government’s policy of turning NHS hospitals into ‘Foundation Trusts’. When the government first proposed them in 2002, we opposed the legislation in Parliament – so you might expect us to be straightforwardly against them.

But in fact the picture is a little more complicated than that – because at the time what we were in fact saying was that the freedoms which the government proposed to give only to Foundation Trust hospitals, in fact ought to be available to all NHS hospitals. And the government’s policy is indeed now that pretty …

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Your chance to shape Lib Dem policy on… the UK’s response to Globalisation

Globalisation is changing our world.

Liberal Democrats have generally welcomed it – as well as putting forward views about how we should seek to influence its development.

But it is a fact – and it has consequences for own domestic UK economy.

A policy working group chaired by Lord (Robin) Teverson is looking at what Britain needs to do respond to the processes of globalisation and to equip ourselves for the globalised twenty-first century economy.

Their consultation paper – on which they are inviting comments from all party members – looks at several aspects of this.

A first group of questions are around …

Posted in Party policy and internal matters | 13 Comments

Your chance to shape Lib Dem policy on… Transport

An area which has long been a priority for Lib Dems – and which as tackling climate becomes ever more crucial – is the UK’s transport infrastructure. But in recent years it has not been an area where we have made promoting our policies a high priority.

A policy working group, chaired by Shaun Carr, is now preparing a policy paper to come to party conference – and seeks input and views from party members. Please give yours!

The consultation paper they have produced takes a good look at many of the biggest issues around transport, and asks some …

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Your chance to shape Lib Dem policy on… Security

One of the areas where the party is currently consulting members and looking for input – and one which affects nothing less than the future of our world – is on Security.

The working group, chaired by Cambridge University international affairs expert (and Lib Dem councillor) Dr Julie Smith has produced a very easy to read consultation paper asking questions on some fascinating – and crucial – questions.

The first area they look at is terrorism. How well do we really understand the terrorist threat (and its causes)? What is the best way of responding to it – by …

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Future party policies – your chance to shape them

One of the features which marks out the way in which we Liberal Democrats as a party make our policies is that they are decided by the members, not just by the Leader and Shadow Cabinet.

We often tend to focus on the fact that all policies have to be voted on by Conference.

But in fact there is another way in which all party members – including those who aren’t able to go to Conference – can have what is probably an even greater influence on what our policies are.

And that’s through the process by which every working …

Posted in Party policy and internal matters | 2 Comments

Can you give 5 minutes of your time to improve discussion within the Liberal Democrats?

One of the things we’re most proud of as a party is that it is representatives of our local parties across the country, who make our policy at conference. It’s one of the many things that makes us stand out from the other major parties.

But away from Conference, how much discussion of the key political and policy questions facing us, does go on around the party?

Anecdotal evidence suggests that in recent years the number of “Pizza and Politics”-style events run by local parties has increased – as a quick glance at the excellent Flock Together website shows. And …

Posted in Conference and Online politics | 6 Comments

Can you help us write our policy?

The Liberal Democrats’ Federal Policy Committee is inviting members to put themselves forward to sit on the policy working groups which draft policy for consideration by FPC and then Conference.

Party members have been asked to send in their names by 28th January – so this is your last chance to do it by then!

FPC is currently putting together groups to look at education, and non-climate change environmental issues, so if you’d like to be considered for them then you need to get your application by the deadline.

However if you are mainly interested in other …

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Help set the Lib Dem agenda

Setting the Agenda: Liberal Democrat One Day Manifesto Conference
London School of Economics, 12 January 2008 (10.00-18.00)

The Liberal Democrat Manifesto Group is organising a special one day conference to give party members an opportunity to contribute to the development of the party’s next general election manifesto. It will involve leading figures in the party and invited guest speakers and will be modelled on the successful 2006 ‘Meeting the Challenge’ Conference.

This conference will include:
* an opening keynote speech by the new leader;
* a major debate on the political challenges presented by the other parties, and the political opportunities for …

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Thanksgiving Service for Tim Garden

Like many people who were away in August, when he died, I was glad to discover that a thanksgiving service for Tim’s life is being held on 30th November. I haven’t seen it publicised it elsewhere so, with Sue’s permission, I am posting details of it here – and please do pass on the information if you know of others who would be interested in it.

Please note that if you would like to go then you need to request tickets by 9th November from the address below.

The event is being organised by the RAF, hence the formality. …

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Opinion: The things to watch out for in Brighton

I’m off this morning to Lib Dem Conference in Brighton. It seems to me that this has the opportunity to be one of our most interesting and engaging conferences for a while.

There are some really quite interesting discussions which it’s quite difficult to call which way they will go. It has been a criticism that I and others have made in the past of conference that sometimes too much of it could be predicted in advance and isn’t saying anything too much new. But that certainly can’t be said of this year, which contains plenty of new and strong thinking.

So some of my predicted highlights for the week are below. If you’re not coming to conference you might want to watch out for some of them.

But if you won’t be there, I wouldn’t trust too much to what the mainstream media will tell you about the conference, because I can tell you now what they will be saying.

They will be saying firstly that the Leader’s authority is on the line, pending a possible defeat on the conference floor on something, and secondly that everyone is talking about how the Lib Dems will position themselves in the event of a hung Parliament after the next General Election.

I know this because this is what the media have said people are talking about conference at each of the 13 previous conferences I have been to. This will not be true. These discussions are not on the agenda and will not be seriously discussed. But it is a standard feature of Lib Dem conferences (and for all I know the other parties’ ones too) that those who have spent the week at them come to home to find media coverage describing an entirely different event than the one they have been at.

The media also have their own news priorities which rarely coincide with a full and balanced approach to reporting this event. A journalist unwittingly put it very well to me last year when he said in answer to a question about what story his paper would be running the following day, “Well if Ming loses the vote tomorrow we’ll be writing about that; if he wins it then we’ll be running on what’s happening in Lebanon”.

So if you have find yourself hearing a reporter say that “all the talk in the conference bars tonight is of…” then trust me, it isn’t. I can honestly say that over the years I have devoted my fair share of effort into researching what people are talking about in the bars at conference, and I can tell you quite clearly that whatever it is on any particular night, it jolly well isn’t what the media are reporting it is.

So, what are my particular tips for interesting debates next week:

Posted in Conference and Op-eds | 2 Comments

Help shape party policy online

One of the features of our party’s policy is the amount of consultation that goes into preparing it.

Every party member has the opportunity to feed in their views before proposals are drawn up for taking to Conference. This has always included publishing a consultation paper before every new policy paper, and consultative sessions are held at party conference and often elsewhere too.

But over the last year we’ve moved consultation into the electronic world too – so each working group now has its own site where any party member can comment or contribute.

So the two new consultative papers that the party has recently unveiled are now online: on future policy on Europe, and on Further & Higher Education. In each of these areas a working group is working towards bringing a policy paper to conference, either in spring (FE/HE), or at autumn next year (Europe).

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Brighton rocks: conference previewed

Last week the party published the preliminary agenda for Autumn Conference in Brighton.

A major policy paper will set out proposals for tackling poverty and reducing inequality – an issue that Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell personally has identified as something he wants the party to tackle as a priority. There’ll be a new paper refining further our proposals to make the tax system fairer – including a headline proposal to cut income tax by 4p in the pound. And there will be a new paper on local and regional governance in England.

Also still to come are policy papers on tackling climate change and on better governance of the UK.

Posted in Conference and News | 8 Comments

Opinion: My Tony years

Tony BlairWhen Tony Blair announced his resignation, everyone seemed to want to give their assessment of what the Blair years had been like for Britain – giving history’s first judgement of the legacy into which he’s put so much effort. 

Many sought to measure his achievements in numbers: numbers of teachers under Blair, the change in waiting lists for hip ops under Blair, the spending on international development, the numbers unemployed under Blair. 

But they didn’t tell me what I want to know about the Tony years.

For although I’d voted Lib Dem in the misty early morning of the 1st May 1997, before doing the 7am stint telling, I shared in the excitement of the new regime that weekend – like almost everyone who wasn’t a Conservative, and, one sensed, even quite a few who were. 

I hoped that the new government would do something about what I thought was wrong about Britain after 18 years of Conservative government. 

What was I looking for from Tony?

I wanted a government which would not be weighed down by sleaze and a relentless stream of ministers and MPs apparently interested mainly in just feathering their own nests.

I wanted a political system which actually made sense – where a party’s strength in Parliament depended on the number of people who voted for it. I wanted a system which accepted that some decisions were best taken at a different level than a monolithic Westminster, in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Europe, or locally – and a House of Lords which had at least some legitimacy in its composition rather than being just a random collection of aristocracy. 

I wanted a government which wasn’t anti-European. And which would act to prevent governments making war on their own peoples, as had just happened on Europe’s doorstep in the Balkans.

I wanted him to do something to stop British education falling behind other developed countries. I wanted the government to stop just relentlessly cutting things, and instead invest in education, in health, in teachers, doctors and nurses. 

I desperately wanted the government to do something to make British society less unequal – to do something about the huge and growing gap between the obscene salaries and remuneration packages earned by some, and those who were too poor enough to play a real part in British society at all. And I wanted it to do something to tackle the sheer social tension bequeathed by Thatcherism and a government which seemed keen to show in every way it could that it believed there was no such thing as society.

And most of all, I wanted the people who ran the country to show some sign that they believed they were doing it for the benefit of the whole country, and particularly those who needed its help, and not just for the benefit of themselves. 

So has Tony given me what I wanted?

Posted in News and Op-eds | 7 Comments

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