Author Archives: Duncan Brack

Federal Policy Committee Report – 29 March 2017

FPC’s meetings tend to be dominated by two things: consideration of consultation and policy papers, which are ultimately put to conference for discussion and debate; and trying to find ways to improve the process of policy-making and policy discussion within the party. Last Wednesday’s meeting featured both.

For the first hour or so of the meeting we discussed our responses to two of the consultation papers we published in February, on the 21st Century Economy, and on Education. The working groups which wrote the papers for us will take our comments, along with the many received from party members and made at the consultative sessions at York, into consideration when they write their policy papers for the FPC to consider in June or July. The final papers will then be submitted to the Bournemouth conference in September for debate.

The rest of the meeting was mainly devoted to process issues. FPC is keen to improve the opportunities for debating policy within the party. While plenty of policy debates take place at federal and state conferences, at the local party level it’s quite variable. Many local parties run popular and effective pizza and politics events (or their culinary equivalents), but in others their efforts may be entirely taken up with campaigning and fund-raising. We believe policy debate is good in itself: it improves members’ experience of involvement in the party (after all, it’s the reason many members joined) and their knowledge of what we stand for, and it improves input into the formal policy-making process which FPC oversees.

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350 years of Liberal history in 32 pages

If you want to read a short summary of the last 350 years of Liberal politics in Britain, the Liberal Democrat History Group has just the thing for you – a new edition of our booklet Liberal History: A Concise History of the Liberal Party, SDP and Liberal Democrats.

This is designed as a comprehensive but relatively short (about 10,000 words) summary of Liberal, SDP and Liberal Democrat history for readers wanting more detail than they can find on the party website, but less than a full book. We produced the booklet originally in 2005, and we’ve revised it twice since; this edition is up to date as of summer 2016.

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Conference Countdown: Agenda 2020: The final stage

Agenda 2020 paperSunday morning at Brighton will see one of the most important debates at conference. It probably won’t be terribly controversial (though one never knows …), but it is party members’ chance to say what they think – not about specific policies the party should adopt, but about what the party stands for: its basic philosophy.

This is the final stage in the Federal Policy Committee’s ‘Agenda 2020’ process, which has featured many times before in the pages of Lib Dem Voice. Over the past year we have published two consultation papers, organised two consultative sessions at federal conferences, commissioned a set of essays and organised an essay competition within the party (all available at

The outcome of all this is the policy paper The Opportunity to Succeed, the Power to Change. Its first purpose is to explain the basic underlying beliefs of the party and what, in broad terms, is the point of us. So the first main chapter sets out the case for the Liberal Democrats – the essence of what we are trying to do and why it matters. We’ve phrased this round two objectives: giving people the opportunity to succeed, and enabling them to take the power to grasp those opportunities. Too many people in today’s Britain lack the opportunity to live their lives as they want, and too many people feel powerless in the face of change.

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How did our constituencies vote in the EU Referendum?

It’s obvious from the maps published after the referendum that several former Liberal Democrat seats voted remain – Cambridge, Bath, Cheltenham, Lewes and others. It’s equally obvious that plenty didn’t – all of them in Cornwall and Devon, for example. But because the results were counted and declared by local authority area, we haven’t been able to tell how individual constituencies voted – until now.

Chris Hanretty, Reader in Politics at the University of East Anglia, has tried to estimate how all the 574 Parliamentary seats in England and Wales voted (it’s a reasonable assumption that all or almost all Scottish seats voted remain). He’s taken each council area result and applied demographic factors – average age in the area, the proportion of residents with degrees, average income, etc. – which we know are strongly associated with voting leave or remain to break it down to constituency levels. He can’t be precise, of course, but his model fits reasonably well the results in the 26 local authority areas which are also parliamentary constituencies.

He expresses the result as an estimated leave vote with a prediction interval (i.e. a range of outcomes, since we can’t be precise) on either side. You can see his reasoning, and download the full spreadsheet here.

Based on his calculations, this is how all the seats Liberal Democrats won at the 2010 election break down, in descending order of the remain vote (seats we hold now are in bold):

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The legacy of Roy Jenkins: History Group discussion meeting Monday 27th June


One of the very slight crumbs of comfort to be found in the referendum campaign was the way in which, in some parts of the country, members of the Liberal Democrats, Labour and Green parties were able to campaign together positively for a ‘remain’ vote. The 1975 referendum on membership of the European Community saw a very similar experience – with profound results for British politics thereafter.

In the happier of the UK’s two referendums on Europe, Roy Jenkins, then Home Secretary in Harold Wilson’s Labour government, led the ‘in’ campaign alongside the Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe and the new Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher. Jenkins and his pro-European Labour colleagues enjoyed the good relations he developed with the Liberals, and this helped to lay the foundations for the formation of the Social Democratic Party, and its alliance with the Liberals, six years later – and, in 1988, to the merger of the two to form our own party, the Liberal Democrats.

With bitter-sweet timing, the next Liberal Democrat History Group speaker meeting, on Monday 27 June at 7.00pm, will discuss the legacy of Roy Jenkins for liberalism in Britain. These extend beyond Europe and the formation of the SDP and the Alliance.

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Agenda 2020 update

Readers will remember the essay competition run by the Federal Policy Committee as part of our Agenda 2020 exercise; Liberal Democrat Voice was good enough to publish several of the entries. We asked participants to write no more than 1,000 words on what it means to be a Liberal Democrat today. We received a total of sixty entries, cut them down – after much debate! – to a shortlist of nine, and invited party members to vote for the winner.

Today we can announce the winner: Edwin Burrows, a member from Monmouth. He only joined the party in May after the election, and the spring conference will be his very first. He says that although for many years he had campaigned for liberal causes, after the election he felt that he needed to stop sitting on the sidelines and get involved. Tim Farron has just awarded him his prize.

In his essay he aimed to boil the Liberal Democrat approach down to one key simple message, to relate it to everyday life, not to abstract principles, and to move people, to serve as a battle cry for our fightback. I think it does all of those things. You can read it here.

The votes were in fact pretty evenly spread, so we are also announcing today two second places, who tied, with exactly the same number of votes: Richard Flowers  and Paul Kennedy. 

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Agenda 2020 update

The essay competition run by the Federal Policy Committee as part of our Agenda 2020 exercises closed in November; Liberal Democrat Voice was good enough to publish several of the entries. We asked participants to write no more than 1,000 words on what it means to be a Liberal Democrat today.

We received a total of sixty entries, and we’d like to put on record our thanks to all those who wrote them. Their standard was generally very high. Unsurprisingly, most chose ‘freedom’ as the focus of their essay, but how they defined ‘freedom’ varied quite considerably. Some described it conceptually, some used concrete examples, some stressed more what we are against than what we are for.

Posted in Party policy and internal matters | 6 Comments

The ideas that built the Liberal Democrats

The ideas that built the Liberal DemocratsPolitics rest on beliefs. Political parties that operate without a philosophical framework stand for little more than personality and populism. But equally, beliefs must rest on thought – they must be continually defined, tested and debated rather than simply inherited unquestioningly.

That’s part of what the Federal Policy Committee’s Agenda 2020 process is all about; I’ve written about the various elements of that already on Lib Dem Voice.

But of course the party doesn’t start from scratch in this respect. The political ideology of the Liberal Democrats draws on the philosophies of two reformist traditions, liberalism and social democracy. Liberalism possesses an immensely rich history, stretching back over more than three hundred years. Social democracy is a label that has meant very different things over the last hundred years and more, but between them these traditions possess a distinctive approach to concepts such as freedom, equality and social justice.

As a concise guide to the key strands of political thought and ideas underlying Liberal Democrat beliefs, the Liberal Democrat History Group has published a new booklet, Liberalism: The ideas that Built the Liberal Democrats

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Leaders good and bad

As we’re now seeing with Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the Labour leadership, political debate often revolves around the characters of party leaders. Elections are portrayed as contests between leaders, voters are often asked to say which leader they will be voting for – even though they can’t, unless they happen to live in a leader’s constituency – and the media, during elections, party conferences and day-to-day politics, generally focus on the leader, sometimes, in small parties, to the exclusion of all other figures. Within their parties, even in relatively democratic institutions like the Liberal Democrats, the leader exercises considerable influence over party policy and strategy.

British Leaders jackets.indd

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Introducing the Liberal Democrat History Group

‘Santayana once said that those who won’t learn their history are condemned to repeat it. The Lib Dem History Group exists to make sure that we can so we don’t.’ (Paddy Ashdown)

Our party, the Liberal Democrats, is 27 years old. It came into being in March 1988, the product of a merger between the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The SDP was itself only seven years old, being formed in 1981 mostly by former Labour politicians, but bringing into politics many people who had never been involved in any party. The Liberal Party, by contrast, was one of the oldest political parties in the world, tracing its roots back into the seventeenth century and the struggles for Parliamentary supremacy over the monarchy.

The Liberal Democrat History Group exists to promote the research and discussion of any topic connected with the history of the party and its predecessors, and of Liberalism more broadly. Our activities appeal to anyone with an interest in the history of British Liberal politics, whether party activists, academics or spare-time students of history.

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Opinion: Rebuilding the party – lessons from history

I’ve already had journalists ring me up to ask when was the last time Liberals did so badly. The answer is 1970, when the Liberal Party won six seats on the back of 2.1 million votes, 7.5 per cent of those who voted. Last week’s result was similar: eight seats from 2.4 million votes, 7.9 per cent of those who voted.

There are other parallels. The opinion polls in 1970 had pointed consistently to a victory for Harold Wilson’s outgoing Labour government; Ted Heath’s win for the Conservatives came as a considerable surprise. On the other hand, then the polls underestimated …

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The Liberal Party and the First World War – event in London next month

War gravesIn this year, a hundred years since the coming of war in August 1914, the conflict is remembered chiefly for
 its impact on the millions of ordinary men, women and children who were to suffer and die and over the following four years. Lives were altered forever and society transformed. But the war had political consequences too: empires fell, new nations emerged and British political parties and the party system underwent profound change – a transformation which plunged the Liberal Party into civil war and caused it to plummet from a natural party of government to electoral insignificance within a few short years.

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Opinion: A green backbone for the 2015 manifesto

2008 - Evopod 1/10th Sea Trials @ PortaferryWhat approach will the 2015 Liberal Democrat manifesto take? A bit more fiscally responsible than Labour and a bit more fair than the Conservatives? Or something different: a genuinely distinctive approach built on our basic political philosophy and our long-standing commitment to the environment – where the public clearly recognise we’re different from our coalition partners and where our ministers can show real progress?

This is why we launched The Green Manifesto at the spring conference in York, to argue for a ‘green backbone’ …

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Opinion: Not a budget for green policy

Wind turbine - Some rights reserved by thomas vlDavid Cameron may now view climate change as a serious threat, thanks to the winter floods, but you wouldn’t know it from his Chancellor’s Budget statement on Wednesday. What did the Budget do for green growth and the low-carbon agenda? –

  • Froze the carbon price floor (paid by large emitters) until the end of the decade. Introduced just last year at £16/tonne carbon dioxide, it was supposed to increase steadily to reach £30 in 2020 and £70 in 2030; now it’ll stick at £18. This makes coal more attractive and low-carbon energy less.
  • Ended Enterprise Investment Scheme tax breaks for investments in renewable electricity and heat (while retaining them for everything else).
  • Extended compensation for energy-intensive industries from the electricity bill levies funding renewable energy.
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Duncan Brack writes: Introduction to ‘Green liberalism: a local approach to the low carbon economy’

This is the introduction to the recently published collection of essays, Green liberalism: a local approach to the low carbon economy. Similar collections are being published under Green Alliance’s ‘Green social democracy’ and ‘Green conservatism’ projects as part of the Green Roots programme, which aims to stimulate green thinking within the three dominant political traditions in the UK.

This collection of essays builds on two Liberal Democrat core beliefs: environmentalism and localism.

As David Howarth argued in The green book: new directions for Liberals in government (Biteback, March 2013), Liberalism is not only compatible with environmentalism, it requires an environmental approach. …

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The 2010 general election in historical perspective

John Curtice, well-known psephologist and one of the relatively few political academics to take the trouble to study and understand the Liberal Democrats, has published his analysis of the 2010 election from a Lib Dem point of view.

Writing in the latest issue of the Journal of Liberal History, he looks at why the Liberal Democrat ‘surge’ eventually failed to deliver and why the party’s natural disappointment at the result may be masking what was in reality an impressive result – the second best, in terms of seats, since 1929, and the second best, in terms of votes, since 1923.

However, the …

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So, what does a Special Adviser do?

Special advisers (or “spads” for short) tend to have a bad press. Alastair Campbell was a spad, as was Jo (“good day to bury bad news”) Moore; Andrew Blick’s book on the topic was called People Who Live in the Dark; and a contributor to a recent Lib Dem Voice exchange observed that “We made so many breaks with New Labour, why did we have to adopt their spad culture?”

Actually special advisers have a much longer history than that. One can trace their origins right back to Lloyd …

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John Stuart Mill symposium – Saturday 14 November, LSE, London

One hundred and fifty years ago, in 1859, the great Liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill published his most important and enduring work, On Liberty. Used today as the symbol of office of the President of the Liberal Democrats, On Liberty emphatically vindicated individual moral autonomy and celebrated the importance of originality and dissent. It set out the principle, still acknowledged as universal and valid today, that only the threat of harm to others can justify interfering with an individual’s liberty of action.

Mill himself was not only a philosopher, but also an economist, journalist, political writer, social reformer, and, briefly, …

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Ask questions at conference – even if you’re not there!

Party members not going to the Bournemouth conference still have a chance to input to some of the discussions. The conference features three Q&A sessions:

Sunday 20th September (afternoon) – with Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Monday 21st September (morning) – Crime Policy: Panel including Chris Huhne MP (Shadow Home Secretary), Jan Berry (Independent Reducing Bureaucracy Advocate), Juliet Lyon (Director, Prison Reform Trust) and Professor Larry Sherman (Wolfson Professor of Criminology, University of Cambridge)

Tuesday 22nd September (afternoon)
– The Economy: Panel including Vince Cable MP (Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer), Jeremy Purvis MSP …

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Bournemouth conference – for those who aren’t going

There’s still time to register for federal conference in Bournemouth – but if you really can’t go, you can still participate in some of the sessions. For the four Q&A sessions, featuring party spokespeople and outside commentators, questions are welcome from any party member:

Sunday 14th September, 14.50 – 15.35: Q&A session with Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Monday 15th September, 16.20 – 17.20: Q&A session on environmental policy, with a panel comprising Steve Webb MP (Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment), Chris Davies MEP (Environment spokesperson, European Parliament), Dorothy Thornhill (Mayor of Watford) and Jonathon Porritt (Chair, UK, …

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Bournemouth Conference update

All the documents for the party conference in Bournemouth in September are now available on the party website – including the Agenda & Directory, Fringe Guide, Training Directory, Reports, four policy papers and three consultation papers.

This includes two policy papers which are still open to amendment – ‘Make it Happen’, the party’s new ‘vision and values’ paper, and ‘Shaping our World through a Strong Europe’, the European policy paper. The deadline for amendments to the motions which accompany them is as noon on Tuesday 9 September – and this is also the …

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Bournemouth Conference – preliminary agenda published

The Preliminary Agenda for the federal conference in Bournemouth in September is now available on the party website.

All the policy and business motions included, including those accompanying the two policy papers (on security policy and on transport), are open to amendment; the deadline is 12 noon on Wednesday 9 July.

This is also the deadline for topical motions, which must be either on events happening after the 21 May deadline for motions, or related to any of the following topics: child care; crime and policing; health; housing; work and pensions.

I hope you’ll submit plenty of amendments and topical motions, …

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Event alert: Survival and Revival, 1945–1979 (14th June)

In the politics of recent times, there has been only one miracle, that is the survival of the Liberal Party’. (Roger Fulford, The Liberal Case, 1959)

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Torrington by-election, when Mark Bonham Carter won the Devon seat, only to lose it again in the following year’s general election. So what? you may say – Liberals winning by-elections is surely nothing new.

But in 1958 it was. Torrington was the first by-election gain the party had managed for 29 years. By the early 1950s the party had become almost extinct – it had lost seats …

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Debating policy at federal conference: give us your views!

Liberal Democrats are rightly proud of the fact that we remain the only major party to be internally democratic. Party policy can only be decided by the vote of the representatives of the party membership, after debate at the party conference.

Despite this, however, the number of policy motions submitted to conference has steadily fallen over the last ten years or so – down by about half between 1997 and 2007. This makes it more difficult for Federal Conference Committee (FCC) to select an agenda full of topics people actually want to speak about and debate. In addition, we are more …

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Opinion: Better health = a more equal society

I’ve submitted an amendment to the motion accompanying the health policy paper we’ll be debating this weekend at the Lib Dems’ spring conference in Liverpool, and our esteemed editors have asked to me to explain its reasoning.

The amendment aims to add to the list of things we want to do: ‘Concerted action across government to tackle the root causes of ill health and inequalities in health, including high levels of income and wealth inequality, poverty, poor housing and environmental pollution’.

The thinking behind it was triggered by listening to Nick Clegg’s comments when the paper was launched. He used the statistic – familiar from his leadership campaign, and a good illustration of the problem – that someone born in the poorest ward of Sheffield would have a life expectancy of fourteen years less than someone born in the richest ward. ‘And’, he added, ‘the NHS has to do something about this’.

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Liverpool conference

The party’s UK-wide spring conference is fast approaching – the first we’ve ever held in a major city run by the Liberal Democrats, and, indeed, the first party conference ever held in Liverpool.

The agenda is available on the party website and printed copies should be arriving during the coming week for those who’ve registered.

The main debate will of course be on the Federal Policy Committee’s policy paper on health, Empowerment, Fairness and Quality in Health Care (also available on the website), kicking off first thing on the Saturday afternoon. It contains several new developments of party policy which we will think will generate controversy; note that the deadline for amendments to the motion accompanying the paper is 12 noon Tuesday 4th March.

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Old Heroes for a New Leader: Chris Huhne

As we have done in each of the last two Liberal Democrat leadership elections, in 1999 and 2006, the Liberal Democrat History Group has asked both candidates for the Liberal Democrat leadership to write a short article on their favourite historical figure or figures – the ones they felt had influenced their own political beliefs most, and why they had proved important and relevant. Their replies are being posted up here, and are also posted on our website. Earlier today, Nick Clegg’s were posted up; now it is the turn of Chris Huhne.

Chris Huhne MP
– David Lloyd George

My …

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Old Heroes for a New Leader: Nick Clegg

As we have done in each of the last two Liberal Democrat leadership elections, in 1999 and 2006, the Liberal Democrat History Group has asked both candidates for the Liberal Democrat leadership to write a short article on their favourite historical figure or figures – the ones they felt had influenced their own political beliefs most, and why they had proved important and relevant. Their replies are being posted up here, and are also posted on our website. First off, here are Nick Clegg’s.

Nick Clegg MP – Harry Willcock and Vaclav Havel

In recent weeks I’ve made it clear …

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Lib Dem Spring Conference (Liverpool), 7-9 March, 2008 – Motions Deadline Alert

The deadline for Policy Papers and for Constitutional and Standing Orders amendments is Wednesday 21st November (noon). All motions should be sent to the Policy Projects Team on [email protected], or at 4 Cowley Street, London SW1P 3NB.

Any queries, please contact the Policy Projects Team on 020 7219 2576

(The deadline for policy and business motions is 9 January.)

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In search of the Great Liberals

William Ewart Gladstone, David Lloyd George, John Maynard Keynes, John Stuart Mill – who is the greatest Liberal of all time? All Lib Dems coming to the autumn party conference will be able to cast a vote.

The poll for the greatest British Liberal in history is being run by the Liberal Democrat History Group. In the first stage, in July, readers of the Journal of Liberal History voted between 15 potential candidates (plus an eclectic collection of write-ins).

We chose not to define what we meant by ‘great’ – leaving that up to our voters – but our criteria for candidates were that they must have been active in the Liberal Democrats, or its predecessors, or influential on Liberal thinking; they must have been British, or active in Britain; and they must be dead.

The final four to emerge were:

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Recent Comments

  • Adam Robertson
    @Peter Martin - How many seats did the Lib Dems win simply because the Tory/Reform was split? Yes we won seats because the Tory/Reform vote was split. However, ...
  • David Raw
    @ Tristan Ward I'm afraid Winston Churchill came a thousand years later than, "the early 10th century Liberal Party", and I'm afraid the good folk of Dundee...
  • Peter Martin
    @ Alex, “How many seats did the Lib Dems win simply because the Tory/Reform vote was split?” "Probably not very many actually." "Actual...
  • David Raw
    @ Tristan Ward Lessons of History ? Not advisable to ride on the back of an alligator, no matter how vulnerable and docile it may appear at first sight ....
  • Tristan Ward
    @David Raw Yes it was the alliance between liberal forces and conservative forces that led to the decline in the early 10th century Liberal Party. But liber...