Bournemouth: a landmark Conference

Bournemouth is going to be a landmark conference for young people in the Liberal Democrats. This is the biggest opportunity in years for the party to answer the question on every young person’s mind as the general election approaches:

Is the party going to leave us behind?

With three key items on the agenda for young people, Conference will have three votes to decide what message it wants to send to the future generation of the party.

The first comes in the form of Federal Policy Committee’s (FPC) F31: Tackling the Housing Crisis policy paper. As James Bliss writes in Betrayal of a Generation, the Party’s sneaky attempt to abolish the national housing target, only two years after Conference committed to it, is a ‘signal and a big red flag to young people that the Liberal Democrats still aren’t for them’.

The Party could be choosing to send a strong message to young professionals that the Liberal Democrats are the party for them. Instead, the Parliamentary Party is insistent on subjecting the wider Party to the NIMBY policies that they hope will get them re-elected in their hyper-localist campaigns to be super-councillors. They are turning their backs on even pretending to be interested in championing liberal solutions to the nation’s biggest problems, in exchange for shoring up support in areas that are already orange.

But it’s not just housing, either. Young Liberals co-authored F13: Ending Period Poverty with the great policy team in the Lambeth Local Party. Even this motion, which seeks to transform the lives of those who experience periods who are struggling in this difficult economic climate, is being opposed because of one line.

Those who claim ‘gender critical’ beliefs are willing to sink a motion that would benefit the lives of the very people they claim to be a voice for, due to their tunnel vision. Why should young women consider the Liberal Democrats as a party that could be a voice for them, if its older members are willing to prevent such a simple, yet impactful, policy from passing? Rejecting this motion will send a clear message: the Liberal Democrats are for wealthy, middle-class men.

While young people are championing the policies that matter to them and their generation so passionately, they are also being asked to justify having their voices heard at the top of the party. F18: Young Liberals’ Representatives to Party Committees seeks to secure the Young Liberals with a guaranteed voice on two of the Party’s committees.

On Federal Policy Committee, currently, it is such that each term the Young Liberals’ Policy Officer has to justify why they should be co-opted. In a room full of some of the Party’s most senior bureaucrats, young people have to grovel to even have a non-voting seat at the table.

We should not have to prove that our voices should be heard. We should not have to bargain to have our influence exerted on the party’s policy-making process. We should not have to be grateful for the scraps of opportunity that we get.

So, Conference, it’s on you. Will the Lib Dems be on the side of young people? Or will they be doomed to a life of never owning their own home, while suffering in period poverty, and having their voices silenced on top?

* Joe is a Town Councillor in his home town of Rushden, and is Co-Chair of the English Young Liberals for 2023.

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13 Comments

  • Affordable Housing is a growing problem in virtually every major city in the world. London shares the same problem with Sydney, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. There are a handful of places where the problems are not so acute. Tokyo is one, a city accommodating over 30m people. The reason Tokyo builds sufficient housing is its zoning laws. Landowners are free to develop any land for which they have title including industrial, commercial or agricultural land as long as buildings meet regulations for adequate light and ventilation between buildings and on roads. Tokyo land prices reflect this lack of planning restrictions.
    New York has some controlled rents, but these leases are generally passed down to family members and rarely become available. The city also has what is called “Rent Stabilisation”, a lottery system for a subsidised apartment for lower income people, but there are 400 applications for every apartment that becomes available.
    New York system of Euclidian zoning or single use zoning that restricts areas where housing may be built and contributes to the housing shortage.
    The Committee that has prepared the housing paper has clearly understood that national housing targets are meaningless to private sector builders and understood the critical importance of creating a fairer market in land for so public infrastructure and housing can be delivered at a fair price.

  • Peter Chapman 19th Sep '23 - 1:55pm

    Housing is the single biggest issue facing the country.

    It effects every aspect of people’s lives and the economy.Imagine if housing costs were half what they are now….how many resources would be released to develop the economy as it needs to be to fund all of the services our population need.

    But housing costs will only be reduced by a massive building programme if our population is going to rise year on year. Private developers have no interest in supplying demand…..why would they if it reduced their profits?

    Radical housing policy does need a target but also detailed policies on how that should be done. I would suggest a target for social housing completions. redrawing of boundaries and definition of the green belt…..subsidies / incentives for building outside the south east…..massive investment in colleges and youngsters that train in building skills….council house building….incentives to small building companies to build…less emphasis on restrictive planning laws and more on building standards and quality and design to name a few

  • Daniel Jones 19th Sep '23 - 1:57pm

    I think Joe starkly (and excellently) presents the choices the party has. We do need a positive appeal to young people, a demographic we are struggling with, if we hope to retain and gain them in their later 20s and 30s. The failings in the housing target motion show the importance, in my opinion, of a clear permanent role for the Young Liberals on FPC. They shouldn’t be the sole voice but they are an important one.

    Joe is the most positive indication of our party’s future I’ve encountered in many years, and he is thoughtful and considered in all he does. In this older members of the party including myself would be well served by listening to him when he feels the need to speak out like this.

  • Janey Little 19th Sep '23 - 2:14pm

    Completely agree with this. There is definitely a brewing sense of being left behind among members of Young Liberals.

    Support towards the Young Liberals in what we bring forward at conferences, supporting our activities outside of conference season, and even things like making sure that young people get the opportunity and space to speak in meetings makes a massive difference to how welcome, appreciated, and motivated young people feel in the party.

  • Affordable housing is not just an issue for young people. It is impacting people of all ages, not least pensioners reliant on housing benefit Older people trapped by housing crisisThis FT article A new deal for the young: how to fix the housing crisiswrites “… the most crucial issue is the inadequate growth in supply, including of affordable housing. To tackle this, governments, especially local authorities, need to be able to acquire land for development at the value determined by existing planning consents.
    Local authorities should also gain the bulk of the uplift in value derived from changes to those consents. This would give them an incentive to promote development while benefiting existing residents.
    There is a strong general case for taxing land values, rather than buildings. But this will be a particularly important incentive in the case of land with unused planning consents. Nothing could encourage development more powerfully than such a tax.
    A significant part of the new financial resources available to local authorities should also be used to build affordable housing for less well-paid people. Large conurbations, in particular, cannot function without such workers.
    Finally, the private rental sector is going to remain an important form of tenure. But long-term tenants need greater security: standard rental contracts should be extended to three years.
    Housing is a complex issue, with many ramifications. But in many countries, notably including the UK, greater supply is essential, especially in the most economically dynamic conurbations. This will take some radical policy changes. It is time to embrace them.”
    How can Libdems do this? Support ALTER’s amendment to the housing policy paper.

  • Leon Duveen 19th Sep '23 - 3:31pm

    Yes we need more homes, yes we need better planning rules to allow the homes that are needed (not just the ones developers want to build), the problem with the targets is that as currently set, they appear to being use as a political stick by this awful Government to push house-building onto areas that do not have the physical infrastructure (roads, schools, shops health services, etc) to support them, but where the developers can make most profit.
    Yes we need targets but they must be not just for building the physical houses but include making sure the rest is included from the start and that they are built where they are needed

  • Daniel Jones 19th Sep '23 - 5:43pm

    @L Warner: Just to clarify, older by which I meant older members relative to the bulk of YL. At 39, I might politely decline the title of elder for now!

  • Simon McGrath 19th Sep '23 - 8:11pm

    Joe has some intersting points to make. On the one about period poverty I understand from Twitter that Liberal Voice for Women have clarified that they will not be opposing the motion, so that is good news 

  • Mary Regnier-Wilson 19th Sep '23 - 9:38pm

    Joe Bourke writes
    “The Committee … has clearly understood that national housing targets are meaningless to private sector builders”

    They may well have done, and I definitely don’t think a target in and of itself will build houses (whilst other things in the paper are brilliant and will)

    What they have clearly not understood is anything about political messaging – I reckon the Labour Party have already prepped FB adverts targeted at people under 30 saying “The party that betrayed you on tuition fees is now betraying you on housing”

    Whilst plenty of people have told me why having the national target doesn’t build houses, I have still not been told by anyone why removing the national target will build more houses. And we’ve had to for the last 2 years and won in local elections and by-elections, so having it doesn’t make us lose elections.

    But I do know that getting rid of it will make all our young activists feel betrayed by the party. And lose us the votes of young people. Is it really worth it?

  • I don’t know enough about 1 & 2 to comment (can’t see the actual motions, links would be good here!) but on point 3, from memory it used to be the case that the Young Liberals’ predecessors in LDYS (England & Wales) and SYLD certainly did have guaranteed places on the main committees. I know the party went through some rationalisation of the committees a couple of years ago, but can’t for the life of me see why restoring or introducing these should be a problem.

  • Excellent idea. Really hoping that the party returns to being the natural home for progressive youth.

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