Contextualising our policies for our constituents

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It’s easy to criticise our party’s policy-making process and the amount of policy we produce. Such criticism feels a tad unfair. It’s amiss to suggest that members voluntarily producing detailed policy in their spare time prevent our party from winning its target seats. Our candidates ought to help us win by making our policies relevant to their constituents.

Are we missing an overarching theme that ties our policies together? Absolutely. As mentioned in the Thornhill review, our leader’s job is to develop that vision and articulate it. Is now the right time to roll that out? Well Lockdown 3 probably isn’t the best time to try and win the soul of the nation, as the nation is far more interested in Covid.

Until then, candidates should be thinking of ways to promote the policies we have. For example, in response to the Government’s Jobs White Paper Statement, Daisy Cooper asked Gavin Williamson if the government would consider offering a lifetime grant instead of a lifetime loan entitlement. Daisy pointed out that mature students aren’t particularly keen to take on extra debt they’ll be paying off until retirement. She suggested that the government consider the Liberal Democrats’ Skills Wallet instead.

The Skills Wallet is a policy the country sorely needs. Millions of people are out of work or reconsidering their careers. Covid aside, there are two trends reshaping our economy, one is digital transformation – more and more processes are being automated or moving online, leaving entire organisations and job roles redundant. This has been evident for years; think of the disappearance of travel agents.

The other, less cited, reason for the shedding of jobs is the steady process of mergers, acquisitions and consolidations, particularly harmful in regional economies where there are fewer employers. For example, back in the 1990s my Mum and Dad used to work for Whitbread, which had offices in Gloucester and Cheltenham. Since then, Whitbread has been through 3 separate international mergers, each time shedding jobs in pursuit of “efficiency savings”. During such mergers back office jobs like HR were lost – why pay for 3 HR departments when you can consolidate them into one? Consequently, those jobs disappeared out of Gloucestershire, and Whitbread’s old offices are for sale.

Fortunately, as some sectors shrink others grow. Cyber Security is one such sector and Cheltenham Borough Council is doing a fantastic job of cultivating a cyber sector here. The aim is for Cheltenham to become the UK’s cyber capital, a key challenge is sourcing a skilled workforce. To do so, Cheltenham needs to be producing a pipeline of young talent but also retraining local people who might want to make a career switch. Unfortunately, many organisations are unwilling to pay for someone to learn on the job, as over the past decade training budgets have been cut as companies made “efficiency savings”. Many people can’t afford to pay for the retraining by themselves. With companies reluctant to invest in training, it’s logical for the state to step in and give its citizens the freedom to train themselves.

With the right training, all sorts of people can move into growing sectors like Cyber. In my work as a data privacy manager I have worked alongside colleagues with backgrounds in chemistry, the civil service, and sales. In practice, anybody who has experience of managing internal processes, project management or communications can retrain and work in Cyber. This is where the Liberal Democrats’ Skills Wallet becomes a highly relevant policy, it empowers people to make the leap into higher-paying jobs and boost Britain’s flagging productivity. A lot of our policy is highly relevant, so let’s start selling it.


* David is the former Parliamentary Candidate for North Dorset. He helped write our party's response to the government's National Data Strategy and has recently moved back to his hometown, Cheltenham.

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  • Helen Dudden 22nd Jan '21 - 10:45am

    If anyone loses their employment after this situation is over, I feel the government should pick up the cost.
    There are good Open University courses, and, I feel to prevent further depression and anxiety taking over, this is one area that could be used. Constantly, there is the virus and lack of, being pushed from all areas.

  • Our policy making process is rubbish. Designed to produce verbose documents which usually convey nothing but linguistic dexterity and certainly not passion and direction.

    I remember particularly one infamous example on the Windrush scandal that went to Brighton Conference in 2018. Windrush and the Hostile Environment, developed by Theresa May and pursued ruthlessly for over six years by the Home Office led by Theresa May as Home Secretary.

    Did our motion condemn her for what she had done? Did it say anything to get what we were saying noticed in the media, saying we are on your side to people who had been shamefully treated?

    No. It preferred to wrap it all up in cotton candy and instead said something so obtuse hardly anyone noticed, except those clever Lib Dems talking to other clever Lib Dems.

    So what did it say? Well, it said

    “The blame for the recent shameful Home Office approach to the Windrush generation lies in the policy established by the Home Secretary in office from 12th May 2010 to July 13th 2016.”

    So what was wrong? The shameful Home Office approach.

    And what was wrong with it? Well who knows?

    And blame lies with what? The policy,

    Established by who? The Home Secretary,

    Which Home Secretary? the one in office from 12th May 2010 to July 13th 2016.

    Talk about a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

    Someone needs to get a grip.

  • Peter Watson 22nd Jan '21 - 12:55pm

    “Daisy [Cooper] pointed out that mature students aren’t particularly keen to take on extra debt they’ll be paying off until retirement.”
    Didn’t Lib Dems have something to do with that?
    And I thought that Lib Dems weren’t allowed to refer to it as debt any more; hasn’t it been re-branded as a ‘graduate tax in all but name’?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Jan '21 - 1:17pm

    Interesting, three contributions that lend credence to my view, that after Brexit, pre Ed Davey, Keir Starmer, leaderships, we ought to have had a new party, say, the Social Democrats or the Progressive Alliance, not as a pact, as a way for Labour to detoxify, rid of right wing new Labour clones, far left recent Labour infiltrators. Blair, Brown, Corbyn, were not the main problem, a few who were drawn to the extremes of , I know best are, yet!

    What could have taken place too, with such a move, to realignment, it would give space for the Liberal Democrats to reinvent themselves in it.

    Can this party, alone, do it? Can Labour?

    Policies are made, candidates, chosen, leaders too.

    But the process and result is poor if it barely makes impact.

  • @ Lorenzo I’m afraid it’s much simpler and easier to get an existing political party to move its stance than to go through the whole rigmarole of setting up a new one……… though judging by Katharine Pindar’s recent experience some political parties and its string pulling insiders are more resistant to change than others. There’s also the matter of finance – he/she who pays the piper ……

    What’s missing in the current Lib Dem Party are the old Liberal Summer Schools held at Universities in the Summer Vacs over a long weekend where new ideas could be discussed and thrashed out with experts who really knew what they were talking about. There also seems to be a vacuum in the party outside London and the Home Counties… particularly on the FCC who control and set the agenda for Conference.

    And there’s the no small issue of charismatic leadership able to express ideas in an articulate and compelling way….. and the political nous to know what you’re doing.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Jan '21 - 5:06pm


    You are correct, my views relate to a feeling that we are unable to get the centre left into a prominent govt of lasting consequence due to a split which had Sir Henry , Jo Grimond, et al, got their way, might not have been the case!

    So does your view mean we ought to split as a party, you and me meet up in Labour, Nick Clegg and co in the Tories?!

  • Peter Hirst 27th Jan '21 - 4:35pm

    One avenue we need to explore is the future of tourism in a post Brexit Britain. Both internal and external tourism produce plenty of opportunities. We might lose on the European tours though there is an abundance of reasons why the UK might be a sought after tourist destination on its own for both home and foreign visitors. Though it needs to be green.

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