David Laws to chair 2015 Manifesto Working Group

It’s now official: Lib Dem schools minister David Laws will chair the party’s Manifesto Working Group. Lib Dem MP Duncan Hames, who chairs the party’s Federal Policy Committee, has just emailed members with the following message:

Last night at the party’s Federal Policy Committee we agreed Nick Clegg’s nomination of David Laws MP to Chair the Manifesto Working Group for the next General Election. Alongside David, we also appointed two Vice-Chairs – Sharon Bowles MEP and Duncan Brack – and nine further members of the group.

The Manifesto Working Group reports to the Federal Policy Committee, which has responsibility for preparing the party’s General Election manifesto, in consultation with our MPs, before it is put before the party’s conference.

Nick has charged David and the Working Group with thoroughly stress-testing the deliverability and affordability of our next manifesto and building on the approach of the last manifesto by clearly identifying our top priorities for a future government.

You can see the full list of people appointed to the Manifesto Working Group on our website.

Best wishes for 2013,

Duncan Hames MP
Chair of the Federal Policy Committee

P.S. I am keen that we should also draw widely on the ideas and expertise across the party in developing our policy. If you have suggestions for how best we can involve people, please do let me know, and I will share these with David and the policy committee.

The news had in fact leaked last night and Liberator’s blog reports here that David’s appointment was far from unanimous, eventually approved by 14 votes to 8. [Update: I’m since told this isn’t quite the case. A motion from Gareth Epps saying the Manifesto Working Group shouldn’t be approved until a full process and remit was agreed was defeated 14-8. However, David’s position as chair was unanimously approved, 22-0.]

David is something of a marmite character within the party.[/understatement] Along with Paul Marshall he edited The Orange Book and his controversial championing of a social insurance health policy a few months before the 2005 general election irritated many colleagues and members. A few months ago he again demonstrated his ability to divide opinion by arguing that taxes should be cut to 35% of GDP. Almost one-third of party members opposed his return to the ministerial ranks in September following his enforced resignation over his expenses.

As an Orange Booker myself you might expect me to be over-joyed David is chairing the group. I’m certainly happy he’s involved in drawing up the manifesto. However, I have a concern. It’s not so much that he’ll divide the party by trying to sneak in something ‘unacceptably’ economically liberal; the working group is well-balanced in every sense, and FPC retains the final sign-off. To suggest David will manage to hoodwink them all is an insult to the others. I do worry that a serving minister has been given such an intense task. Yes, David’s phenomenal work-rate is the stuff of legend, but still — I would rather someone with lighter official responsibilities had this task, even if I disagreed with them more.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Peter Hayes 8th Jan '13 - 7:43pm

    So Orange book rules again. Can I resign from the national party whilst still delivering for the local party who still believe in the social principles that persuaded me to join when Grimond was leader?

  • Mark Yeates 8th Jan '13 - 7:52pm

    @Peter Hayes
    I may join you.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 8th Jan '13 - 7:59pm

    So the rightward march of what remains of the Liberal Democrats continues. I wouldn’t worry about “stress-testing the deliverability” of whatever you put in your 2015 swansong. You won’t be in a position to deliver anything unless you press matters to their logical conclusion and merge with the Tory Party.

  • Peter Watson 8th Jan '13 - 8:01pm

    Can’t we just say that we’ll act as a moderating influence on which ever party forms the next government?
    A manifesto just seems like an unnecessary distraction.

  • @Peter Hayes – of course, you just work for the local campaigns and candidates you feel comfortable with and politely decline to work on stuff that you feel is working for the orange book people.

    @Stephen Tall – fear not, it shouldn’t take too much of David’s time – he can use this time saving tip, and boost his green credentials by recycling:

    $sed s/Cameron/Clegg LibDemManifesto

    (I’m assuming he’s a Mac user)

  • Apologies, there should be a ToryManifesto as the input to that and the LibDemManifesto as the output.

    Typing on a phone while cooking, rarely a good idea.

  • An incredibly provocative action. I can’t believe, after all the criticism Nick Clegg has received, not least over reappointing Laws to a senior Govt position, that he should do this.

  • So bang go my hopes for the party seeing sense on the question of public versus private ownership and, for instance, admitting that privatised railways have utterly failed and need to be renationalised. Honestly, I can’t trust Laws because of his fixation with the supposed virtues of a small state, which have no foundation in terms of economic evidence. This really looks like a two fingers to those of us who do not sign up to the Orange Book view of the world.

  • paul barker 8th Jan '13 - 8:44pm

    This seems like more excellent news to me, Laws is bright, competyent & hard working. He wont be writing the thing on his own & to suggest the rest of the team dont count is an insult to them & our intelligence.
    The idea that there is an “orange” faction is Labour spin which some of us seem happy to regurgitate.

  • @Paul Barker

    I think you’ll find that the term Orange Booker has been in general use since 2010 at the earliest, and Stephen Tall described himself as such above.

    Maybe denying the existence of such a faction could look like spin?

  • Peter Hayes 8th Jan '13 - 9:01pm


    There are two factions which could be described as economic and social Liberals. Economic Liberals are close to the Thatcherite free market, a bit like Manchester free marketeers in the Victorian era. Others worried about the employees as much or more than the freedom of the owners but they became Labour before Blair moved them to the right.

  • A fully costed manifesto. Wasn’t that promised last time and then disregarded within days?

  • Paul B – You can spin all you like, and I have no objection whatever to you criticising Labour for actions it is responsible and culpable for. But to say that it is their spin which has imagined an “Orange Faction” is just untrue. You may even disagree with this characterisation, but it was discussed through the party ever since the OB was published – various Revues at Conference etc have sent it up, many platform speeches have referred to it, all originating from Lib Dems on both sides of the divide (almost said “split” but that will send you off again, no doubt!)

  • Richard Harris 8th Jan '13 - 9:46pm

    Laws is intelligent, bright and creative. Just what you need to right good fiction. Please don’t insult the electorate again by producing a document that would only be relevant in an outright win. Please don’t insult us by making promises you are prepared to drop within days of the election.

  • Tony Dawson 8th Jan '13 - 10:06pm

    Are we bothered who writes the manifesto? After all, it’s just a list of pledges. . . . . 😉

  • FormerLibDem 8th Jan '13 - 11:09pm

    Great. So the Lib Dems next manifesto is going to be written by someone who is, basically, a Tory. That’ll help get all those left leaning voters back which the Party needs, won’t it? And this news on the same day that The Lib Dems voted for the 1% cap in benefits (a few months after voting for the cut in the top rate of Income Tax). In both cases ,if the Lib Dems had voted the other way, the measure would have been defeated. Aaaarrrggghhhh! I wish I’d not been taken in by you in 2010.

  • Paul in Twickenham 8th Jan '13 - 11:20pm

    The 1964 Liberal Party Manifesto “Think for Yourself” seems to me to be as fresh, inspiring and radical today as 50 years ago: http://www.libdems.co.uk/manifestos/1964/1964-liberal-manifesto.shtml. I would happily vote for a party that stood on a manifesto like that.

    Richard Reeves has just published another tract about his ideas about the Liberal Democrats – this time on the IPPR website – http://www.ippr.org/juncture/171/10089/Stop%20looking%20left in which he refers back to the legacy of Jo Grimond.

    Reeves pedantically describes what should be self-evident : that Liberals are not Randian individualists shrugging off responsibility for the society in which we all live, but in my view he fails to clarify how the noble aim of freeing people from “ignorance, poverty and conformity” is achieved by economically conservative policies that – it seems to me – deliberately punish people for being poor.

    Presumably Reeves’s article sets the tone for the discussions on the manifesto and “The Spirit Level” is now regarded as sooo 2009 and won’t be part of the reading list for the working group. It’s regrettable to pre-judge, but I’m not expecting a repeat of that inspiring 1964 document. I rather suspect a mishmash of easy and frankly vacuous platitudes and increasingly strident right-wing economic rhetoric.

  • Had to read the article to find out for which party.
    Sounds it will be more like a suicide note, or an invitation for a merger, which might well help him pursue his agenda, and career.

  • The article suggests that Laws is in charge of ‘stress testing’ the manifesto that the Federal Policy Committee comes up with. I don’t see this as a disastrous win for the ‘orange bookers’. He’s good with numbers, he’s good at arguing. He can stress test a manifesto.

    But the FPC, that we elected, will write the thing and sign it off as official party policy. Not Nick Clegg or David Laws.

  • Honestly folks, does it matter what the Manifesto says when we are now stuck with FPTP which makes it impossible for the LibDems to win any election . So, whatever it may say in any LibDem Manifesto, this will be compromised and reneged on as soon as you become the minority partner in a 2015 government – whether Labour or Tory. Clearly, Lib Dem manifesto is not worth the paper it is written on,.

  • FormerLibDem 9th Jan '13 - 12:38am


    Exactly. And if you express disappointment that the party has reneged on it’s promises you get accused of being “naive”. It was “naive” of me to believe Nick Clegg’s signed pledge on tuition fees. It was “naive” of me to think Nick Clegg meant it when he declared “no more broken promises” in an election broadcast. It was naive of me to believe him. I won’t be so naive at the next election. But then, I won’t be voting Liberal Democrat either.

  • Tony Dawson 9th Jan '13 - 10:26am

    I recall in 1983, confronted with a pile of pap which was the ‘Alliance’ manifesto, the Association of Liberal Councillors published and circulated a document entitled “These are Liberal Policies” which peculiarly, many Social Democrats would probably find more palatable than the predigested mush of either the Alliance manifesto of those days or what some Parliamentary party members might come up with these days.

    There will be constituency Liberal Democrat parties up and down the country who will be fighting to win the next election. I do not see any Lib Dem ‘manifesto’ featuring significantly in their campaigns. One only hopes that it will not be providing ammunition to feature strongly in Labour and Tory campaigns.

  • @FormerLibDem
    “Exactly. And if you express disappointment that the party has reneged on it’s promises you get accused of being “naive”.”

    No, not just naive, also unrealistic. How do you think there was even for one moment the possibility of getting our policy on tuition fees into practice with 8% of MPs and a massive budget deficit that meant cuts in almost all areas of spending and a coalition with a much larger Tory party which would not have conceded higher taxes than it did?

    Even supposing we had voted down any proposals for higher fees, don’t you think the Tories would have exploited that by accusing us of being irresponsible and unfit for government? And what solution for higher education tuition funding would have resulted?

    The problem we have here is that some people still, even after two and a half years, do not grasp what it means to have 8% of MPs and to be in a coalition with a party with 47% of MPs in the middle of an epochal crisis in the public finances.

    The two words “not possible” seem to have passed them by totally.

  • RCA “The problem we have here is that some people still, even after two and a half years, do not grasp what it means to have 8% of MPs and to be in a coalition with a party with 47% of MPs in the middle of an epochal crisis in the public finances.”

    Well ok then, let’s go along with your argument for a minute. Since you CANNOT win an election in 2015 outright and have a majority LibDem government, the best prospect is that you will be a minority Coalition partner again. So the situation you describe above is likely to be the same post 2015 – economic conditions are not going to improve and once more you will tell us you can’t deliver your manifesto because you only have “8% of MPs and to be in a coalition with a party with 47% of MPs “. It may not be those exact numbers but likely to be that level . So my question is : why should anyone vote Lib Dem?

  • Sorry that was addressed to RC not RCA. Fat fingers, thin phone!

  • And what value in any Lib Dem manifesto?

  • FormerLibDem 9th Jan '13 - 11:18am


    Do you realise the irony of your argument. It was naive and unrealistic of voters to believe a signed pledge from Nick Clegg. If the pledge was so unrealistic – why make it? If the pledge was so unrealistic – why sign it? If the pledge was so unrealistic – why make it a huge feature of your election campaign (especially in University seats where you wanted the Student Vote)? Surely, that just means your Leaders were being dishonest – making an “unrealistic” pledge. And this from a party which trumpeted a “new politics”.

  • I will judge the worth of this group on the document they produce. There are some very good people on this working party, some who I know personally and can say they are excellent and not shy in coming forward with new ideas.

    However I do notice that it is full of parliamentarians, I think I counted 10 out of 12 – I would of hoped for a better mix of parliamentarians and experts. But I don’t know if that is allowed in FPC rules, i.e. are only FPC members allowed to sit on the manifesto group or can they co-opt others?

  • @Phyllis
    And what value in any Lib Dem manifesto?

    Plenty of value, unless you are saying that policies like the £10,000 personal allowance, Pupil Premium, Green Bank, investment in green energy, holding off Trident renewal, investment in transport etc. have no value at all because of the things we haven’t been able to do cancel them out totally.

    The manifesto exists to tell people what our aspirations as a party are. Our commitment is to fight to get as many of them implemented as possible. We can’t make a cast iron promise to do everything because of the inherent bias in our political system and the fact that, unlike Labour say, we can’t just grab power with 35% of the vote.

    We really have to get over this “all or nothing” attitude to policies. It simply isn’t realistic and totally ignores the fact that other parties, even given a full majority, are very often unable to deliver what is their manifesto with much less reason than the Lib Dems have had. Look at Labour and its “commitment” to electoral reform. Despite three terms in office, it did precisely nothing.

    So yes, Phyllis, the manifesto is a very valuable document, as long as the reader is realistic about what is and is not possible in our political setup where we are permanently disadvantaged by a ludicrous voting system.

  • Peter Watson 9th Jan '13 - 1:30pm

    I think it is important to distinguish between claiming success with policies for which all 3 major parties expressed enthusiasm (Pupil Premium, green investment) and those which were uniquely Lib Dem, We should also avoid exaggerating our claims (on Trident we seem to have simply delayed a final decision and still committed a billion pounds or more expenditure on the replacement). We also have to accept that those who voted Lib Dem did so for very different reasons: what one person considers a low priority is non-negotiable for somebody else (for me, caving-in to tory education policy is the one of the worst Lib Dem capitulations but that is not often discussed on this site).

    We should also accept that Lib Dem leaders have given the impression that they are enthusiastic supporters of coalition policies which contradict previous positions: we do not see evidence of hard-fought negotiations and compromises. I think it is important that this changes soon: if we find ourselves in coalition with Labour then taking the same approach will make Lib Dems look inconsistent and unprincipled, whilst discovering some backbone and openness will reinforce impressions that we are much closer to the tories.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Jan '13 - 2:31pm


    An incredibly provocative action. I can’t believe, after all the criticism Nick Clegg has received, not least over reappointing Laws to a senior Govt position, that he should do this.

    Indeed, this is just incredibly poor management for a start. Whatever personal charms or skills Laws might have, his views are skewed way to one extreme of the party. One of the FIRST tasks of any leader is to keep her or his organisation together by keeping all sides happy. As I’ve just written here this will be particularly important at the next general election where our survival will depend on a good supply of keen local activists working hard to buck the national swing.

    The manifesto has to be a compromise between all sides in the party – just as, as I have been arguing, the coalition has to be a compromise between the members who make it up. Suppose some big statement on the coalition’s policies was being prepared, and it was decided to appoint a left-wing Liberal Democrat MP to chair the committee which prepares it. Would the Conservative MPs be happy about that, would it help keep coalition unity, would it make less likely the sort of right-wing rebellion or drift to UKIP we’ve been seeing? No, QUITE OBVIOUSLY not. If for some reason I was given the job to pick who should chair it, I’d put aside my own political preferences, and go for a moderately leftish Tory MP. That would be the best to try and keep everyone on board and to avoid the accusations of personal bias which obviously would come my way should I blatantly put in someone who was politically just like me and way off the centre of opinion.

    Appointing David Laws to chair the manifesto working group is like appointing a left-wing Liberal Democrat to chair a group which is supposed to represent all coalition opinion and come to a joint coalition compromise. Whatever personal skills he has, and even if he has the ability (which I have never seen in him) to be even-handed, it’s so provocative, it’s. well, it’s becoming harder and harder to believe that Clegg WANTS our party to survive.

  • Didn’t I read somewhere back in 2008 that Clegg used to be a member of the Cambridge University Conservative Association.

    Is it possible that there has been an infestation of imposters within the party to being it down from within. Does make you wonder, especially when you look at the decisions being made by the leadership.

  • Matt – he’s denied it, it wasn’t and isn’t uncommon for people to join more the one political society at Oxbridge and I can think of plenty of people who were members of different political socieities when 18-19 than the party they ended up in.

    What we’re supposed to believe is that Nick joined the Tories at University, went to work for Leon Brittan then decided that the best route to power and glory was to become a Lib Dem MEP and turn them into a new version of the Tory party. Now I’m as critical of Nick as anyone but that sounds like a deeply bizarre career plan.

  • This is an interesting aside:
    “Nick has charged David and the Working Group with thoroughly stress-testing the deliverability and affordability of our next manifesto ”

    Given Nick and David’s comments, this seems to be a vote of no-confidence in Vince, Danny and the FPC for having not done this properly in 2010?

  • It was a tongue in cheek remark 🙂 but the more I think about it………lol

  • Steve Griffiths 9th Jan '13 - 4:09pm

    “This will be particularly important at the next general election where our survival will depend on a good supply of keen local activists working hard to buck the national swing”.

    As usual Matthew Huntbach says it, as many of us see it.I have been Liberal/Lib Dem agent and candidate many times and know very well that in order to retain a seat in adverse circumstances, you need to fight an effective campaign and to do that you need committed foot soldiers. I do not see not even a nod in the direction of the many left-of-centre members now departed, no hint of a ‘broad church’ inclusive Lib Dem party to welcome them back. Without them what sort of campaign will you be running? I certainly will not turn out without a percieved change of direction.

    Paddy and Tim Farron do not have much time left before the next general election to reach out to us; putting David Laws in such a position simply has the appearance of pushing us further away.

  • matt 9th Jan ’13 – 2:50pm
    “Is it possible that there has been an infestation of imposters within the party to being it down from within.”

    As a non-disclosing non-member your claim of imposters within the party are not credible.

  • @Oranjepan

    Yawn read the entire thread.

    What exactly would you like me to disclose

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