Everything you ever wanted to know about… Policy and the Parliamentary Party (part 2)

(This is the third column from Lib Dem Voice’s Party Bureaucracy Columnist Mark Valladares – for Part 1 see here.)

Ah yes, the Federal Policy Committee, or FPC for short, a body of twenty-nine members, consisting of Nick Clegg, as Leader, one other MP elected by and from the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons, one MP each elected by and from members of the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons representing constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales respectively; one Peer elected by and from the Parliamentary Party in the House of Lords; one MEP elected by and from the Parliamentary Party in the European Parliament, Tim Farron, the Party President, Louise Bloom, Stan Collins and Chris White, representing principal local authority councillors, and directly elected by them, Geoff Payne (England), a Scot and a Welshman, the Representatives of the State Parties, and fifteen members directly elected by Federal Conference representatives, Dinti Batstone, Phil Bennion, David Boyle, Duncan Brack, Sal Brinton, Lucy Care, Gareth Epps, Susan Gaszczak, Mike German, Sandra Gidley, Tony Greaves, Jeremy Hargreaves, Evan Harris, Linda Jack and Julie Smith. None of these are allowed to be sitting members of the House of Commons at the time of election.

Finding out what happens at FPC meetings is somewhat difficult. For example, minutes of its meetings are not available, as I found out recently. Admittedly, providing a blow-by-blow account of arguments over key policy areas would probably be a blessing for those in the media who love talk of splits and conflict within the Liberal Democrats, but if all that is available is the fairly anodyne reports that go to Federal Conference, it hardly encourages participation.

There are members of the FPC who are the nominated Regional contacts, but their ability to liaise varies wildly from individual to individual, and there is often little connection between the Regional and Federal Policy Committees in England. On the other hand, if your Region is lucky enough to have a member of FPC (Scotland and Wales have automatic representation), there may be some interaction. You’ll note that, of the fifteen directly elected members, eleven come from the four most south-eastern Regions, one from the East Midlands, one from the West Midlands, one from Wales and one from the North West.

As a gesture towards openness, the East of England regional website has contact details for those members within its Region, so you can at least lobby them.

Meanwhile, what’s happening elsewhere? Well, there are some Regional Conferences…

19 February – East Midlands Regional Conference

26 February – North West Regional Conference

26 February – South Central Regional Conference

9 April – London Region Conference and Rally

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10 Comments

  • Tony Greaves 5th Feb '11 - 9:44pm

    The problem with membership is that the FPC meets at 6pm at Westminster in midweek. I may be from the NW (indeed I am – just) but I am in Westminster in the middle of the week.

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Dawson 5th Feb '11 - 11:00pm

    In the good old days Donnachadh McCarthy used to provide a full report of proceedings to members via cix. No tidal waves were apparent as a result.

  • Dinti Batstone 6th Feb '11 - 10:17am

    I’m London Region rep (along with Jeremy Hargreaves) – getting in touch with local party chairs is on my ‘to do’ list, thank you for the prompt!!!

  • I joined the Liberal Democrats several years ago, in the hope of having my voice heard in the legislature. The party’s stated polices on my touchstone issue, drug law reform, are sufficiently in line with my own thinking that I would be satisfied if I saw those policies promoted by Liberal Democrats in parliament. I don’t expect to have all these policies implemented, I don’t expect to be listened to, but I do expect to be heard, certainly now that the party is part of the government.

    Then the opportunity came for my representatives to speak for me (and the rest of the members, who are supposed to make the policy in this party). The Home Office announced that there would no longer be a requirement for scientific advisors on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. What a message to send out!

    I waited for my representatives to speak up for my views and for party policy. Silence.

    I decided that, unless I heard someone in a position of authority in the party speaking up for me, there would really be no point in my continuing membership. I was really looking hard for a reason to stay. When I heard one of our MPs saying something vaguely liberal and rational on the topic of drugs, I wrote to him. I gave him an opportunity to keep a member in the party: if he could point to a Lib Dem Minister or other figure of authority saying something similarly liberal and rational, I would renew my membership.

    To his great credit, the MP tried: but he failed. Now that they are in government, albeit as the junior member, my supposed representatives will no longer represent me.

    I pointed this out to my MP friend, and he wrote back to me yesterday. He says the reason my representatives are not representing me is “cabinet collective responsibility”.

    So now when I see you writing about how policy is made and how we can affect it, I thought I would ask you about this. I have a definition of cabinet collective responsibility it is a “constitutional convention in governments using the Westminster System that members of the Cabinet must publicly support all governmental decisions made in Cabinet, even if they do not privately agree with them.”

    So I’m wondering how and when the decision was taken in Cabinet that we should abandon science-based drugs policy and just turn the whole thing over to the drinks industry and the readership of the Daily Mail.

    And what point there is in supporting the party in these circumstances.

    My membership has lapsed now. I’d really like to be able to rejoin, and all it would take would be some small evidence that I wouldn’t be paying to support my worst enemies. Any offers?

  • Dave Warren 6th Feb '11 - 1:43pm

    There appears to be a need for reform to a set up that appears far from perfect.

    Sureley a national policy committee should be directly elected. As a minimum the
    fifteen places referred to that aren’t reserved should be voted on by all members.

    A Regional element might be worth looking at as well.

    Those making policy in between conferences must have a clear electoral mandate
    particularly when the party is in power and the need for dialogue with Ministers is
    essential.

  • Thank you for that response Julian. I do appreciate what you and Tom Brake are doing, and I’ve acknowledged that to Tom, but I’m afraid that just isn’t anything like enough to persuade me to rejoin the party and contribute to its funding.

    My reasons are directly related to the topic of this discussion, it’s about policy and the parliamentary party.

    When I became a member of the party I was told that the policy is made by the members, and that was important to me. I know what the policy is on my pet topic, drugs law, and I can accept it as a statement of the views of the membership.

    And then we are unexpectedly in government. It seems quite possible that the party might have as much power now as it will ever have. So where is the implementation of party policy I was promised? I’m told that Lib Dems at ministerial level can’t speak out because of collective cabinet responsibility. Does that mean that a policy has been determined on matters like drugs law, and that the Lib Dems in government support it?

    How is anything ever going to change for the better in those circumstances?

    I see what you say about keeping quiet about your plans Julian. I am still looking for a reason to rejoin the party, all I have to see is some evidence of Lib Dems in government achieving something significant (in the right direction) about drug law reform. Do you think when your plans materialise I will be satisfied?

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