Federal Policy Committee Awayday

FPC members met for an awayday meeting on Saturday 19 May 2018, with a focus on reviewing our overall plans for policy development and how they can most usefully contribute to the party as a whole. It was an upbeat meeting, with lots of positive ideas for our next steps.

We started with a briefing from Nick Harvey, the party’s Chief Executive, on the party’s overall direction and current objectives, so that FPC’s plans could contribute most usefully to that. This led on to a presentation of some recent research and polling on messaging. Next we reviewed a paper on the “Left Behind” written by a group of Lib Dem peers led by William Wallace. This all led on to the current draft of our own paper on key Liberal Democrat policy themes, drafted by Duncan Brack in discussion with many others, which we plan to bring to autumn conference this year.

We had a number of in-depth discussions drawing on all these items and much else, leading to some conclusions about our own key policy messages and our own detailed policy development plans. It is clear that the core liberal ideas of both fairness and opportunity will be key, and these and others will feature in our themes paper. We discussed our own programme of policy development work in this context too, and in addition to our current plan, we will commission a policy paper with proposals for helping the least well off in society. We will be refining this idea further over the next few weeks.

In the afternoon we moved on to getting ahead with our discussion of several policy papers before the deadline for motions for autumn conference at the end of June. Sally Burnell, an FPC member and member of the working group on immigration and identity, presented the current outline of their work. The FPC considered a request from Lib Dem Immigrants to recall the consultation from this paper. We decided against this because the working group had addressed specific concerns by running further consultation, and the initial consultation also produced useful feedback that had been incorporated into this draft.  FPC welcomed the work that has been done on the policy paper and had a useful discussion about a wide range of detailed points.

Mike Tuffrey, chair of the policy working group on the 21st-century economy then introduced their work. Again, many specific points were discussed, as well as the need to link up much of the material in the paper to some of the high profile big questions facing the future of the UK economy, including technology and the wax and possible wane of globalised trade, and the liberal response. Both papers will come back to FPC again before being submitted for autumn conference.

Finally, FPC discussed two process issues. We agreed a plan for how we will draw up a manifesto should an early General Election be called. This builds on the successful approach used last year, with an additional emphasis on closer working with other parts of the party, especially the campaigns and elections function. We appointed Dick Newby to chair the – necessarily extremely brief and intense – manifesto process in such circumstances. These plans are for an early GE possibly called at short notice; we will discuss and consider plans for a ‘normal’ GE held four or five years after the last one, in the autumn. We expect that that will, as usual, include wide consultation with the party as a whole.

We also reviewed the process we have used for appointing chairs of policy working groups. The key skill for performing this role well is managing discussion between members of the group, the parliamentary spokespeople, other senior party stakeholders, FPC and others, and so the strongest candidates are people who have experience managing this kind of discussion. We want to actively encourage anyone who has a good potential working group chair for upcoming groups to suggest, to give their name to the policy unit. We always spend considerable time on promoting diversity among both working group chairs and members, and will continue to put a lot of effort into encouraging people from under-represented groups. We always report planned policy working groups well in advance (at least months in advance, and sometimes years!) so anyone with an interest in a particular area has plenty of time.

I was personally really encouraged by this meeting. FPC and the party’s policy development function is working more closely with other parts of the party than it has for a long time, and this can only be to the benefit of the party as a whole.

* Jeremy Hargreaves is one of the Vice Chairs of the Federal Policy Committee.

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16 Comments

  • Meanwhile IPSOS MORI has us down 3 at 7%, Grrens up 3 at 5%. Who are we kidding?

  • paul barker 24th May '18 - 5:15pm

    Can I point out yet again that looking at individual Polls is pointless, there are plenty of averages available or you can look at one of the sites that list all Polls & do it yourself.
    I have been making an average of the last 10 Polls since they began to shift in March, we currently stand at 8%, down on where we were a Month ago but still well up on the period from last July to February.

  • Not often you see 8% described as “well up”?

  • “FPC considered a request from Lib Dem Immigrants to recall the consultation from this paper. We decided against this because the working group had addressed specific concerns by running further consultation, and the initial consultation also produced useful feedback that had been incorporated into this draft.”

    That’s a shame.

  • David Evans 24th May '18 - 8:16pm

    Sadly the article sounds very much like an organisation that hasn’t come to terms with the fact that it is no longer a minor party with 30, 40 or 50 MPs, which can afford the time to discuss how to co-ordinate its angels to dance on the head of a post EU trade war pin, rather than a tiny almost inconsequential party (except to itself) with less MPs than it has had in many decades and is now inconsequential in most of the UK. Apparently for the people of this country, of all the parties our position on the EU is the least well understood.

    We are back to the situation the Liberals were in back in the 40s and 50s – having fun developing lots of lovely theories as to how to solve the mess our country is in, without having the slightest idea or concern as to how we actually get the chance to do anything about it.

    I wonder if anyone on FPC has any real understanding of how critical our situation is. We so desperately need a Grimond, a Penhalygon or a Kennedy right now.

  • Jeremy Hargreaves 25th May '18 - 11:27am

    Thanks everyone for comments so far. The point about the party’s current poor electoral situation is well made, and the major focus for FPC at the moment is producing policy which is as useful as possible in campaigning and winning us votes and seats – hence all the talking to the Chief Exec and campaigns department that we are doing at the moment. Sorry if this didn’t come across in the original article.

    And the ‘themes paper’ we are planning is exactly intended to be a a policy statement of where we are as a party, and key things we believe, intended to help attract voters.

    Certainly policy isn’t everything for a political party but setting out what we believe, in the right and appealing way, is the core of what we are and to attracting voters.

    Policy is also vitally important for a political party to get right – it was a policy mistake in a complex area (on social care funding) that torpedoed the Conservative campaign in last year’s General Election.

  • Sue Sutherland 25th May '18 - 12:18pm

    Jennie, thank you for saying that. Gordon Lishman posted about community politics earlier and I wonder, if the party applied the same principles to its own structures, whether the FPC would have made the same decision? I hope not.

  • Katharine Pindar 25th May '18 - 4:29pm

    Jeremy, thank you for this outline of what FPC was discussing at its Away-day. I am concerned with how the wider membership can feed into your thinking, in more ways than by membership of working groups. In particular, there is a mismatch between policy development being pursued independently by non-FPC members and that commissioned by the FPC.

    Specifically, you write that ‘We will commission a policy paper with proposals for helping the least well-off in society.’ You do not tell us how you may do that. I must tell you that there is a very good motion on ‘Ending Relative Poverty in the UK’ in its near final draft, prepared for submission to the autumn Conference by a senior member of the party who has held office in the English party and his region and is extremely knowledgeable and experienced in developing this theme. I would suggest that it is important that you involve this member in your proposed policy paper development, or preferably consider and adopt his motion. which is currently receiving further drafting advice but has already been well received. Please comment here on this matter, but perhaps also on the FPC closed group Facebook page and by email. Good work for the party, I am sure you will agree, should not be duplicated.

  • David Evans 25th May '18 - 4:54pm

    Jeremy, Thanks for your reply. However, the problem the party faces isn’t a lack of “policy which is as useful as possible in campaigning and winning us votes and seats,” it is simply that whatever the policy you we develop, the public don’t notice, and however much new wonderful policy you develop that will not change.

    What our leader, Chief Executive and other senior figures have to address is that we collapsed despite the fact we had great policies, because as soon as our leaders got into government they did something totally different – tuition fees, austerity, cuts to legal aid, secret courts etc – none of these were in our policies. It was a simple betrayal of trust.

    As a result, voters left us in droves, in local elections in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 and our leaders ignored the message. So the cataclysm hit in 2015, and still no one wants to change tack. Now we are so weak, it isn’t lack of trust, it is lack of importance. In the scheme of things we are of no consequence whatsoever.

    Even for our biggest policy area where we are fundamentally different from Con and Lab, most of the public don’t know what is our policy and most of the rest trust Jeremy Corbyn’s prevarication more than us.

    Lots of new policies will make those people developing them very happy, and will provide endless opportunities for debate and discussion by those many Lib Dems who love that sort of thing. But it will do nothing for our party’s electoral chances because people are ignoring us, and at every opportunity to change direction and actually get people to notice we have changed has been spurned. 2014, Euro Election debacle – we preferred to do nothing; 2015, New leader – no change; 2017, second New leader – still no change.

    Policy is not the problem – a leadership prepared to face up to the consequences of their past actions, and to accept they need to change – That is what we need.

  • Martin Walker 25th May '18 - 6:57pm

    Thank you Jeremy for taking the time to report back. One section worries me greatly.

    “The FPC considered a request from Lib Dem Immigrants to recall the consultation from this paper. We decided against this because the working group had addressed specific concerns by running further consultation, and the initial consultation also produced useful feedback that had been incorporated into this draft. FPC welcomed the work that has been done on the policy paper and had a useful discussion about a wide range of detailed points.”

    This concerns me for two reasons. First, specific concerns are only addressed if they are reflected in the final paper – just running a consultation doesn’t address anything. Secondly, discussion about a wide range of detailed points. The issue with the paper wasn’t so much the detail, it was the whole basis and assumption on which it was written, which seemed to be arguing that we needed to be seen to be really tough on immigration so that one day we can have a more liberal debate. This is wrong in principle, and wrong in practice – can anyone point to an example of where being tough on immigration has led to a more liberal debate?

    If this paper comes back on the basis that there has been minor, cosmetic changes on points of detail, rather than starting from a different, liberal place that puts humanity first, I hope it is resoundingly rejected. If my fears as to what has been done to improve the paper are misplaced, then that’s great.

  • Jeremy Hargreaves 28th May '18 - 10:18pm

    Thanks for further comments.

    Katharine – I have responded on the FPC Facebook page to say we will be in touch with the person you identified, and look forward to seeing his motion. If it’s a good motion I don’t think FPC should take it over but it should go straight forward to conference. For our proposed policy paper, this will follow the usual mechanism, in which a working group will consult the party and develop proposals over about a year before something comes to conference (where again of course it can be voted down if people don’t like it).

    David – thanks. Much of what you say is obviously right, and I also agree with your conclusion that “policy is not the problem”. There are many other things the party needs to be doing, and is doing. We think for the policy committee our job is to produce and communicate ideas which can attract people, and crucially, not get it wrong. The history of all parties is littered with examples where relatively small examples of getting it wrong have meant that policy has very rapidly become a very big problem indeed!

    Comments on the immigration paper. Obviously there are strong differing views on this, and I think everyone respects that many people would take a different approach on this from that outlined in the original consultation paper. FPC considered this seriously but on balance did not fully agree with it. But ultimately if there continue to be strong differences of opinion with the final paper, it will be a question for conference to decide in the autumn. I think from FPC’s point of view we hope that strong differences of opinion on these very important questions can be discussed while respecting the genuine good intentions of everyone in the discussion.

    Thanks also for other contributions which I didn’t think needed a response but which have certainly been noted.

  • JoeB, What you say is absolutely correct, we do need to be prepared just in case another hung parliament arises, and it needs to be stuff that is relevant to a substantial proportion of the population, the ability to earn a reasonable wage to live on, to be able to get the skills you need, not be exploited and to be protected in times of adversity are all important.

    But, we have to accept that the chance of us having even a tiny part in any future government is miniscule. We are no longer close to being the third party, and even if one of the two major parties decided they needed our support, the way our leaders naively gave in early in coalition (especially in the negotiations in 2010 and the the early years) will mean no-one will give us anything next time. So we need to get much bigger – I would suggest a doubling of size (MPs and councillors) at a minimum – before those policies will be of any use other than for internal consumption only.

    That is the conundrum our leaders have to accept and find a way to solve, but at present, I still see no acceptance of the problem, just a never ending ‘we really are doing so well’ mantra. Acceptance that we are not recovering to any significant extent, despite doing very well in three councils, and changing ourselves so we can start to recover as a force in parliament has to be everyone’s No1 concern. We need to save the party before we can dream of saving the country.

    Asquith was partly right when he wrote ‘there is only one way in which liberalism can be killed and that is by suicide.’ However, self neglect and unwillingness to admit to problems and a need to change has got us very close. We are still in that area now.

  • David Evans 29th May '18 - 1:54pm

    Jeremy, Thanks for your further reply, but I think you can tell from my response to Joe above, I do not share your views (i.e. I disagree fundamentally with your assessment).

    When you say “There are many other things the party needs to be doing, and is doing,” I’m afraid while it may well be true the party is doing lots, it is still doing lots of the same old things, just slightly differently, most of which are having no effect whatsoever and some of which merely make sure we don’t change in a way that is essential to us returning to long term relevance and success.

    Likewise when you say “Much of what you say is obviously right, and I also agree with your conclusion that “policy is not the problem” the problem is that the party hierarchy is steadfastly refusing to engage with the sad facts of our situation. We have the party website claiming “This year’s local elections saw our best result in more than FIFTEEN years.” This is pure self delusion and another excuse not to change. Indeed, the fact that you imply some areas of disagreement with me (*much* of what you say) but do not then discuss it, is par for the course – Paper over/ignore the cracks; pretend everything is fine; and carry on, is so post coalition Lib Dem. Putting it simply, we will not change or recover with such an approach.

  • Katharine Pindar 29th May '18 - 9:25pm

    Jeremy, thank you for your replies to me, and I am glad you think the motion on Ending relative poverty if reckoned good may go forward to Conference without FPC involvement. I believe you will consider the motion an impressive one to tackle an immediate and growing problem in our society, to which several authorities have drawn attention, and which attracted a report on a struggling family on the Today Programme only this morning.

    Your report that FPC ‘will commission a policy paper with proposals for helping the least well-off ‘ did not seem to suggest a working group being set up, which of course offers longer-term consideration, so perhaps the idea has been modified because of the prospect of an immediate useful motion being received. It is indeed surely urgent for the party to offer constructive answers to this pressing problem, going beyond our valued Manifesto pledges on welfare payments, so I very much hope that I may see this motion emerging in the Conference agenda in due course.

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