Federal Policy Committee meetings report late June 2021

FPC has had an unusual burst of work to finish up June, with three meetings within a week, one of them a full-day awayday.

I’ll start with our plans for future policy development work, which we discussed at our in-person awayday in the last Sunday in June. It was fantastic to be back all together, with the great majority of members coming. We all really enjoyed the energy of being able to work together in person rather than sitting individually at home on Zoom, which like everyone else we’ve done exhaustively over the last sixteen months.

We started with a view of what future challenges might look like, drawing on some of our own work from last year, and also input on the economy from the Lib Dem Business and Economic Council. We also reflected on some of the outputs of the research about voters which we’ve previously reported about.

Drawing on all this, there are some key areas where we want to do some further policy development work. In some cases, we already have the policy and the main challenge will be drawing it together to present to voters in an appealing way; in others new policy needs developing. Some key themes will be: how we make society fairer, and also more caring, including specifically carers but also more widely. There’s a clear need to do some thinking about how the economy can work to spread opportunity much more effectively, and also to draw together and present our strong approach on the environment as compellingly as possible. We’ve also had a petition from a group of party members to set up a working group on defence, and two party members have proposed a number of areas for future work, particularly centred around help for the least well off. We considered all these and plan to seek further input, as well as doing some further thinking about precise remits, before making decisions on our future work programme.

In keeping with this theme of looking to the future, we have also elected Lucy Nethsingha as a vice chair of the committee. She has been a valuable member of the committee for some years, and FPC members are very pleased she will now be taking a leading role. We also said a very grateful thank you to Sally Burnell who has stood down from this role, for all the immensely valuable work and expert guiding of our efforts that she has done. We have also welcomed Adam Corlett and Martha Okigbo as two new members of the committee, following a couple of retirements.

Of course the main reason we have had so many meetings recently has been to finish up our motions and papers for autumn conference, on a wide range of topics which we have reported on in recent months as they progressed. These will be published along with the full conference agenda in due course.

There have been many requests for us to have a short and clear statement of what the Liberal Democrats’ fundamental principles and values are, and we have gone for a short statement of this rather than an exhaustive one, which we hope will be useful to all party members and campaigners. This draws on several rounds of consultation within the party over the last year and a bit, and our thanks go to FPC members Alyssa Gilbert and Duncan Brack for leading this so successfully.

At a level down from our basic values, we have also responded to requests for a statement of our current policy platform, by producing a motion and accompanying paper on our key policy themes. Again, this is not exhaustive but intended to set out some concrete proposals in key areas which communicate our priorities simply, and which we hope will be useful to campaigners.

Alongside these two papers from FPC sits the Federal Board’s motion on party strategy; together these three items at conference should set out a picture of several different top-level aspects of who we are and what we are seeking to do and how.

Next, we have finalised the paper on the Nature of Public Debate about which we’ve reported recently. We thank Martin Dickson and the working group he has chaired, for producing a timely and insightful, and authentically Liberal Democrat, response to some very difficult modern challenges. I think this paper should appeal well to Lib Dem members at Conference.

We committed last year to set up a working group to look at how power structures should operate at the regional level within England, within the context of a federal UK. John Shipley has led this group on which a wide variety of different views have been represented. After a lot of work recently by both the working group and FPC, we think we have a strong motion to bring to conference, setting out a clear view on how powers should be divided up between the different tiers of government within England, and offering conference some options to choose from on different ways of embodying these within the constitution.

Also following last year’s autumn conference, a working group under Paul Noblet’s chairmanship has been working very hard on details of how our commitment to introduce a Universal Basic Income (UBI) should work. The group has done a lot of modelling of possible approaches, and recently conducted a further round of consultation with the party on mechanisms on these fairly technical questions. After careful further discussion we have agreed that we would like to spend a bit more time making sure that we have these detailed proposals quite right, so we will be consulting party members further on this, before planning to bring firm proposals to spring conference next year.

Following up from the climate change policy agreed by conference in September 2019 (little did we know then it would be our last physical conference for two years!), a small and somewhat more technical group led by Duncan Brack has been working on how a system of carbon pricing should work. On the basis of very careful analysis of how this works we are proposing approaches suitable for each main sector involved, which we think will work more effectively than a blanket approach to all areas, regardless of how they work and its impact.

Finally, we have the first output of the programme of work on the UK’s future relationship with the EU which spring conference asked us to begin. As previously discussed, at this stage we are following an approach of developing proposals in individual areas where we want a much closer relationship, and so we have proposed a motion on educational and cultural links between the UK and EU, where there are a number of live and important areas where a Liberal Democrat approach would be much better.

This is an unusual range of issues for us to bring to one conference; in fact, many are the result of direct requests from conference on particular topics, combined with delays caused in the past, and requests for us to step up a level from individual areas and set out our overall approach clearly. We don’t normally bring this many items to one conference! But these will be our proposals for this autumn conference; they contain some fascinating, and crucial political topics, and we hope when they are published you will like them.

* Jeremy Hargreaves is a vice chair of Federal Policy Committee and the Federal Board.

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