Federal Policy Committee Report – 15 February 2017

Federal Policy Committee met on Wednesday 15th February. The meeting was slightly in advance of our normal cycle (it having been obviously felt that having a long FPC meeting on the evening before the Stoke-On-Trent and Copeland by-elections was a bad idea).

Sadly the combined effect of a Parliamentary recess and half term in some areas of the country led to a lower turnout than at the previous meeting with neither Tim Farron MP nor the regular compiler of these reports Geoff Payne being able to attend. In Tim’s absence the meeting was chaired by the committee vice-chair Duncan Brack.

The meeting as a whole was driven much more by discussion over future process than the previous meeting’s focus on policy matters for Spring Conference. In some ways Federal Policy Committee regards our pre-conference work as “done with”; we are now awaiting the input from conference on the policy papers, motions and consultation papers to shape how FPC will proceed. As such, much of our work this time was on preparation for post-conference work.

The shape of some of our subcommittees and working groups due to report back for Autumn Conference was fleshed out. Belinda Brooks-Gordon was elected as the Chair of the Policy Equalities Impact Assessment Group (of which I am also a member) which will review Policy proposals with an intersectional view of the impact of policies upon all diversity strands.

The membership of the working groups for the Immigration & Identity and Power for People & Communities Policy Papers (both due for Spring Conference in 2018) were confirmed. A huge number of applications were received for the task, and FPC could easily have filled two working groups on each topic from people with equally relevant skills and experience. I would like to extend the FPC’s thanks to all those who applied, regardless of whether we accepted you or not.

We received and reviewed the Rural Communities Consultation Paper, which will be released along with the paperwork for Spring Conference, at which there will be a consultation session. If you aren’t attending conference, there will be a window for written consultation submissions after conference. The FPC will then be submitting the final policy paper on Rural Communities to the autumn conference this year.

FPC also finalised the division of work among members who will liaise between FPC and the (S)AOs, Parliamentary Party Groups and Regional Parties. There are more groups for us to liaise with than there are members of the committee, so a degree of doubling up has to happen for everything to be covered.

We then had a broad-ranging discussion about the work of the FPC over the next three years, bearing in mind the fact that the Agenda 2020 paper adopted at Autumn Conference 2016 sets out the policy paper timetable for the next few years. We are mindful of the fact that we may be called upon to produce a Manifesto at short notice should the government collapse and a General Election take place.

Europe, Brexit and the place of Britain in the World will of course be the overriding political issue for the foreseeable future, with a debate or topical discussion scheduled for Spring Conference in York and a detailed Policy Paper due this Autumn; one of the consequences of Europe having been a high-profile issue for so long is that Party Policy on it is expressed across a large number of diverse motions and papers, and it will help to draw all the threads together and update policy within the context of Brexit at that time.

A document presenting areas in which Party Policy is in need of attention was discussed. It was gratifying to realise that in several cases Policy needs to be updated because in Coalition we succeeded in implementing our policy into Law. In other cases a change in world circumstances requires an update to policy to meet those challenges.

FPC Plans to present Policy Papers over the next few conferences on a variety of topics as shown below:

Spring Conference 2017: Nuclear Weapons, Sex Work

Autumn Conference 2017: Britain in the World, 21st Century Economy, Rural Communities, Education

Spring Conference 2018: Power for People and Communities, Immigration and Identity

Yet to be allocated: Climate Policy, Health and Social Care, Crime, Policing and Justice, Taxation

The reforms to the Policy making process discussed at Bournemouth in 2015 were briefly spoken about, as this is a newly elected committee from the one which discussed the matter after previous consultation. In particular engagement with members old and new was felt to be critical to both the vitality of the policy making process, with fresh perspectives from new members being welcomed to ensure we never become an echo chamber, and to membership retention.

We received an update on the “Your Liberal Britain” exercise, which had obtained a huge number of submissions. Work going forward from this will create a Vision Statement for the party for the immediate future, and what the country would look like in the Liberal Democrat ideal future.

FPC will meet again for a joint session with the Federal Board before Conference, and then again (several times) at Conference itself.

* Alisdair Calder McGregor was Candidate for Calder Valley in 2015 and is a member of the party's Federal Policy Committee

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15 Comments

  • Duncan Brack to the rescue yet again then!

  • Lester Holloway 20th Feb '17 - 7:59am

    I don’t understand why we don’t have a policy working group on race equality considering how lacking we are in policies to tackle racial inequality.

  • Duncan Brack 20th Feb '17 - 10:08am

    Thanks to all for your comments. Apologies for the website being behind our decision-making; in fact, as I understand it, much of the website content is due to be overhauled and made easier to navigate, and we’ll try to make sure it’s as user-friendly and up to date as possible. FPC only approved the memberships of the working groups last Wednesday, so applicants will be told very soon. In relation to both these issues, bear in mind that Policy Unit only has two full-time staff and as well as implementing FPC decisions they handle all the policy-related paperwork for FCC and conference. They’ve been very busy recently getting ready for York conference.

    On Lester’s comment, conference approved a long and detailed paper on equalities, ‘Extending Opportunity, Unlocking Potential’, in autumn 2014. When we were putting together the schedule of policy papers for the next few years which conference approved last autumn, we didn’t think that paper needed substantial updating, so we didn’t include it in the schedule – and no one at conference disagreed with that. If you think any aspect of it is wrong or out of date, though, you don’t need FPC to set up a working group to look at it – you can submit a motion of your own to conference. EMLD, as an SAO, has the right to submit motions, and so do any 10 party members or local party.

  • Lester Holloway 20th Feb '17 - 12:29pm

    Duncan Brack, your reply shows how far the Lib Dems have got to go on race equality.

    First, the ‘Extending Opportunity’ covered all equalities strands with very little on addressing racial inequality. My comment was about the need to develop policy specifically in this area.

    Second, we are falling further behind Labour in this area. Labour are undertaking a new and comprehensive race equality consultation. If we Lib Dems don’t act, we will be even further behind than we are.

    Third, there has much that has happened in recent years that our party has not processed in terms of policy. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s race report; the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s report on race in the UK; the Lammy review into race and criminal justice; the racial dispartity audit; Business in the Community’s race at work report; and much research by academics and think tanks on issues such as economic inequality by race, disproportionate BAME unemployment and transitions from education to work. These need a liberal policy response.

    Fourth, developing policy requires thinking and analysis of the kind that policy working groups are designed to do. How much new and detailed policy can anyone get into a motion to conference? There is no shortcut, just the political will to develop policy by applying ourselves, or a dismissive attitude that it isn’t important enough.

  • Sue Sutherland 20th Feb '17 - 1:08pm

    Thank you for your excellent report Alisdair but I have a few concerns. I realise that we need policies for the next election so work has to carry on in an organised fashion but is there going to be a mechanism for checking existing policy papers against the Your Liberal Britain Vision Statement? In particular I’m concerned about our economics policy because that has to provide for the services that will sustain the sort of society Lib Dems wish to create.
    In my view we also have to have policies that help the lives of those who voted Leave because the present economic policies have left them in despair and fear. I don’t think we will survive as a party if we are simply pro EU without addressing their very real concerns and I don’t want to see them totally lost to UKIP.
    Should the party be allowed to give our policy working groups a steer towards the sort of society and economic policies we want to see by putting the Liberal Vision to conference? If I’m in a minority then I shall accept the majority decision.

  • Sue Sutherland 20th Feb '17 - 1:10pm

    Sorry I forgot to say that I agree with Lester that we need a robust policy on race, especially given the increase in hate crimes since the Brexit vote.

  • Certainly when I see Liberal Democrats making posts telling people they can’t do things because of the colour of their skin I am certain the Lib Dems have a long way to go.

  • Having read the Conference Agenda, yet another fudge on Trident I see.

  • The country is in a mess; it seems that every day brings news of more troubles in the NHS, care system, prisons and the rest. And that’s even before we get to Brexit or the kicked-down-the-road but most definitely unsolved financial crisis or the ongoing slow motion default on pension obligations.

    Sorting out the mess requires a strategic response, one that starts with a clear understanding of what’s going wrong and, from that, a plan to fix the errors.

    So, does the FPC have a strategic contribution to make or is it just concerned with the policy-making process?

    This report is primarily about the process. So where does the strategy come from?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 21st Feb '17 - 6:51am

    David Raw, I agree that the motion on nuclear weapons is another disappointing “fudge” on Trident. Disappointing, but not unexpected. There is still hope that a unilateralist amendment may be put forward and accepted for consideration by conference. It is essential that Conference should be given a real choice, with complete unilateral nuclear disarmament being an option.

  • Duncan Brack 21st Feb '17 - 9:57am

    Thanks again for all the comments. Brief responses: the FPC does not make policy, conference does. If you don’t like the papers we put to you, conference has the power to amend them or throw them out. Yes, we do have a strategic plan – it’s set out in the Agenda 2020 paper conference approved last autumn (available on party website) – but because we oversee the policy-making process, actually much of our work is process-oriented.

    I think we can all agree that the website leaves much to be desired, but there is a new team working on it at HQ; FPC and other committees of course input their suggestions. However, one of the things that’s not too difficult to find is the party constitution – see here (http://www.libdems.org.uk/about_our_party). I can’t answer the question about the English party, I’m afraid – you’ll have to ask them.

    I agree with Sue Sutherland’s point about not abandoning the Leave voters, but I don’t understand, I’m afraid, the question about the Your Liberal Britain vision. I believe the intention is for that to be debated at conference, when it’s ready, but it will talk about general themes and priorities, not specific policies (I think; it’s not an FPC process). Finally, Lester, you make some very good points, thank you. Can we discuss this further in more detail? If you email me at [email protected], I’ll get back to you.

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