Federal Policy Committee report – 16 December 2019

The first meeting of the Federal Policy Committee since the recent internal committee elections took place on Monday night. Clearly our discussions were much coloured by the General Election and some of its consequences, but nevertheless we had a constructive and positive meeting. It was great to welcome several new members of the committee: Helen Cross, Aria Babu, Alyssa Gilbert, Peter Thornton, Elinor Anderson and Rob Harrison. We were very pleased also that the party’s new chief executive, Mike Dixon, joined us for much of the meeting, which was very helpful.

First up was some committee business: Sally Burnell and Jeremy Hargreaves were elected as vice chairs of FPC, and Belinda Brooks-Gordon and Duncan Brack were elected to represent FPC at Conference Committee (FCC). We elected Lizzie Jewkes to chair the group which will carry out equalities impact assessments on policy proposals, along with Helen Cross, Mohsin Khan and Tara Copeland to be part of it. They will also involve others from outside FPC. We elected Lucy Nethsingha to represent FPC on the Federal International Relations Committee (FIRC) and as FPC delegate to ALDE Congress. We decided to co-opt the new chair of FIRC, the Young Liberals policy officer, and a representative of LDCRE to FPC.

We had a good discussion about how we can develop as effective as possible working relationships with party SAOs, AOs and regional parties. We very much welcome them being as involved as possible as we develop policy, and are keen to do whatever we can to encourage this. We will make a more pro-active effort to contact them with information about what we are doing, and we are as usual compiling a list of FPC members to be link people to individual groups. In the past we have had an FPC working group looking at what we can do practically to encourage more members to engage in policy – we agreed to re-start this, and they will also look at what more we can do particularly with party groupings such as these.

Even though our feet are still sore from the General Election last week, we need to be making plans for Spring Conference pretty quickly. We plan (subject to FCC agreeing) to hold a full feedback session on the manifesto, so members can comment on it. And we also plan to have a broad-based consultation session on Liberal Democrat fundamental values and core thinking – this feels like the right moment to take this broad look at the start of a five year parliament, to then inform developing more specific policies in due course. And diligent readers will remember it is something we had already been considering in the summer. We are of course also very conscious that there will continue to be local elections every year, plus important elections to the Scottish Parliament (2021) and for London Mayor (2020). We also had an early think about what we might want to be saying about Europe over the next few months.

We then went on to discuss ideas for further policy development. We have three policy working groups (nature of public debate, utilities, natural environment) which have been on hold and will start up again in the New Year, as well as another one for which the GE is causing an extremely protracted birth, on the future of work. We also have a range of other areas as previously published that we want to look at, and several new areas were mentioned. We noted that since our existing body of policy is based on Britain being part of the European Union, Brexit will need us to revisit a number of areas to consider afresh what arrangements we want – the environment is an obvious one, but there are many others too. We will do some work in the new year to map these then leading on to start to develop our responses.

We had our own discussion of the manifesto. It does seem to have been very well received – it was noted that the Resolution Foundation had judged it better than Labour’s for helping the poorest, but it had also been welcomed by various business groups as the best, and its costings plans were the best received by the IFS. Doing all this in one manifesto is no mean feat! Many people across a wide range of specific policy interests had welcomed it, including in non-traditional Lib Dem core areas (the example of a voter in the forces who had decide to vote Lib Dem because of the defence section was quoted) and we discussed many specific policies which were either well received or could have been slightly improved. It was also noted that there were no policies where we had got it badly wrong and where the policy came apart under scrutiny – again, given the many hundreds of specific proposals in it, this is a significant achievement, and we thanked especially the many policy staff who had worked very carefully indeed on it. Cannabis, a controversial policy in 2017, did not become a major issue this time.

We did discuss, of course, that despite being perhaps technically the best manifesto, it had not achieved the breakthrough in public consciousness that we would all have liked, and we had a discussion about the challenges of doing this, especially how we can work with campaigns, communications and other party colleagues to maximise the chances of this happening. We of course discussed the ‘Revoke’ policy, proposed by the party Leadership and agreed by Conference, and this will of course be the subject of much further discussion in the party over the next few months as the election campaign is fully reviewed. We were very conscious that we were reviewing our own handiwork, so we will be very pleased to get feedback from the party more widely at Spring Conference, and any other comments that anyone would like to send us.


We will pick up our work again in January – in the meantime, merry Christmas!

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

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  • Interesting to get list of name and to know that they have met….., but it would be helpful if it could be explained where all these people live and, more important, to have biographical details setting out their knowledge, experience and expertise.

  • David Raw – if you are a party member then you would have had the chance to read their manifestos and vote for them just a few weeks ago.

  • James Baillie 20th Dec '19 - 3:56pm

    I can’t fully agree with the cheery depiction of how the manifesto went down.

    Firstly, Help to Rent goes unmentioned here, a policy that we got roundly mocked for, and which I can’t actually find any basis for in conference-passed policy. It was a crass piece of centrism that would have mainly served as a money funnel to landlords, and frankly the mockery we got for it, which was noticeable even from outside political circles, was justified. I’m not sure what counts as a “got it badly wrong” if this doesn’t.

    Second, the manifesto failed to mention a lot of frankly our more interesting policies, which was disappointing and made us look pretty lacklustre when it came to persuading voters that we were a genuine alternative rather than being hunched over protecting the status quo. To name three, firstly failing to mention scrapping section 21 evictions, when combined with help to rent, made us look very, very poor on renters’ rights, and this was something we were getting emails about during the campaign. It felt like the manifesto had been watered down to appeal to landlords, which is a pretty bad look all round. Second, minimum income pilots went unmentioned, which given the importance of showing ourselves as a progressive option on social security was shooting ourselves in the foot. It’s an easy to explain, progressive policy that helps put clear water between ourselves and the Conservatives, so for trying to squeeze Labour votes it would have been very helpful. Third, we failed to mention decriminalisation of sex work, which is a core liberal issue with a solid evidence base behind it that speaks to our key values of protecting individuals and freedom of choice.

  • James Baillie 20th Dec '19 - 3:58pm

    As an additional/third point, we need to think better in future about bidding issues. Our environmental policies are better than Labour’s, but frequently look worse because of our unwillingness (rightly) to post implausible headline numbers. This hurt us for example in environmentalist specialist communities, where even to people with some interest in these areas, but who hadn’t done the numbers themselves, it looked like we were being outbid. Our argument that we would drop emissions faster to start despite then taking longer to get to net zero, for example, needed a punchy headline number for comparison to other parties’ plans.

    More variety available in collecting policies by theme might have been useful too. I think on areas like the environment, and possibly a few others, we could’ve done with alternate manifesto packages that went into more detail – often to help answer constituent emails for our candidate I was having to duck between different bits of the manifesto despite trying to write an email on only one topic area. Having some way to recombine, or include alternative thematic documents on, policy would be useful to consider in future.

  • Matthew Severn 20th Dec '19 - 4:00pm

    very informative thank you
    will there be a similar update from Federal Board?

  • James Baillie 20th Dec '19 - 4:03pm

    Also can I ask whether there was consideration of co-opting anyone from LGBTLD? It seems odd if it is not being represented and LDCRE is.

  • I didn’t vote in the internal elections. I didn’t feel I knew enough to make an informed choice.

  • Woods and trees. What the party needs are ideas to inspire people and campaign on. What we don’t need is a shelf full of turgid policy documents that exemplify the politics of managerialism.

  • Jeremy Hargreaves 21st Dec '19 - 12:26pm

    Thanks for comments.

    On who the members of FPC are, as Mary says we have just come to the end of a lengthy period where there has been a lot of focus on this. Information about who was elected is available at https://www.libdems.org.uk/internal-elections and this also links to candidates’ manifestos which information about them.

    James – thanks for your comments. On your final one about information in particular areas being pulled together into thematic documents – we often have produced “mini manifestos” to do just this. On this occasion where everything needed to be done in something of a hurry, this wasn’t possible.

    On co-options to the committee, FPC is permitted by the constitution to co-opt up to three people, so we can’t do it for every area (there are about 10 similar SAOs), and the intention is to use to help areas where there is a particular issue to address. On links to LGBT+ LDs, these seem to have been pretty good in recent years, thanks especially to them having an effective link person on FPC, Alisdair Calder Macgregor, and I know that LGBT+ in particular felt very happy with the way they have been linked into manifestos. And of course as outlined we are keen to link up closely with all party interest groups, SAOs and AOs.

  • Jeremy Hargreaves 21st Dec '19 - 12:26pm

    Reports from Federal Board – I can’t speak for FB I’m afraid. I certainly hope so, though I think these reports have worked particularly well from FPC and FCC over the last few years. Some of the business of FB is a bit different because some of its discussions do genuinely have to remain confidential (for instance over staffing questions). But in general yes, I hope it will do so, and I am sure its new chair, Mark Pack, would agree.

    Chloe – thanks. Yes of course the Welsh elections in 2021 are very important. I have picked up that there does seem to have been an issue over consultation with Wales this time. We’re a bit surprised about that since there are at least two mechanisms in place to do this. But it seems they didn’t work as well as they should have done this time so we will look into that with the Welsh party. On timings – we would all have liked a lot more time to do this, but being called at short notice meant that it had to be done in a bit of a rush this time!

    Ian – while I don’t quite agree with everything you say, there is a lot in it, and my last paragraph above is an attempt to express that. Clearly our campaign didn’t achieve the broad visceral appeal that some others did, and we need to think hard about that. But I also think this party will not want to go down the route of the Johnson campaign, making brash promises with nothing to back them up.

    Thanks all for your comments.

  • Tony Greaves 21st Dec '19 - 8:19pm

    I like the euphemism that the manifesto “had not achieved the breakthrough in public consciousness that we would all have liked”. That is to say, apart from a few specialist bodies, no-one had heard of it and no-one had the slightest idea what was in it. Just saying. I will reserve my comments on it since I am (for my sins) a member of the FPC.

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