Federal Policy Committee report 16th October: Finalising the manifesto

The Federal Policy Committee is now on the final straight in to completing our manifesto for the expected General Election, and we cleared the agenda for our planned meeting on 16 October to focus on some key aspects of the document.

Our close collaboration with the Campaigns and Communications teams continues, and we started with a review of current research information about how messages are going down with voters, which was very helpful for our discussions which followed. Because of the way that we as a party make policy through conference, our policy on almost every area is already very well established.  So the challenge of writing a manifesto is not so much writing the policy as working with others so that we present it in the way which is most useful and appealing, especially to our target voters.

This is particularly visible in the area we discussed next, the few key headline policy commitments which will be most high profile. We want these, as well of course being the right policy, to make specific commitments which help to tell the wider story about areas that Liberal Democrats prioritise and the approach we take to them. Clearly Brexit will be central here, but there is plenty more we have to say about what we will do to help people in their everyday challenges.

One thing we are rightly proud of is that our manifesto is always accompanied by a robust set of costings which set out what our proposals will cost and how we will find the money to pay for these. This is something other parties tend not to do very properly, or not at all. We spent some time with Ed Davey, the shadow chancellor, going through these plans, and are now very well down the track of developing a strong plan for committing resources to our priority areas, funded in ways which make Britain fairer.

The manifesto as a whole is now looking in good shape, and we expect to meet again over the next few days to agree its final form, subject of course to whatever happens with a General Election actually being called! I’d like to pay tribute here to all the staff now working very hard indeed at the moment to get all this right. I’m sorry not to be able to give more details of specific policies here, but I hope you’ll understand that at this stage the manifesto needs to be confidential, until we reveal it in all its glory so as to get maximum political benefit once the election is under way. Because it is based so closely on our existing party policy, those familiar with that will have a strong sense of the kinds of things we expect to say – though I hope you will be pleased with some of the appealing ways we have found to present them!

I know some party committees have spent quite a lot of time worrying about how much of their business should be confidential from party members. At FPC, almost everything we discuss is fully published shortly afterwards, so everyone can judge whether they’re happy with it, and of course express their displeasure if not. We’re very accountable in that way!

That will of course apply to the manifesto, but it also applies to the policy papers that FPC and working groups spend a year working on. So the final quick piece of non-manifesto business we did was to review the debates on our policy motions at Bournemouth.  We brought four papers there, and we were very pleased that all were warmly welcomed and overwhelmingly approved. All amendments proposing to take a different direction from the paper were declined by conference (albeit very closely in one case!). This can of course be interpreted in many different ways, but perhaps if you squint at from the right direction, one interpretation could be that in developing policy for members to vote on at conference, based always on extensive consultation across the party, we may not be doing that bad a job.

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

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  • Sue Sutherland 18th Oct '19 - 1:44pm

    Thank you for the update Jeremy which, hopefully, will reassure members that our election manifesto will be ready for the next election whenever it comes.
    However, I am rather concerned that other party committees are debating about controlling how much information should be kept from members. In my view this should not be a decision for individual committees but should be subject to regulation by the party as a whole and ratified (or not) by conference. When I last looked we were a party of open government, so it’s crucial that we discuss how this works in our own party. Perhaps the FPC is the body which should be considering this issue as it affects the party as a whole? Or perhaps it’s an issue our new President should be taking up?
    Our membership has expanded so quickly and this change needs to be managed. It’s vital that these members feel part of the Lib Dem family rather than feeling that things are decided by secret cliques while they are expected to be expendable foot soldiers with little say in what the party stands for.

  • Jeremy Hargreaves 18th Oct '19 - 3:09pm

    Thanks for the comment, Sue. I wouldn’t read too much into what I said about confidentiality of committees: I probably should have said ‘in the past’ in what I wrote, and I’m not aware of any particularly live discussion of this at the moment; it was an issue much discussed at the time of the last committee elections three years ago. My personal view is that it’s always a bit of a red herring: one of those things that sounds potentially concerning in principle, but in practice committees are very open.

    Some of the items discussed by some other committees, say the Federal Board (on which I’ve represented FPC for the last three years) or the finance committee certainly do need to be confidential and I don’t think anyone challenges that: it would for example be highly irresponsible (as well as likely illegal) to make public information about, say, individuals including staff which those committees sometimes discuss. The question is about where you draw the line. But as I say think there is much less concern than there has been: reports such as this one from committees help a lot I think. As I say this doesn’t really affect FPC, where basically everything we talk about ends up getting published to the party and debated by it anyway!

    I certainly agree that members need to have the decisive say on what the party does, and the whole system of decisions being made at conference, accountability, and indeed voting for party committees which is under way at the moment, is about achieving that.

    Thanks again for reading and commenting on this article!

  • Thank you, Jeremy, for your interesting introduction to the business of completing a manifesto. This one must be particularly problematic, because of the extreme difficulty of knowing how the immediate future is going to fall out, and how consequently soon, or not, the manifesto will be published: surely there must be passages with alternative lines or paragraphs, to be chosen almost the day before publication? Perhaps that is always true.

    But may I briefly try to turn our attention further ahead, to the election in 2024 or thereabouts? We shall have lived some years coming to realise the consequences of this year’s recklessly unrolling calamity, and struggling to restore some sense of national and family and community concord and direction. The manifesto will need to be more radical than the current one, which I believe will contain many good ideas. But ‘good ideas’ in 2024 will not be good enough: they will have to be good — and radical.

    If this sounds impudent and untimely, I regret that. But if the UK is not to collapse into three or four small states each blaming the others for the fall into Smallness it will need to be re-united as a different and better UK than it was in . . . well, 2020. Political life, like the rest of life, will not be what it is today, nor what it was in the twentieth century. And if our party — the best party so far, in many ways — is to survive and make the major political contribution required to bring the ‘united’ kingdom back to sanity and moral, communal, health by 2030 we shall need to offer bigger, more radical Ideas than simply tweaking the present, year by year.

  • Some readers may have suspected, rightly, that I am about to warn that the Green party already has the blessed “UBI” (Universal Basic Income) in its manifesto; and to point out that Labour seem to be earnestly considering the Report on the notion, recently presented to the Shadow Chancellor by its leading exponent, Professor Guy Standing. He describes UBI as ‘transformative’ and I think he’s right. Our party has so far shied away from giving it due consideration. That, I believe and urge, must change.

    There are good reasons for our hesitance. Good, but not good enough. One is that to anyone with any sense the notion immediately looks daft. And politicians try to avoid daft ideas because ordinary ‘not-political’ voters have enough sense to spot and reject daft ideas. A good party with good ideas has to sell them, by persuasive explanation. Our party, IMO, must now be careful not to be caught trailing in the wake of Red and Green : it must take the opportunity before it is too late, of leading the way. Now, is when we must quickly get a grip on the idea, and then make sure that by GE 2024 the nation knows what it is and why it is good. It may look like Economics, because it looks like numbers and £ signs, but it is much more than that.

  • Katharine Pindar 21st Oct '19 - 8:56pm

    I hope, Jeremy, our commitments to social justice, to fighting poverty and inequality and restoring the social contract ignored by the Conservatives (as UN Rapporteur Philip Alston pointed out in his trenchant May report) will be foremost in our Manifesto for the next Election. Apart from our commitments to dealing with climate change and promoting a greener environment, I believe there is no more important message to take to the people to tell them what we Liberal Democrats are about.

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