Federal Policy Committee Report 29 November 2017

The Federal Policy Committee met again on 29th November 2017. The agenda comprised draft proposals from two of the main working groups in train at present and two further items on strategy.

Update on Education Working Group

Lucy Nethsingha attended the meeting to talk through the preliminary proposals of the Education Working Group. There was an accompanying paper. This group was originally to report to Autumn Conference of this year but was delayed because of the snap General Election. It will now report to Spring Conference 2018.

The committee went through the proposals set out in some detail. I am not going to reproduce them all here because they are not fully finalised and are yet to be debated by conference. However, they set out a clear and compelling reform programme that will make a real difference to the lives of our young people and their teachers.

Committee members raised a number of particular issues. They included how the education system could reduce inequality, the fragmentation of the education system through the widening use of academies and free schools, the role of Local Authorities, careers advice, mental health, diversity, GCSE exams and teacher recruitment.

The group will return to the committee with a completed paper shortly.

Update on Rural Communities Working Group

The committee next received an update from the Rural Communities Working Group and its chair, Heather Kidd. One of the key tasks of the group is to set out a vision of what a successful local community in a rural area looks like.

There was a short paper setting out the provisional conclusions of the group. During the consultation phase, Party members were asked what they thought the key issues were insofar as rural communities are concerned. Those that came up included investment and cuts, broadband and mobile phone signals and public transport. Other important issues included housing, Brexit and the cost of living. The group
has developed policies to meet those challenges, together with a number of others identified through the process, and the committee went through those in some detail.

Particular issues that came up in the debate were housing, transport, tourism and coastal towns.

Again, a completed paper will return to the committee at a future meeting (probably in January) and the proposals will be debated at Spring Conference 2018.

Race Equality Working Group

The committee agreed to set up a Race Equality Working Group at its last meeting. This is a high priority area for the Party and one in which work is now overdue.

The chair and remit of the group was agreed at this meeting. The chair is to be Merlene Emerson. The Vice-Chair is to be Issan Ghazni. We advertised the position of chair widely and there were a number of high quality applicants.

The remit of the group makes it clear that the Party is committed to a fair, free and open society, as is set out in our Preamble to the Constitution. We reject all forms of discrimination and prejudice and we are therefore committed to race equality. The remit notes that advances have been made towards a less discriminatory society but there are still many barriers and prejudice in evidence.

The group is required to consider those barriers and propose policies to address them and to create a more inclusive, tolerant and fair society. Specific areas that the group will be required to consider include public sector institutions, legislation, race inequality in the economy, as well as the justice, housing and education systems. Health inequality is also to feature.

The group is to consult at Autumn Conference 2018 and report to Spring Conference 2019.

Membership Engagement Update

There was a useful report-back on the policy-related activities of some of the Regions in England and Specified Associated Organisations (SAOs) including Liberal Youth. The committee is going to re-visit the question of liaison between Regions/SAOs in February 2018.

Strategic Messaging

Mark Pack attended the meeting to talk about strategic messaging. He said that he had been asked by Vince Cable to convene a small group to consider the approach of the Party to strategic messaging and to ensure that there is strong integration between initiatives of the Leader, the Federal Policy Committee, the Chief Executive and the Campaigns element of the Party. In doing that, the group had been through the market research that the Party had commissioned, analysed our General Election data and considered what had worked in campaigns in the past.

Mark went on to identify some lessons for us to learn for the future together with a number of ways in which the Party can improve its strategic messaging. Those are clearly sensitive matters and I will not set them out in detail here but there is a lot of work ongoing in these areas. There will be a motion to Spring Conference from the Federal Board about it.

Several issues were highlighted by committee members in the debate that ensued. There were questions about the role of manifestoes, how the content and tone of our manifestoes might change and the role of policy generally. The committee is going to return to this in the early part of the New Year.

Making Policy to Win Votes

Complementary to the last item, Jim Williams presented a paper to the committee about how our policy-making process can be more strategic, integrated, and can complement our campaigning more effectively.

He made a number of practical suggestions about how we might better co-ordinate with the Campaigns and Communications arm of the Party. He laid out some questions that every Policy Working Group could ask itself when formulating its plans. There were also some proposed changes to the policy-making process to make it more nimble and, in some cases, faster-moving, and, at the same time, to draw upon the skills of our members more consistently than we do at present.

There was a further discussion about what our signature policies were and how we can most effectively express them. It was observed that this is actually quite a difficult thing to do.

Jim stressed that the different committees in the Party needed to work together much more closely, and a new forum in which those responsible, for example, for policy, campaigns the Leader’s Office and people development to meet was suggested.

The committee is going to take that work forward together with some additional work on identifying signature policies. The remainder of the recommendations will be re-visited in the New Year.

Report-Back from the Federal Board

Jeremy Hargreaves reported back to the committee about the most recent meeting of the Federal Board. The Board had been through the work plans of all the other committees to ensure that they were all aligned and facing the same way.

There were a couple of comments fed back to us about the Federal Policy Committee plan. One of those concerned the identification of signature policies. The second was about the need to support membership development and engagement. The third one was about working more closely with other committees. We would like to do more work with the Federal People Development Committee.

* Geoff Payne represents the English Party on the Federal Policy Committee. He is also one of the Vice-Chairs of Federal Conference Committee. He chaired the Criminal Justice Working Group.

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36 Comments

  • Thank you to Geoff for writing the report and showing how hard the FPC is working. I am particularly pleased to see there is work going ahead on strategic messaging and policy to win votes. After all you could have lots of well meaning policies and wonderful debates but failing to win any seats and not enacting any of them just makes them nothing more than an exercise in navel gazing. So on to victory!

    On another note, We have probably about 1,000 agreed policies now, it would be nice to see re-instated our policy library so people can see how comprehensive our list of policies are from Archaeology to Zoos and all things in between.

  • David Warren 2nd Dec '17 - 11:45am

    Elizabeth makes some good points.

    It does sometimes feel as though policy is made my an elite group and the process is complex, I consider myself to be of above average intelligence but I still haven’t got my head round it.

    Also attending conferences is a very expensive proposition and out of the reach of many.

    The conferences can be viewed remotely, so can we trial things like online voting so members can participate remotely.

    Finally I wait with interest for the proposed changes that ‘draw upon the skills of our members more consistently that we do at present.’

    That won’t be difficult because from where I am sitting the party doesn’t draw upon the skills of members at all even when the member concerned advertises them to the party!

  • Richard Underhill 2nd Dec '17 - 12:54pm

    At a Lib Dem Pint meeting this week a member said to me that he wants to get started on campaigning to remain in the EU, but is worried about the timescales and deadlines involved in the official process. I said Nick Clegg has written a book, 150 pages long. Perhaps our member will buy it (or request it from a library? I think he can afford to buy it). In view of the line taken on Europe by three members of our leadership, Clegg, Farron, and Cable.
    At our constituency AGM one year ago our guest speaker was a peer, who is also an economist, who thought that Brexit is a slow-burn issue but the time was not yet ripe. Is the time ripe now? please?
    Strategic work appears to be urgent.

  • I agree with the first two comments. The system is broken beyond repair (actually it never worked) so we need to start over and not regard it as Holy Writ in defiance of all Liberal principles.

    The current approach to policy-making was formalised at the time of the Liberal-SDP merger. Those who were around back then will remember a time of utter chaos and a strong desire for a ‘deliberative’ process. We got that – sort of – but in the form of an intensely bureaucratic and clunky system that’s never delivered. Hence the stark contract between the great results regularly achieved in local government and the dismal outcomes nationally.

    The iceberg is dead ahead so a change of course is urgent. I have a simple and practical proposal that’s close to the existing system, would build on the best of it but make it more responsive and accountable.

    Firstly, the shadow cabinet should be responsible for deciding which policy areas to prioritise (which is as important as the policies themselves). That immediately integrates politics with policy – something that doesn’t work well now.

    Secondly, we can do without the FPC. Spokespeople should be responsible for the terms of reference of any policy working parties in their area of responsibility and should chair them ex officio. If formal working parties aren’t affordable then cheaper approaches will have to be found – for example, if they are wise, spokespeople will turn to members and fellow-travellers for ideas or to float trial balloons (radical I know but these are desperate times). This wouldn’t be difficult to organise.

    Thirdly, spokespeople should be responsible for getting Conference’s approval for their policy proposals, making the case for any policies they propose and, retrospectively, what they’ve done that departed from plan because of “events”. Conference might approve, refer back for further work or reject outright.

    Arranging things this way would make the system joined up, strategic, responsive and much less bureaucratic while helping our spokespeople develop good political antennae, something that’s notably lacking at present. I believe it would also lead to far great involvement and buy-in from members.

  • Surprised nobody on LDV or in the leadership of the Liberal Democrats has seen fit to mention the 75th Anniversary of the Beveridge Report on 1st December.

    Perhaps they were all busy in a Committee meeting. I notice in an election for membership of the Scottish Lib Dems Policy Committee one of the candidates didn’t even submit a biography and all the rest were pretty scanty.

  • David Becket 2nd Dec '17 - 6:31pm

    Fully agree with Gordon and Elizabeth. The present system drags the party down. Scrap the FPC and get the spokespersons to determine policy areas, which they bring to the members at conference

  • Toby Keynes 3rd Dec '17 - 12:33pm

    I’m a bit disappointed that some party members see the policy development process as remote, elitist and non-consultative.
    Firstly, we were all able to vote for members of the Federal Policy Committee (FPC).
    We were also all able to apply for membership of the education policy working group. I did apply, but didn’t get on. I was disappointed, but I accepted it; the process has to be selective (“elitist”), to keep the working group down to a manageable number of people who can bring a broad range of relevant perspectives and areas of expertise to the group.
    Then, a discussion paper was published (available to download by anyone) inviting comments on the areas outlined in the paper. Comments could be made in person at a consultative session during last year’s Autumn Conference or sent in by email.
    I made an extensive written response, on behalf of Humanist & Secularist Liberal Democrats; but any party member was able to read the discussion paper and submit their response.
    Things then ground to a halt because of the 2017 General Election, before firing up again.
    I spent yesterday in Oxford, with other members of the Liberal Democrat Education Association (LDEA), at a meeting with Lucy Nethsingha, Chair of the working group, discussing various aspects of the working group’s approach. All members of LDEA were invited to the meeting.
    The working group and FPC will now finalise a detailed policy paper, and a policy motion, that will be published in February, for debate in March at Spring Conference 2018.
    Any party member who feels that the policy motion isn’t right can then collect signatures and submit an amendment; amendments are selected for debate by the Federal Conference Committee (FCC), which is elected by the party membership.
    Many party members who are not able to go to Conference will be able to express their views on the policy paper and motion at events held by local parties before Conference.

  • Toby Keynes 3rd Dec '17 - 12:33pm

    Any party member who is able to go Conference will be able to study the policy paper and motion, listen to the debate, put in a card to speak in the debate, vote on the amendments and vote on the motion as a whole.
    No, this is not as inclusive as it would be in an ideal world, and only those of us who are able to contribute our time and can afford it will be able participate fully, but the process that is based on an elected FPC, on a broad-ranging working group of party members, on consultation at each stage and on conference votes does actually work, ensures that every party member is able to contribute to a greater or less extent, and is genuinely democratically accountable.
    And, of course, if you believe that the party needs to have policy in an area that is not covered by one of the policy working groups, you can always write your own policy motion, collect signatures and submit your motion to FCC, to be selected for debate at Conference.
    FCC is very much aware that many members are not able to get to conference in person, and has made major efforts to cut the cost of attending for those who cannot afford the full conference fee.
    FCC is also trying to find practical and affordable ways of enabling members who are not physically present at conference to participate in the debates and the votes.
    As for the idea of short-circuiting most of this, relying on our parliamentary spokespersons to develop policy and submit their proposals to conference, getting rid of most of the opportunities for ordinary members to participate, and entirely cutting out anyone who can’t get to conference, I really don’t think this approach will be very popular with party members.

  • OnceALibDem 3rd Dec '17 - 1:26pm

    “Surprised nobody on LDV or in the leadership of the Liberal Democrats has seen fit to mention the 75th Anniversary of the Beveridge Report on 1st December.”

    It is somewhat astonishing. When it was the 60th Anniversary ALDC produced material encouraging people to celebrate this (including advice on the best way to decorate a cake to look good in photographs – the Chief Exec at the time was a former baker so not entirely whimsical!)

  • @ Gordon

    I oppose a greater role for Shadow Cabinet members. We know how bad the Parliamentary Party was during the coalition with regard to policy, they are not likely to come up with radical policies.

    We need to reform the current system, especially the final Policy Paper. Perhaps we could email every member asking them if they would like to be a members of a new proposed working group and then get each region and nation to elect two people to the working group (and scrap the need for any expertise) and for them to elect their own chairperson rather than have one appointed by the Federal Policy Committee. (The FPC should also elect two people to the working group.)

    Once members have been consulted on the consultation paper these views have to appear in the final paper. Also in the final paper should appear the summary of the professional evidence which was taken (and somewhere perhaps an appendix should list who the experts were, when they were interviewed and how many questions they were asked). The Final Paper should include minority views as well as majority recommendations, but where the majority recommendation doesn’t agree with the consultation of members, Conference has to have both alternatives to choose from. The FPC should not have the power to amend a Policy Paper once submitted to FPC by the working group, but can submit amendments to Conference in the normal way.

    I note than article 10.3 has changed little from article 7.3 of the 1994 constitution, hopefully it will be the FPC who writes the next general election manifesto without direction from a working party with an MP as chair as happened in the recent past.

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Dec '17 - 5:42pm

    Pleased to read your comments, Toby Keynes, demonstrating again the ongoing useful work that feeds into the Federal Policy Committee and Conference. Gordon was riding his hobby-horse again, and since I argued with him on that in another thread, he is evidently immovable. Like Michael BG, I oppose Shadow Cabinet members having a greater role. There is no reason, as I wrote to Gordon, for a candidate for Oxford West who was successful in the GE to have a greater say in policy-making than a candidate for Cambridge who wasn’t, or a current MP to be heard more than one who has served earlier but failed in June, or any unelected Peer to have much of a say. It seems to me that the present system of elected members overseeing the broader involvement of other interested members in policy-making is the logical, workable and right way to go on.

    Having said that, I wouldn’t disagree with Michael’s apparent wish to broaden participation in working groups and perhaps release them from the necessity of being formulated by FPC. But someone has to conceive the ‘new proposed working groups’, and FPC will still be needed to sift through ideas and select a manageable number to go forward. And I don’t like the idea of ‘scrapping any expertise’ – surely any working group to be useful should have members with a particular expertise or experience to contribute.

    For myself the only part of the useful report that Geoff has provided that worries me a little is the Making Policy to Win Votes section, which I would have liked much more detail on. Was not Jim Williams presenting a paper on behalf of My Liberal Britain, and if so should that not have been made clear? Has MLB been, alarmingly, effectively absorbed into FPC ? (I joined at Bournemouth, but have heard nothing from them except one email since then.) I should like to see a separate report here on LDV expanding on the ideas mentioned in this section, and inviting comments, because notions such as having ‘a new forum’ ought to be discussed in a less exclusive way than is mooted there. I’d also like some information on the mysterious Federal People Development Committee! Which people are to be developed, and how, please?

  • Neil Sandison 3rd Dec '17 - 8:15pm

    David Raw .In light of the mass resignation of the social mobility commission perhaps the time has come for the party to start on Beverage 2 the sequel and make it as dynamic and radical as Beverage 1 but fitting for an age of robotics, IT and social media ?

  • @ Elizabeth Patterson

    As an ordinary member I received details on how to vote last November or December for new committee members. I emailed those candidates who gave their email addresses and voted. Perhaps the Federal Party don’t have your correct address or email address.

    @ Katharine Pindar

    The reason I don’t think it is important for members of the working group to have any relevant expertise is because the group should be made up of normal members who are representative of the membership and gather information from experts (no matter if they are party members or not). It is the role of the group members to gather the evidence and come to a rational decision on what are the best liberal policies to have to deal with the issues being considered.

    I was not removing from FPC their role in deciding which working groups are needed and their terms of reference subject to guidance from Federal Conference.

  • @ Neil Sandison I usually prefer tea, but for beverage 2 would prefer decaffinated coffee please !!!!!

  • Geoff Payne 3rd Dec '17 - 9:14pm

    What a discussion! Thanks for all of the comments. For my part, Toby Keynes and Katharine Pindar pretty much articulated everything I would want to say.
    Elizabeth – FPC is now elected by the entire party membership and not just conference representatives. We all get a vote for its members, as Michael B-G said.
    Katharine – thanks for your comments about Your Liberal Britain. You are right – Jim Williams has presented papers to the committee on behalf of that organisation. It has carried out a great deal of valuable work to improve membership involvement in policy making. We cannot, of course, contract out policy making from the democratically elected party committees but we certainly can rely on groups of members to help. That is what working groups are, after all. This particular paper from Jim that I reported on contained specific suggestions about the process that the committee uses – one of those was to have one fewer working group and use the extra capacity to carry out work that would take less time to come to fruition – for example, preparing motions to conference.
    Michael B-G is right about allowing spokespeople to make policy on their own. Most welcome the involvement of the party and actively seek it.
    Elizabeth – we have certainly tried to get more members involved in policy making – we have started more work with the Regions, advertised working group membership more widely, reached out through our Facebook group and these reports and run online consultations. I agree that many cannot afford to go to conference and we do our best to recognise that – although I recognise, of course, that in a party of volunteers, there is always more that we could do.

  • Katharine Pindar 4th Dec '17 - 12:05am

    Geoff, did you mean to write that Michael BG is right about NOT allowing spokespersons to make policy on their own? Thank you for your comment replying to me, but it leaves me still disquieted. The point of My Liberal Britain was, I thought, to be a ginger group outside the formal structures, not to be absorbed within it. Without you even mentioning who Jim Williams was representing, it would appear that the gingeriness has gone! I also repeat that I think it would be good for us the ordinary members to hear more about the more general ideas suggested at FPC, such as whether there should be a new co-ordinating forum. I can appreciate that FPC readily takes up and develops new ideas brought to it, but I would suggest that a greater openness and readiness to inform ordinary members in more detail straight away would help to neutralise the nay-sayers who regard FPC as remote and closed.

    @ Michael BG. In what way could ‘normal members’ be ‘representative of the membership’, Michael? What is a ‘normal’ member and who is to decide whether they are ‘representative’? There has got to be some selection, on grounds of workability of a group, and so there have to be some criteria for selecting them. Would it help the devolved structure you are after for each region to be asked to propose and organise a working group? It’s an appealing idea, but we could end up with a proliferation of related but somewhat different policies, which would confuse us as well as the public. . It’s already difficult enough, I’ve discovered, to get a policy passed by a region integrated into central policy in some way. I suppose a working group set up by a region with the approval of FPC might work – but how would FPC decide if more than one region wanted to work on similar lines? One can see how for clarity and simplicity and (hopefully) for a sense of driving forward urgently, this sort of thing hasn’t yet been attempted.

  • @ Geoff Payne
    “Michael B-G is right about allowing spokespeople to make policy on their own”

    I assume you are agreeing with “We know how bad the Parliamentary Party was during the coalition with regard to policy, they are not likely to come up with radical policies.”

    @ Katharine Pindar

    I am sorry I wasn’t clearer. Each region and nation would appoint /select /elect two people to each working group. One of the criteria should be they haven’t been a member of a working group before (unless there isn’t enough new people putting themselves forward). Another could be one is a new member and the other one has been a member for more than two years. If elections are used it would take some time before those well known in the region were all gone through and so opening it up to those of a more general nature. Perhaps FPC could set out which working groups it is setting up before the autumn conference so regions could “elect” their two members for each one after their conference even if it was stated that work would not start until after May for some working groups. If all were elected at the same time the Federal rules on female / male split and minorities could be applied across the whole group elected at one time by the region or nation.

    I would define a “normal” member as someone who isn’t a member of any Parliament (Commons, Lords, European, Scottish, Welsh), isn’t an elected regional mayor, who isn’t a member of a Federal Committee (or Board) and isn’t well known across the whole Federal Party. By not being a member of these groups these “normal” members would be representative of the whole of our members who don’t get elected to the offices I named. One of the criticisms often made is that only people from London and the South East England can really be members of these working groups, ensuring each region and nation has two representatives on these working groups would be more representative of the whole party. Also I think my suggestion increases the size of the working groups.

  • Geoff Payne 4th Dec '17 - 8:35am

    Well spotted, all. Yes, I had intended to say that spokespeople should NOT be making policy on their own. That would not sit with our democratic structure!
    Katherine- I’ll try and include some of that in future reports. You are right about Your Liberal Britain though- it is not a formal body but it has provided a lot of help to FPC.

  • We have a problem. Despite the Tories prolonged suicide by Brexit and Corbyn (enough said!), the Lib Dems are flat-lining – the status quo plainly isn’t working. The reasons go well beyond policy but I’m convinced that the party’s inability over many decades to articulate a coherent narrative is a big part of it making ‘policy’ the most direct route into the puzzle.

    In industry I have experienced how a tiny change to the organisation of a key function can have a transformative effect on the whole company; the right small change could do so for the Lib Dems.

    To be absolutely clear, none of this is in any way a criticism of the people involved. They have changed many times over the years so it’s clearly the institutional framework that’s the issue.

    Hence, my earlier comment made in the apparent absence of other thinking on this. Think of it as a ‘starter for ten’. Others may have better ideas.

    Turning to some of the points made.

    The FPC is democratically elected (the implication being that this trumps all other considerations). Yes, but turnout was only 7% and no directly elected member reached ¾ of 1% support. This way less than the much derided (including by Lib Dems) first Police & Crime Commissioner elections. IIRC they averaged 17% turnout.

    We were not told where FPC members are from but I suspect most hail from London & the SE. If so, that might partially explain the poor showing in former strongholds like the SW. The FPC needs to publish a list NOW and address this in future.

    If the FPC isn’t fit-for-purpose, then an iffy election isn’t going to change that.

    Michael BG agrees the system needs reform and suggests ways to strengthen the FPC including regional input but it all sounds horribly complicated and I don’t see how it addresses key issues. I like to stick with the KISS principle.

    Katharine accuses me of being “immovable” for questioning the emperor’s new clothes and argues unsuccessful PPCs should have equal input into policy-making with MPs. Really? Should that carry through into government with the unsuccessful getting parity with senior ministers? Getting elected is a mix of talent and luck that helps weed out those less suited – tough for the person, good for the party.

  • Comments on part of my initial proposal evolved from Michael BG’s, “I oppose a greater role for Shadow Cabinet members” to, “spokespeople should NOT be making policy on their own”. [added emphasis]

    Michael BG disagrees. Fair enough – we differ on that.

    The ‘on their own’ bit appeared from nowhere and is diametrically opposed to my suggestion.

    I proposed a structured approach where the shadow cabinet collectively (chaired by the leader) roughs out the high-level plan – what they think important and with political mileage. In doing so they would have to keep ears to the ground and consult with the party. Policy priorities would naturally emerge ‘joined-up’ whereas the FPC-led approach keeps everything in ‘silos’.

    An example: if I personally had just one wish it would be to introduce a proper system for skills training. It’s massively important economically, would transform many lives and public support is >90%. What’s not to like? Also the government has just dropped the ball – new apprenticeships have collapsed by 59% compared with last year. Even better the FPC has a WP covering skills training.

    The good news ends there. The WP isn’t due to report until autumn 2018 and skills training is only a tiny part of its brief. I maybe wrong but I don’t expect anything exciting and in any case by next autumn the landscape will have changed.

    That’s why I said earlier that prioritising is as important as the policy – more so in fact.

    So, given the shadow cabinet has agreed priorities and broad direction in each area, it’s down to the spokesperson to run with it – NOT on their own but assisted by a WP (subject to resources) and in consultation with the wider party which wouldn’t be hard to organise.

    Example: one spokesperson wrote a piece some time ago along the lines of, ‘Isn’t it great that …’ (I have a high regard for the person and don’t want to embarrass them). Oh dear! The comments were near-universally critical saying it was a terrible idea and a waste of £100s millions of public money.

    That’s mainly down to terrible staff support. We must do better and the place to go for help is the vast reservoir of members’ expertise. I think everyone would be up for that and it would massively increase policy-making bandwidth

  • Katharine Pindar 4th Dec '17 - 6:08pm

    Gordon, I think the basic reason why you aren’t, IMO, offering useful solutions is because you are considering the party like an industrial entity, which isn’t appropriate. A company has a board and directors and a chief executive. Our Federal Board and shadow cabinet and Leader are not directly comparable. I think you evade that by not thinking through what you advocate in relation to the structure of the party, and so are caught out by direct questions. (For example, you want ‘a proper system for skills training’ – for whom?)

    I guess the Shadow Cabinet and the Leader will take their own decisions on what are correct roles for them. I’m glad to know that the Leader sits on the Federal Board, and I think I have read that FPC seeks closer relationships with his appointed spokespersons. I do believe that the government structure as improved by our President Sal Brinton in the last couple of years (with Conference approval, of course) is the most logical for co-ordination and getting things done, though I want to see more outreach to members from Federal Policy Committee (and will take that up on Facebook, Geoff).

    At a recent discussion meeting of my local branch, we were bemused, though pleased, to find a report on environmental matters had just been issued by one of our peers, Lynne Featherstone, who had convened an expert group. We didn’t know it was coming, couldn’t discuss it then, and it has disappeared from our local consciousness, sad to say. I only mention it as indicating how helpful the known and usual procedures for producing policies are, in allowing us locals to keep track of them.

  • @ Gordon

    You dismiss the democratic mandate of the Federal Policy Committee. I don’t. I was part of that 7%. My vote counted. I engaged with the candidates and most of those I emailed, email me back and with some we had an extended email conversation. I had no role in the selection of our candidates in the few constituencies where they were elected. I have no power, not even a vote, to remove them. The shadow cabinet are in the gift of the leader. I have no influence. I send emails to Vince when he was standing for leader and he didn’t reply to them. A member of his staff informed me he wouldn’t be giving an individual reply to my questions. Therefore the approachability and democratic accountability of those elected to FPC is much greater than of our MP’s or members of the House of Lords (since we stopped electing people for our leader to nominate) and members of the Shadow Cabinet.

    My suggestion is to have Working Groups who take evidence from experts, are given party support and come up with policies based on liberal principles. I accept taking and considering evidence and working as a group takes longer than one individual being given all the power to come up with new policies.

    I can’t think of any working group that has not had MP (or a Lord) on it, in the past more than one, so the Parliamentary Party and our spokespersons have great influence at the moment, so there is no reason that if they had greater influence things would improve. What we know is how bad things were during the coalition when they had far too much influence.

  • Michael BG – I thought your previous points deserved a more considered reply than I had time for earlier but I was expecting to pick it up in a newer thread.

    There is no way 7% is democratic even if you succeeded (one of very few I’ll bet) in engaging some candidates in debate. For me democracy is, at root, the ability to choose between candidates and throw them out when they are no longer the best. It shouldn’t be confused with participation.

    ‘Workplace democracy’ says MPs should be able to fire the leader if he loses their confidence but currently his powers of patronage are such he’s safe once elected no matter what – see Clegg. That’s bad.

    Participation is something working groups have a problem with. There is no good mechanism for them to tap into members’ expertise. The last write up by one in LDV was…?

    As I said earlier, my starting point is that our existing policy & governance approach simply isn’t working. Most people are ‘liberal’ in some sense but few vote LD allowing right-wing nutters to drive policy.

    So we DO need to accept there’s a problem and that we must change approach. Institutions may reform themselves but rarely do. They typically have an instinct for self-preservation so change usually comes from the margins.

    You noted earlier (comment 4/12 @ 2:19 am) how bad the Parliamentary Party was in the Coalition. True enough, but were they all incompetent or just snared in a bad system – like troops given the wrong kit, poor training or inept officers? I think the latter.

    I earlier set out some ideas hoping to start a debate. I’m not wedded to them and hope others have better suggestions. It’s disappointing that some, who didn’t apparently bother to read my comments properly, jumped to the conclusion I wanted a dictatorship of MPs. I thought it was clear my suggestion was they should operate in a framework with mechanisms for consulting the wider party and with strong checks and balances to make them accountable including, via Conference, to the party.

    A big difficulty is a single change won’t work; many changes that dovetail together are needed and that makes novel ideas hard to explain. We need to understand the blockages and find creative solutions, not close down debate.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Dec '17 - 1:57pm

    As far as the manifesto and its implementation is concerned, I feel there is a need to have a more flexible strategy in national elections as what is useful in one part of the country is not as useful in others.

  • @ Gordon

    You seem to think the Working Groups are not made up of people with relevant expertise. I had an email discussion about this with a candidate and the candidate explained that the FPC does lots to advertise the setting up of a Working Group and the number of people applying has increased and the FPC tries to get a good mix of expertise. Your solution is to abolish Policy Working Groups and give the person the leader appointed the job of drafting policy. My solution is to reduce the influence of our MPs and members of the House of Lords and the Leader and bring in expertise from outside of the Working Group and for ordinary members to consider expertise evidence, a bit like “citizen juries”.

    The Parliamentary Party were bad at developing party policy because of the Coalition. There was strong direction from the “leadership”. The aim was to align policy with the government’s policy. It wasn’t because they were incompetent or inept it was because they were driven by a different political imperative. Before 2010 some of our spokespersons did present papers and motions in their area for conference to discuss and vote on. I don’t have an issue with this.

    I am not convinced that low turnouts invalidate elections. As long as everyone has a vote and voting is easy to do, it doesn’t matter that 93% choose not to vote. As liberals we should respect their decision not to vote. As long as people could vote then the election is valid. If the voters were unhappy with the result then they would vote next time. If I vote as one of 7,000 people my vote has more value than as one of 90,000. Perhaps it is the STV system which you dislike, which makes it harder for the electorate to remove those elected, but it can happen. I want a system where I feel I can make a difference.

    In 2010 we achieved 23% of the vote and had the same system as present for policy making. This seems to be evidence that the public didn’t rejected us because we didn’t have good policies and we were using a bad system to make policy. My issue is that it is difficult for ordinary members to be members of a Policy Working Group. I want to widen participation in the Policy Working Groups, you seem to want to restrict it to consultation and voting at conference.

  • Katharine Pindar 9th Dec '17 - 12:49am

    Michael BG, I think you have made excellent points in your last two comments to Gordon. I entirely agree that it doesn’t matter that only a small number voted in the elections to the main committees, because it was open to everyone. I also was one of the 7% and took down some of the email addresses for future reference, though the consideration of all the biographies and selecting between them was necessarily time-consuming. Gordon, your reference to MPs being able democratically to fire their leader sounds too close, to me, to the Momentum present purge of centrist Labour Party MPs, stopping their reselection. Michael, your suggestion of regional representatives for working groups sounds pleasingly democratic, but it would involve a lot of extra work for regional staff, and probably surely end up with the same few politically committed members who have time and energy for this sort of thing being elected, or selected. Hard enough in my constituency at least even to get members to come to discussion meetings, let alone join in work other than delivering focuses!

  • Michael BG – No. No. No. You have got me completely wrong.

    I do not think those in WGs have no relevant experience nor do I want to abolish them and I have no idea where you got the idea I dislike STV.

    The 25+ record shows that policy-making simply isn’t working as judged by the failure to build a sizeable core vote, the continued lack of a ‘narrative’ and over reliance on tactical manoeuvres (it’s a two horse race etc.) in elections. After the 2015 GE the tactical approach won’t work so we need to find a new approach or go extinct in Parliamentary terms.

    I think (you may disagree) that, in response, we MUST now develop a narrative, a clear sense of what we’re about politically, what we think is wrong and how we plan to fix it – all with strong coherence across all policy areas. It’s what we should have done years ago and requires several connected changes – but actually quite small changes.

    To make good policy is you need solid analysis which is where WGs come in. But you also need coordination and prioritisation across policy areas to stop everyone paddling their own canoe. That job is pre-eminently what political leadership is about so my suggestion is for the shadow cabinet to take over the role of the FPC. Each spokesperson should argue his/her corner and be responsible for getting motions in their area through Conference.

    In particular, spokespeople should be responsible for promoting debate within the party and leading campaigns, in particular finding ways to make policy discussion more open to ordinary members, many of whom have highly relevant expertise that would compliment WGs efforts. Note: I am NOT suggesting that spokespeople should do all the work themselves – that’s what staff and WGs are for.

    Your point about MPs record in Coalition is important but it’s really a governance issue.

    Leadership candidates should set out their own platforms so we can choose between them. That’s impossible at present because all must toe the official policy line enforcing a dangerous monoculture – especially as leaders, once elected, have too much power making them virtual dictators so the incentive is to say whatever it takes then ignore that thereafter.

    My proposal can manage this, the existing system can’t.

  • Katharine – “your reference to MPs being able democratically to fire their leader sounds too close, to me, to the Momentum present purge of centrist Labour Party MPs,”

    Nonsense. It’s nothing whatsoever like Momentum’s actions which I deplore. Think instead of the Tories dumping Thatcher when she became a political liability. Tough for her personally but good – essential in fact – for the party which went on to win the next election with no MPs purged.

    We seem to have a culture that fawns over whoever is the leader even when he (always a ‘he’ so far) is very clearly leading us into a ditch. Why do we do that?

  • @ Katharine Pindar

    I am not sure how much extra work would be needed for regions to elect or select members for the working groups. I would expect it to be done as part of the annual election process and so involve little extra work. If hundreds of people apply to be members of working groups as implied in my email communications with a FPC member then by increasing the number and making it a regional issue the chances of being included should increase. Restricting membership because of having already served will allow new people to participate.

  • Katharine Pindar 9th Dec '17 - 10:21pm

    Michael, your idea of more democratic participation in working groups through regional involvement does seem worth airing further. Could your own regional organisation pursue the idea? In my own region, we are intent at the moment in progressing the future of two motions passed at our (NW) AGM earlier this autumn.

  • Katharine, it would be possible for any member or group of members to pursue it. I didn’t attend my regional conference this year, and until last autumn had not attended one for many years. I think it is unlikely I will pursue this idea via our party structures. I feel I can only present my ideas and hope others take them up.

  • Katharine Pindar 11th Dec '17 - 9:02am

    Michael, you give so much to the party with your well-informed, wide-ranging and thoughtful comments here on LDV, that I too hope some of your ideas, which I myself certainly appreciate, will be taken up by others. But it seems to me that we do need to work also, not only on the ground through campaigning in our local parties, but also through the regional structures and the conferences. In my tiny local party, the one new activist has now booked for Southport, and personally I should very much like to meet you there also for live discussions. Thank you meantime for all your research and references, as well as for your conclusions about them.

    I have just heard Vince speaking well on the Today Programme, and it sounds as if the Lib Dem amendment on the Withdrawal Bill to be debated tomorrow will be a good challenge to the more open-minded of the other parties to move the national debate forward.

  • Katharine, I have sent you a PM on the members only site.

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