Federal Policy Committee report January 2020

Our meeting this week covered a number of areas.

We had firstly a very useful chat with Neil Stockley, chair of the working group on utilities, which is still at an early stage and whose timetable has been heavily disrupted by the excitements of the autumn. We reviewed the use or, if you like I suppose the utility, of this exercise in the rather changed political circumstances since we decided to set it up last year. We agreed that it remains a helpful area for us to focus on, not least as it has a clear direct impact on people’s everyday experiences – and costs – in a way which some policy areas do not. A full discussion concluded that it was helpful to retain its planned focus on utilities, not to expand it into consumer affairs more generally, and that while it shouldn’t exclude consideration of rail as a utility, it would not aim to be a full rail or transport paper, which there is a good case for but which we will come back to for further consideration.

We reviewed a draft motion on constitutional reform we are submitting for spring conference, in discussion with Wendy Chamberlain MP, the party’s new spokesperson on constitutional affairs. We felt this was a useful area to focus on following the constitutional issues arising from the autumn’s shenanigans, and one where as Liberal Democrats we generally have a clear and strong view. A full discussion took the view that it would be most useful to narrow the initially planned quite broad scope of this to focus specifically on the electoral reform aspects. The intention of this motion is to highlight clear Liberal Democrat answers to the issues here, rather than to develop major new policy. We have submitted this motion for spring conference and it will be up to FCC whether they select it for debate. This discussion also threw up a useful early review of how we might approach some of the important and tricky challenges around UK and English federalism and devolution, which we will come back to.

If FCC follows its recent practice of setting a later deadline for a conference motion on Europe, to allow it to reflect fast-changing events, then we may well decide to submit such a motion, probably some time in late February, for spring conference. This meeting had an early discussion of the general approach we might want to take to that, including both responding to the government’s handling of Brexit negotiations at that point, and setting this in the wider context of our long-term views on Britain’s relationship with our continental neighbours.

Finally we agreed to re-constitute our sub-committee on engaging the party’s membership as widely as possible in policy discussion, which will meet over the next few weeks to start to plan its work, led by Sally Burnell.

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

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  • David Becket 11th Jan '20 - 4:00pm

    Please let the party’s membership meet and debate at York with all 11 Mps. This is very important considering the current upheaval and a potential leadership election. Please do not keep us in the dark.

  • Now would seem to be the worst possible time to try and make a fuss about electoral reform.

    We have just scored the own goal of advocating an FPTP election as a means of overturning a majority vote in a referendum.

    For a flawed voting system the result we just saw is in historical terms one of the least unreasonable.

    After a truly risible national campaign, we have zero public sympathy right now.

    Indeed the saddest thing about the 2019 election is that we got the result that we deserved.

  • Ian 11th Jan ’20 – 11:17pm:
    Now would seem to be the worst possible time to try and make a fuss about electoral reform.

    indeed; the antics of the EU fifth columnists in parliament which turned it and the country into an international laughing stock will have finished any prospect of replacing FPTP anytime soon. If an AV Referendum (or similar) was ever held again, opponents would simply highlight that it makes hung parliaments more likely and then ask voters if they want to repeat the chaos of the 2017 one.

  • Andrew Daer 12th Jan '20 - 6:58am

    The case for electoral reform has never been stronger. 17.4 million (37% of the electorate) voted to leave the EU in 2016, and in the FPTP general election in December only 14 million (30%) voted for the Brexit party (Conservatives) and yet Johnson got a thumping majority in Parliament, and has the audacity to claim he is doing what the “British people want”. Polls have shown Remain ahead for most of the past year, and yet Brexit is still going to happen.
    Tactical voting means no-one really knows what the people actually want, but going by the Euros in May and polls before the squeeze took effect during the election campaign, there ought to be at least 100 Liberal Democrat MPs.
    So, Ian, you are entirely wrong to say we got the result we deserved. We got the ridiculously skewed result that FPTP delivers.
    The problem with changing to PR is that no-one has worked out how to sell the idea to the British people, and the months of deadlock over Brexit is a potent weapon for opponents, because people are attracted by ‘the smack of firm government’, as Andrew Davies pointed out so amusingly in House of Cards. The joke is wearing thin with the current lot in power, but there is no need to be defeatist. We did help bring about the recent FPTP election, but what should Jo have done ? Declare a General Election by PR?

  • @ Andrew

    Somehow I don’t think you’re going to be the one who solves how to do the selling.

    The case for reform was a lot stronger after an obviously unjust result like 1983.

    “Audacity”? That would be the same audacity, squared, that we had in suggesting an FPTP majority would be sufficient to overturn a nationwide referendum.

    We had the chance to hold out for a final say referendum, but chose to follow the SNP toward a General Election instead. They knew what they were doing; we did not.

    People were wanting “firm government”? I wonder why.

  • David Garlick 12th Jan '20 - 5:33pm

    Constitutional reform! We would all love it. The public would dismiss it, and us, as irrelevant and out of touch with their realities.
    Come on people lets talk about what the people need to be done. Constitutional reform is important to us and we need to keep banging the drum but NOT AT THIS CONFERENCE . It is too early and too soon after ‘elect me as Prime Minister’ and ‘Revoke Article 50’ both of which were on our wish list but not on the publics radar. What are the public speaking about? Not constitutional reform that’s for sure.

  • Denis Mollison 12th Jan '20 - 11:39pm

    Dear Jeremy

    It’s true that many LD members have strong views on constitutional and electoral reform.
    Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform submitted a motion for conference last year, and were disappointed that it was not taken, so we’re delighted to see this change of tack.

    But I’d feel we had a more joined-up party if you’d consulted members in general, and LDER in particular, in drawing up this motion. I hope it’s not too late to influence its content –
    if you could let us see the draft motion before it is finalised we’d be very happy to help with it.

    Best wishes


    [Chair, Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform]

  • Nonconformistradical 13th Jan '20 - 8:01am

    @Denis Mollison
    “But I’d feel we had a more joined-up party if you’d consulted members in general, and LDER in particular, in drawing up this motion.”

    I’m appalled if LDER wasn’t consulted but I don’t feel you should be in the least surprised about the way this has happened. I’m certainly not holding my breath waiting for FPC to cede any party of the conference agenda to the members or interested party organisations if they can avoid doing so.

    As usual this is totally back to front.

    Consult first and then draw up the motion. Likewise for policy papers. Consult first and then draft the paper.

  • Peter Hirst 14th Jan '20 - 4:26pm

    If the forthcoming FPC motion on constitutional issues would at least hint that a full constitutional review, preferably people led is overdue and would help to curtail present abuse of power within government that would be very welcome to the various organisations that are campaigning for such an approach.

  • Innocent Bystander 14th Jan '20 - 4:55pm

    Be a little cautious about PR. It will apply to everyone, not just the LibDems. It will lower the entry barrier for lots of small parties and you won’t, necessarily, be the only beneficiary. In fact, you could be overtaken by the Christian Democrats, the English Democrats or lots of others. The LibDems are more a party of ‘Values’ than usable ‘Policies’.

  • @Ian
    I might not be able to sell PR to the Great British electorate, but perhaps it’s worth pointing out to you that if just 29,084 people had voted for the party that came second in their constituency on 12th December, the Conservatives wouldn’t have got a majority in Parliament. The FPTP system magnifies hugely any party which has just got its nose ahead of the other parties, and I don’t quite believe that our fellow voters are too stupid to understand that, even if, as you imply, it would probably take someone cleverer than me to explain it to them.
    Regarding your idea that it is disingenuous for the Lib Dems to want an FPTP election to overturn a national referendum, you are missing quite a few points. We don’t currently have the option of insisting on a PR election; we are stuck with FPTP. Second, the national referendum has already been ‘overturned’ by numerous opinion polls – one of the reasons Leave advocates didn’t want another official referendum. Third, the June 2016 vote was marred by lies and exaggerations by both sides and illegal activities by Leave. Fourth, the choice of people who’d been misled by tabloid horror stories for years before they plonked their cross on a bit of paper one sunny day in June has acquired in some people’s minds a kind of holy sanctity. This is “real democracy” they say. No it isn’t. British democracy delegates decision-making to the political class – MPs. And MPs were hugely in favour of remaining in the EU in June 2016.

  • Jeremy Hargreaves 15th Jan '20 - 12:50pm

    Thanks for comments here.

    @Denis Mollison – yes you are right about consulting LDER and others, and I have emailed you.

    On setting the conference agenda, this is set by the conference committee (FCC) not the policy committee (FPC). The great majority of motions at conference do come from members or other party groups: at an autumn conf, for example, there might be up to four policy papers from FPC, and perhaps 15-20 other motions. At this spring conference, there will be a maximum of 1 from FPC (if FCC selects the electoral reform motion) and (I would guess, though I’m not a member of FCC), perhaps 4-6 other motions.

    Normally of course FPC does go through an extensive process of consultation prior to proposing a motion, lasting about a year. I think you will understand that through the autumn people’s focus was elsewhere than spring conference motions, and the conference motions deadline very early in the new year meant much less time than usual for consultation. In those circumstances FPC certainly didn’t think it appropriate to propose major new policy, as it usually does, but rather to propose a relatively straightforward motion emphasising the clear answers we as a party already have on one area of discussion, the voting system. I recognise that some people here take a different view!

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