Federal Policy Committee report November 2020

This week FPC met with an unusually light-looking agenda but we still managed to talk for two and half hours! We received an excellent presentation from Mimi Turner, Director of Strategy, Messaging and Research. Mimi talked us through the scale of the task ahead of us in terms of understanding how the Party fares when voters are asked whether we share their values; whether we’ll do what we say; whether we’re perceived as wanting to help ordinary people get on in life; and whether they see us as competent and capable.

Mimi explained that by segmenting voters and targeting certain groups, we are missing the opportunity to speak to millions of voters. From a policy perspective, our role is to develop distinctive policies on the issues that matter most in terms of improving people’s lives and that resonate in our target seats. Easy, right?! Well I don’t think any of us underestimates the scale of the task head but we’re certainly up for it.

FPC work programme

FPC members found the presentation very useful as we went on to discuss our current and future work programme in the context of Mimi’s analysis and thoughts on future strategy. We have a number of pieces of work underway at the moment – a mixture of pieces looking at the bigger picture, some high profile issues that we’ve been tasked with looking at, and some specifics where we hope to bring forward some appealing policy proposals:

  • Nature of Public Debate – planned for Spring 2021
  • Making Utilities Work Better for the Public – planned for Spring 2021
  • Federal England – aiming for Spring 2021, with the group working fast since autumn conference
  • Natural Resources and the Natural Environment – planned for Autumn 2021
  • Liberal Democrat Principles and Values – planned for Autumn 2021
  • Universal Basic Income – planned for Autumn 2021
  • Carbon Pricing (a sub-group of the former climate change working group) – planned for Autumn 2021
  • Themes Paper (building on the World After Coronavirus consultation) – planned for Autumn 2021

The themes paper will act as a pre-manifesto and messaging document but also help us to set out where we need to do further policy development work between 2022 and the next General Election. We agreed that we need to make sure we are planning future pieces of work in good time. One piece of work we have already agreed to undertake is a focus on carers.

In discussion we agreed that the Principles and Values and themes paper exercises were excellent opportunities for wide engagement with members, including through SAOs/AOs and regional parties. We discussed the need to integrate and intersectional approach to all of our policy work and there is an opportunity to work with other party bodies to achieve this.


We were joined by Christine Jardine who outlined the current parliamentary work around Brexit. CJ explained that the situation is changing on a daily basis, and although the UK may secure a last minute trade deal with the EU it’s likely to be a very “skinny” deal. The current focus is on protecting Britain’s interests and holding the government to account. This includes identifying areas where people will be most impacted, including passport queues, supply of medicines, and pet travel. We also discussed how EU Exit may impact the upcoming elections in May, particularly in Scotland where the Conservatives and SNP each argue for being inside one union and out of another.

Member engagement

Over the last fortnight FPC members have been attending regional party conferences to run sessions on policy development and the work of the Committee. Feedback from these sessions has been very positive and a number of common questions have come up including how to access the most up to date policy information easily and how to improve communication and coordination between the regions and FPC (and between S/AOs and FPC).

On the wider issue of member engagement I will be resurrecting our member engagement sub-group, and I reported back on a very positive meeting Jeremy and I had with Bess Mayhew, the new chair of the Federal People Development Committee, to join up our efforts to support members who want to get more involved with policy work.

We’re also looking forward to seeing the results of the current membership survey (which you should have received from Greg Foster). If you’ve not already responded, please make sure you do – every response will help inform what we do.


* Sally Burnell is one of the vice chairs of Federal Policy Committee.

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  • Thank you for the update, Sally.

    My only comment is that it is a great pity that it will be another twelve months before you receive a paper on Universal Credit. Much more urgency is needed on what has been a long running sore for the millions of people affected by this. I have observed the outcomes of UC both as a Convenor of Social Care and as a Chair of a Foodbank.

    To be frank, the fact that the party in parliament supported Duncan-Smith’s scheme when in government and has apparently done very little since on the issue of Poverty and Inequality has cost the party a great deal support amongst the groups who used to be its natural supporters. You should be urging the party leader to get a grip on this.

  • I’m afraid FPC still want to believe that we are a still big party, or at least a medium sized one trying to be big and so all we need to do listen to the results of lots of analysis carried out by earnest professionals in the same way that the big boys do, and this will tell us what to do next.

    If FPC really needs to be talked us through
    – “the scale of the task ahead of us”
    – “in terms of understanding how the Party fares”
    – to all those points
    – whether we share their values; whether we’ll do what we say; whether we’re perceived as wanting to help ordinary people get on in life; and whether they see us as competent and capable
    then FPC really have lost the plot and become yet another party bureaucracy out of touch with reality.

    I honestly suggest they get out and do just a little personal canvassing in a non-target ward in areas where we have few councillors and little if any infrastructure and just ask one question “Are the Liberal Democrats are relevant to your needs?”

    If they get anything close to engagement from the person they are talking to, perhaps also ask “What do you think the Lib Dems could do to be more relevant to your needs? and “What are the issues you think will be most important to you over the next year or two?”

    Perhaps then we would just start to get a set of “appealing policy proposals” that actually appeal to a significant proportion of the population and not just to Liberal Democrat policy enthusiasts.

    You might just get something about the corruption of the current political system and the need for a vibrant and relevant third force to keep the others honest.

    Now that would be a mission worth fighting for on the road to rebuilding our party.

  • Peter Davies 20th Nov '20 - 11:37am

    “our role is to develop distinctive policies on the issues that matter most in terms of improving people’s lives and that resonate in our target seats”

    No. Our first task is to develop distinctive policies on the issues that matter most in terms of improving people’s lives. Our second task is to find the messaging on those policies that resonate with various groups across the country. Our target seats should be those with enough people who can be swayed by those messages (and our hard work, great candidates and general niceness).

  • A big Thank You to everyone working so hard to revive Our Party. Everything I have read suggests a New seriousness that will bear fruit in the long term.

  • where is the attention to the here and now? What will we be saying nationally in May? Why do we not have a media plan? We must find a fast response on national TV and Radio or we will continue to shrink.

  • Sue Sutherland 20th Nov '20 - 3:51pm

    Thank you Sally for your report and it’s good that Mimi Turner is trying to make us more relevant to the General Public. However, as Tim says, our first chance to get the party on the road to renewal is to do well in the May elections.
    It’s fairly easy to see what will be on peoples’ minds then. It’ll be the effect of the Corona virus on schools and to a lesser extent, universities, the effect on the local hospital of having to tackle the virus and what is needed to improve the service so peoples’ routine treatments can catch up and the effect of the economic downturn and how to recover from it. There will also be controversy over who has missed out on Government support.
    Have I misunderstood the role of the policy committee because I can’t see these topics here at all? Is anyone in the party charged with looking at these issues and perhaps updating existing policies to take account of the effects of the virus?

  • Next week the party has the carers policy launch. Good. But we must ensure maximum TV Radio and newspaper coverage.

  • david marder 21st Nov '20 - 11:11am

    And put passion into their statements. Paddy did controlled anger well and BoJo does something every day with his populist policies to give us something to go to the heart for.

  • I can remember a question time in the late 80s or early 90s where paddy really tore into the poor Conservative on the panel. That positioned the party well and improved dramatically Paddys recognition. It is what SirEd needs to do but I fear he is too relaxed about our invisible presence. Layla would be better.

  • Tony Greaves 22nd Nov '20 - 6:18pm

    “our role is to develop distinctive policies on the issues that matter most in terms of improving people’s lives and that resonate in our target seats”

    Like Peter Davies I think this is wrong. The single main problem the party has at present is that (1) hardly anyone has a clue about “what we stand for”. The reason for this is that the party itself does not seem to know in any fundamental way; and (2) I suspect most members of the party who have joined since 2015 (or even earlier) do not know either. Not least all those who joined because we were the main anti-Brexit force at one time not too far back. The key piece of work is on “LD Principles and Values” . I don’t like the word “values” – principles are enough (and I have even been told at one of the meetings this past week by one highly placed party official that “as the world changes our values must change”. As for the presentation we got on strategy which I’ve now seen twice the best thing I can do to stay out of bother is to keep my mouth shut.

  • Peter Hirst 24th Nov '20 - 4:11pm

    Contesting a General Election should be like compiling an appetising menu. It must have the right ingredients in the correct proportions and presented superbly and warm enough to enjoy. The ingredients might include the right policies, links with people’s values, something for everybody, sufficient of each to remember though not to bore, some personality stuff and an overriding theme of understanding each electorate for their interests, fears and hopes.

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