Layla Moran writes: Build Back Better: Policy ideas for Liberal Democrats

Yesterday evening I proudly launched Build Back Better, a new 128-page booklet exploring progressive policy ideas for Liberal Democrats in the post-coronavirus world. With contributions from a diverse range of over forty party supporters and councillors, Peter Frankopan, former MPs Lynne Featherstone, Martin Horwood, David Howarth and Julian Huppert, and former Party Leader Vince Cable – I hope this booklet will start discussions in and outside of our Party, and help us answer that deceptively simple question: ‘What are we for?’

Defining what we’re for is vital to winning back support. Having listened to members and voters, I also believe we need to send a signal that our Party is renewed since previous publications such as ‘Reinventing the State’ and the ‘Orange Book’ – with a policy platform that is clearly progressive in approach.

This will help us win support from across the moderate political spectrum and ensure that the Liberal Democrats are at the forefront of radical plans to Build Back Better from this crisis. Only then can we do right by the communities we seek to represent, and build a better, more compassionate country, where everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive.

The contributions do not disappoint. Threaded through the booklet are some thoughtful, radical policies and conversation starters. To name but a few:

  • Commandeering the UK private health sector to help tackle the massive backlog of delayed NHS operations
  • Increasing the UK’s target for development assistance from 0.7 per cent to 1.0 per cent of GNP, with the additional 0.3 per cent to be directed entirely to environment and climate spending.
  • A Universal Basic Income and Universal Basic Services – providing free broadband, water and energy (primarily through better home insulation), potentially saving a single adult in the UK £1,360 per year.
  • Recovery rewards (cash prizes) to individuals who invent outstanding solutions to social or environmental problems
  • Recreating the Green Investment Bank with a higher level of financial capability than was permitted during the coalition
  • A new Digital Bill of Rights to protect people’s online

I hope you’ll read through the booklet, and the coverage in The Guardian, and join me at a panel event on Sunday, chaired by Duncan Brack and featuring contributors: Vince, Julian, Lynne, Irina and Mohsin. Sign up here.

Of course, we must also realise that the key to a successful campaign isn’t solely about policy positions. I reflect on this in the ‘Politics’ section of the booklet. We also need to appreciate that most people want something additional: reassurance that their politicians are competent and trustworthy.

The currency of campaigning is not measured just in policy but perceptions of trust. It was what Paddy and Charles were so good at. People trusted them to keep their word. We must learn from the disaster of 2010, when the Lib Dems abandoned manifesto commitments. The Party lost the support of millions who believed we could not be trusted to keep our word.

Our task is to attract voters to the Liberal Democrat brand – and that means persuading them that we are on their side. Through progressive policies but also through listening and delivering on promises.

That lesson has been learned at the local level. We govern in 50 councils across the UK. Local successes have been achieved because voters trust us to listen and tackle their problems. As a Party, we need to replicate these local tactics and success nationally, to ensure that voters trust us again to deliver on the compelling and radical vision that Build Back Better moves us towards.

*I’d like to thank all contributors and note that their contribution does not constitute an endorsement to my leadership campaign. This booklet does not form part of my candidacy for the Liberal Democrat leadership. When I first decided to ask friends and colleagues whether they would be prepared to contribute to it, the leadership election was scheduled to kick off in May 2021.

* Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon

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20 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th Jun '20 - 1:39am

    Layla this is the kind of thing we require, ideas, enthusiasm, freshness, but with respect for traditional values of liberalism, social democracy.

    Whether the ideas are good bad or indifferent, depends on individuals and views.

    Never should we buy into the idea, false, that mistakes all came from the Orange Book. I am in the centre of the party, left of that book, but right of the further left. The book was a mix of proposals, had the backing of centre left and Charles Kennedy. Failures in government, and successes, were not due to a book. This is a liberal social democratic political party, not a book based religious denomination.

    We should embrace books as being for discourse, not holy grail or writ. Thanks for this effort.

  • I have had a hasty look at Build Back Better. It has a number of excellent ideas, notably on the economy. My hope is that it will inspire considerable debate within the party. It needs to.
    My first thought is that there are almost constant references to the Covid crisis. This will make the document rather odd reading for anyone who picks it up in 5 or 10 years time and there seems to be an assumption that everything has now changed, including human nature. I fear some may be disappointed in this respect.
    There are also a couple of factual errors informing policy. I fear that when I have read through of properly there will be others. This document must have been produced in some haste and in places it shows.

  • I have to say, visiting the site rarely, and then being confronted with this ‘Build Back Better’ collection, which can only be described as ‘pie in sky’ essays with no interest or relevance to daily life is salutory. It does make you wonder if the Lib Dems have now subliminally decided to abandon normal politics altogether, and with the three candidates for the leadership all being single issue obssessives, how exactly is electing another obsessive leader after the previous Revoke leader failed miserably going to help you.

    You talk about the future for the LibDems and how you might recover support, when it is as clear as the nose on your face that you don’t on your current path. Might i suggest you reprise the essays and comments on here over recent months with an open mind, because any objective analysis will show you are principally talking to yourselves about your pet projects, practically to the exclusion of everything else, especially issues that are important to the majority of the population.

    You seem to have learnt nothing from your trouncing in the last GE, when you chose to ignore the mood of the electorate.

  • Tony Greaves 20th Jun '20 - 1:23pm

    Disappointing title. But I will read with interest!

  • Johnny McDermott 20th Jun '20 - 2:46pm

    Could’ve picked a better spot. Comments severely moderated. We’re Liberal adults, we can be moderated post-comment. Will (continue to) give it a miss. This is not a place for new or divergent ideas, believe me. Corbyn-esque ones? Could barely get them past editors without censure.

    Though one substantive point, if this makes it through: why immediately abandon plan to keep Labour talks covert, as per end of Build Back, then announce in the papers we’ll be more radical than Corbyn to try to scare them into overtly acknowledging they may need our help? Was odd to omit/ edit Brack’s Paddy-Blair essay to remove the option of overt/ open talks that bring everyone in but can cause more trouble, other than to state (by that editing) you believed covert way to go. Today doesn’t seem very covert.

  • Choosing “free water and energy” as a policy to highlight seems misguided. It’s not liberal and it’ll appeal to moderate voters even less than Corbyn’s free broadband. How does giving me no incentive to turn lights off square with the need for energy efficiency?

  • Apologies everyone for the delay in moderating comments today.

  • ‘Commandeering the UK private health sector’

    Wow! Not very liberal.

  • Christopher Love 21st Jun '20 - 9:53am

    Could the authors please add references to supporting evidence for their conclusions?

  • Christopher Love 21st Jun '20 - 10:36am

    @Ed C
    Hear, hear

  • Pieter-Paul Barker 21st Jun '20 - 2:25pm

    hi @Edc for example by setting the baseline free water and energy at a sustainable level so that people are encouraged to avoid over-usage, this is just an example there are many ways to achieve this without ending up in a situation where people just consume as much energy and water as they like

  • Paul Barker 21st Jun '20 - 6:46pm

    Is it time to start thinking about the Restart of Local Byelections ?
    There is a Democratic defecit & I can Imagine this Government leaving it as late as possible.

  • It is right to focus on issues such as rebuilding industry and manufacturing and localism. This might engage voters who currently feel disconnected from progressive politics.

    In addition post virus there will be fewer service sector jobs available and it is a good idea to not be relying too heavily on insecure jobs in the service sector which can be exploitative and vulnerable to downturns.

    UBI has potential but it all depends on how it is done and how it is funded. The Green Party had proposals for UBI of approx £80 something per week funded by abolishing tax credits and working tax credits.

    Maybe it could be taxable for top rate taxpayers.

  • James Fowler 22nd Jun '20 - 10:03am

    I’ve had what is, admittedly, a quick skim. It’s good to see new ideas. Here are a few thoughts:

    1. This (manifesto?) is the intellectual underpinning of a Red/Yellow/Green (traffic light) coalition. (a) Is this really where we want to sit and (b) are we really distinctive enough against the very clear red/green agendas highly visible throughout?

    2. The COVID centric analysis will (a) date very quickly and is (b) incorrect in my view. There’s an enduring belief on the Left that crises are fulcrums around which the public pivot towards progressive utopias. In my view the opposite happens. When people are scared and uncertain they move rapidly to the nationalist right – or rather towards politics as expressed in terms of protecting defensive interests.

    a. Sadly, I don’t think that this a moment when grand new re-conceptions of what society is all about are going to sell well – apart from on University campuses. In the end, politics is about scarcity and the more of it there is the more defensive people become. A lot of the left-wing response is predicated on the idea that scarcity can and ought to be just abolished by government – circa Jeremy Corbyn. It’s visible in this document too. The electorate is (rightly) skeptical about such claims.

    b. Progressive parties need to navigate issue of scarcity rather then simplistically declaiming its iniquities and then stating it all be abolished at the stroke of pen. COVID is used to here to substantiate the idea that ‘anything can happen’ but achieving (temporary?) drastic change via threatening the entire populace with (exaggerated?) mortal danger is not a practical or desirable model to me.

    c. I suggest we treat the electorate very gently at the moment. Life has been frightening and unpleasant for huge numbers of people ever since the late noughties, and even those who are secure are afraid of what might happen to them. Boris articulates a pastiche of what comfort should sound like which is why he’s popular, but I think the search is really on for a truly ‘safe pair of hands’. As a historically moderate Party, we should play to those strengths. There is no in depth appetite for radicalism, and where there is it is far more credibly represented by reds, greens and nats – the real traffic light coalition.

  • Yes meant abolishing tax allowances not tax credits.

    In terms of being distinctive yes absolutely and this is where orange book type ideas will still have some relevance e.g. repealing some nanny state regulations and reforming planning law to build more homes.

    However if the overall offering is more centre-left than anything else it makes more sense to work with the non-conservative parties. Equidistance has been very damaging and undermines the Lib Dem’s relevance in General Elections.

  • @Tony Greaves – disappointing title maybe but it’s been acquired by others! https://www.buildbackbetter.org.uk/index.html

  • Two brief thoughts :

    1. As a former Convenor of Social Care, I’m sorry, but the Social Care section is remarkably thin. No mention of integration or working with the NHS ; nothing at all about the fragility state of what is a largely privatised sector, no discussion on the need for a National Care Service – surely one of the biggest lessons to come out of the Covid Crisis.

    2. Who chose and how representative or well qualified are the contributors ? There’s a predominantly London/Home Counties bias (though that seems to be where the party’s remaining centres of activity are) : just one token Scot, one Welsh, barely anyone from north of the Trent.

  • John Littler 10th Jul '20 - 1:06pm

    Tom Wright – that is how politics is done. Ideas, next policy and then enacting them.
    The Farages of this world said that Coal was cheaper than renewables which he opposed at every turn. It was the LibDems in office who quadrupled wind power and brought the cost down to below coal.

    “Normal” politics is not just offering retails transactions like a penny in the pound off income tax. Daring to think the unthinkable and enact difficult policies to change the world for the better is how we will solve this latest crisis in capitalism and the environment and to do so we need to work closely with other progressive parties and to oppose the Tories

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