Lib Dem pre-manifesto launched: includes policies to reform drugs laws and bus pass discount for under-21s

pre manifesto documentLast week’s pre-manifesto launch by the Lib Dems was postponed owing to the international situation. Thankfully no important news has broken over the past couple of days which might over-shadow today’s launch. Unless, that is, you think the potential break-up of the UK or a new Royal Baby are headline-grabbing events.

You can read the Pre-Manifesto in full below.

The party trailed its publication today with a couple of announcements intended to highlight key policies:

  • ‘Exclusive: Liberal Democrats to announce decriminalisation of all drugs’ headlined Politics.co.uk:
  • Personal possession of all drugs should be decriminalised, the Liberal Democrats will announce today. The policy will feature in the party’s ‘pre-manifesto’, which is being unveiling this morning as it lays out its priorities in the next parliament. While the document will not use the word ‘decriminalisation’, Liberal Democrat sources have told Politics.co.uk it will formally adopt a policy document proposal which called on the UK to adopt the approach used in Portugal. … Under the system, police would decide whether someone caught with possession of a drug is a dealer or user. For those only using the drug, the onus would be on medical responses rather than criminal sanctions. The move goes a step further than Nick Clegg’s previous pledge to stop sending people to jail for drug use. It is the latest in a line of increasingly liberal positions on drugs from the party, as it becomes more confident in demanding wholesale reform of Britain’s drugs laws.

  • Lib Dems pledge cheap bus travel for young said BBC Online
  • Young people aged 16-21 would get a 66% discount on bus travel in England under Lib Dem plans outlined by Nick Clegg. The scheme would be paid for by cutting the winter fuel allowance and free TV licences for better-off pensioners, the party’s “pre-manifesto” proposes. Mr Clegg told reporters: “We are telling you today that we are choosing to put the next generation front and centre of our plans.” The proposals are part of the Lib Dem pitch for next year’s general election.

    These can be added to the 21 policy announcements the party has already issued based on the pre-manifesto.

    As I wrote last week:

    When the pre-manifesto is launched, there will be three key questions unanswered:

    First, how do we pay for it all? The party has committed to balance the budget but has also committed to some major new spending initiatives, albeit some are openly billed as aspirational. Take, for instance, the party’s pledge to continue raising the personal allowance until it reaches £12.5k (the current minimum wage level), and then, as an aspiration, to start raising the national insurance threshold to £12.5k too. Each is hugely expensive. Combined with other spending commitments and the need for continuing severe austerity to reduce the deficit and something will have to give.

    Secondly, what are our top-lines? In 2010, the party listed four top priorities: tax-cuts for low-earners, the Pupil Premium, the Green Investment Bank, and political reform. Four years later, we can put ticks against the first three, and a cross against the fourth (though that’s mostly the result of Labservative opposition). What will be our equivalents in 2015? That’s still to be decided.

    Thirdly, what are our red-lines? In 2010, the party vetoed a number of Tory manifesto ideas, such as prioritising inheritance tax-cuts for the wealthy. However, we infamously didn’t draw a red-line around our tuition fees commitment (the Coalition Agreement enabled Lib Dem MPs to abstain, though when it came to the vote the parliamentary party split three ways). It’s safe to say the leadership has learned its lesson: there will be no open-ended commitment to vote for/against individual policies no matter what the circumstances. That does, however, run the risk of looking slippery.

    On the first of those – balancing the budget – the position is no clearer. The pre-manifesto notes the Lib Dems would introduce a Mansion Tax “help[ing] enable us to continue to protect NHS spending, extend the protection of schools’ budgets to include early years and 16-19 education, and ensure 0.7% of GNI is spent on international development aid.” It’s amazing how far c.£2 billion will stretch. Other decisions about spending are parked in favour of a full Spending Review “after the General Election”. Breezily, the document then notes, “Once we have balanced the books…” Of course, the Lib Dems are no different any of the other parties in this regard: none are saying what cuts will be needed and where to meet their aims of continuing to reduce the deficit.

    As for top-lines and red lines, it looks like we’ll have to wait a while for those. The pre-manifesto is divided into eight sections: Responsible Finances / Balancing the budget / Green Britain Guarantee / Family Finances / An Opportunity Society / A Better Place to Live / Secure Communities / Power to the People / Britain in the World. I imagine the final, streamlined version will focus on emphasising policies where the party has already achieved success in government, such as tax-cuts for low-earners, extending the Pupil Premium to early years, family-friendly policies, pro-green economy initiatives, and (perhaps) something on political reform.

    Anyway, here’s the full document for you to read…

    Liberal Democrat Pre-Manifesto 2014

    * Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    32 Comments

    • David Evans 8th Sep '14 - 1:40pm

      So we are going to abolish TV licenses? Big headline there. 🙂

    • Joshua Dixon 8th Sep '14 - 2:07pm

      Not much on electoral reform….

    • “What the Lib Dems say now is no guide to what they’ll do in the future.”

      A bit rich coming from a Labour politician but I do think it more or less sums up how voters feel about the LibDems.

    • The key section on democratic reforms is:

      • Reform the House of Lords with a proper democratic mandate starting from the 2012 Bill.
      • Reform our voting systems for elections to local government and Westminster. We will introduce the Single Transferable Vote for local government elections in England and for electing MPs across the UK, while transferring responsibility for the local government election system in Wales to the Welsh Assembly

      The proposals from the coalition for reform to the House of Lords were clearly a rather pitiful lowest common denominator compromise. Can we please see that “a proper democratic mandate” includes reelectable and shorter terms? I think that ‘proper’ in this context should mean an ability to vote out as well as vote in elected representatives. Is there a place for unelected representatives? I suggest that HoL reform could include some non-voting unelected members, including bishops perhaps who could speak on issues within their specific areas of expertise.

      My suggestion for local democracy would be to empower local government to adopt STV as a local decision.

      For myself, electoral reform is a key issue, along with Liberal values, internationalism and support for the EU which distinguishes the Party and is the basis of my support for Lib Dems.

    • For those only using the drug, the onus would be on medical responses rather than criminal sanctions

      What are ‘medical responses’ for a non-addicted pot-head who just likes getting high and doesn’t see why he should stop?

    • Alisdair McGregor 8th Sep '14 - 3:29pm

      It’s all a bit incremental for my taste. I think we should be bolder, especially on Drugs and Devolution.

    • I welcome this tribute to the late Simon Titley and his satirIcal skills —
      Retain our Trident independent nuclear deterrent through a Contingency Posture of regular patrols, enabling a ‘surge’ to armed patrols when the international security context makes this appropriate.

      But I think it should be made clearer that this wording is actually a joke worthy of Simon’s best..

      The wording should simply be —
      “SCRAP TRIDENT and divert the cash to the NHS.”

    • Hmm, plenty to digest – but on first look through I don’t really get a sense of who we are and what we are presenting. What is the thrust and clear message of what Liberalism is, what it means and why it matters?

    • “Young people aged 16-21 would get a 66% discount on bus travel in England”

      Be interested to see what the funding requirements (from government) are for the current under 25’s/student discount travel arrangements (Railcard, Oyster, FirstGroup, Arriva etc.) which typically offer between 30~50% off adult fares.

      Personally, I suspect that extending existing discount cards to all under 21’s (and potentially to all under 25’s) would probably be self financing. For a fallback source of funding, the roads/infrastructure budget can be used, as really the whole purpose of this policy must be to get young people into the habit of using public transport rather than cars and hence lowering the demand for further rounds of road capacity enhancement.

    • Good policy decriminalising drugs. Mind you now that you’ve added drug dealing and prostitution to the nation’s GDP figures you should probably announce that you want to legalise and tax the lot… Something that you claim you’re against and want to wipe out should not be classed as economic activity.

      Giving the young bus passes is not a great policy but no worse than giving them to pensioners. I guess since pensioners are the richest section of society so if someone should have free bus passes it’s the young.

    • @JohnTilley: The wording should simply be —
      “SCRAP TRIDENT and divert the cash to the NHS.”

      I believe that’s Alex Salmond’s policy, he keeps banging on about billions being spent on nukes that we could never use.

    • David Evershed 8th Sep '14 - 8:22pm

      The elephant in the room is the massive UK deficit – the bigger than anywhere else in Europe (including Greece) as a % of GDP. The deficit is adding to the debts we and our children will have to repay or refinance at much higher interest rates.

      Political parties believe that if they offer spending cuts and tax rises (to close the deficit) they will not get elected.

      So we are all going to offer increased spending and lower taxes until getting elected – then face reality, fail to meet pledges andreduce the public’s trust even further.

      Perhaps if Scotland votes YES and there has to be another election in March 2016 then political parties will be forced to admit not telling the public the truth in the 2015 election.

    • Mansion tax and drug decriminalisation are bad policies as they undermine the better alternatives of LVT and legalisation (with regulation and access to help).

    • Stephen Donnelly 8th Sep '14 - 10:25pm

      The party has been badly stung in government because of the failure to deliver on some previous campaign promises (i.e. Student loans) but this manifesto has swung far too much the other way. It lacks a coherent narrative, and is far too timid. There is too much that few will disagree with, and little to engage the uncommitted.

      For instance :

      The big choices facing the NHS have been glossed over. We have no view on the ‘privatisation’ of the NHS that may be a (the?) central point of Labour’s campaign.

      The Industrial strategy lacks detail. For instance the first headline point says that we will ‘Continue to develop our Industrial Strategy, working with key sectors which are critical to Britain’s ability to trade internationally – motor vehicles, aerospace, …..”. Tories. Labour and UK could sign up to that.

      Sadly, no mention of an immigration amnesty.

      If I were not a party member would I vote for it. Well yes, Labour cannot be trusted with finance (or economy, or business policy), the Tories cannot be trusted with public services, Europe and justice, and the Greens have gone looney left. None of that has changed, but for this election we have become a boring centre party rather than a radical liberal party.

    • Like others have said it’s boring, timid and unlikely to attract new voters. I get the feeling that hardly anyone will notice if the LibDems turn up at the next GE, the story will all be about UKIP and how many seats Labour and the Tories get.

    • Mr Wallace, so you prefer the policy of “a Contingency Posture of regular patrols, enabling a ‘surge’ to armed patrols when the international security context makes this appropriate”.???

      How do you envisage Liberal Democrat candidates winning over voters with this line?

    • Jenny Barnes 9th Sep '14 - 8:54am

      It’s a ragbag with no coherent underlying strategy. If we believe in the market, then we should say so, and make everything carry it’s own externalities via tax/ regulation. Or you go for state control/ nationalisation, which I think would be better for some things (NHS, defence, justice..) What’s the story? Why should anyone campaign or vote for it?

      Iweasel words “not really a subsidy for nuclear power honest guv”
      and “We’ll consider the Davis commission report on aviation” (which will likely recommend a 2nd runway at Gatwick or a 3rd at Heathrow) but we’ll have no more runways in the UK without closing others. is more weasel wordery. I’m sure you can find some lightly used airport runway to close to build LGW 2. If you want to reduce aviation’s impact, you could tax the fuel, or you could say “only x passengers a year ” . This is trying to please everyone, and in reality will please no-one

      Tuition fees was not a success, btw,

    • I am encouraged by some of the policies and not convinced by others.

      For instance
      “Ensure the ‘work tests’ are fair, accurate and timely. We will review the Work Capability Assessment and evaluate the merits of a public sector provider. We will also ensure that assessments for Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment are carried out quickly and fairly”

      I have always believed that the work capability tests should be carried out within the NHS. It is the only way for a claimant to get a fair assessment. The health care professional who was carrying out the medical assessment would have full access to the persons NHS medical file, they would be able to see how often they are seen by their GP or other medical professionals for their conditions, Treatment plans, etc. This does not happen with the likes of ATOS and other outsourced providers and it is left to the claimant to obtain and provide medical evidence to support their claim. This is deeply unfair on the claimant who has to foot the costs for this not to mention the added stress that many vulnerable claimants are already under

      I welcome the comments on the NHS, especially in relation to better access to mental health services
      “We want an NHS which works for the changing needs of our society. There are more people living with one or more long term conditions than ever before and we need an NHS which is designed around the needs of patients. That’s particularly true in mental health, where our understanding of effective treatment is increasing all the time. But mental health patients have too often been treated to a second class service.”
      • “Deliver genuine parity of esteem between mental and physical health, including by improving access and waiting time standards for mental health services and establishing a world-leading mental health research fund to improve understanding of mental illness and treatments. “
      I do not have much faith in The Liberal Democrats to deliver this. I am sorry to say that Norman Lamb and other have been in Government for over 4 year now, what is the excuse for not doing it during this parliament? We have had changes to benefit rules that were able to be implemented immediately; We have had other changes to the NHS that came into effect immediately. We have found Billions of pounds to spend on IDS Universal Credit plans, Married tax breaks and Free school meals for all children under 7.
      The money has been there and the Government has proven that it can push through legislation rather quickly when it wants to.
      So based on past experiences, I doubt the parties and the government’s commitment to this.
      With regards to mental health talking therapies, The NHS also needs to change its approach to talking therapies. At present they operate on a one cap fits all bases. If you are lucky enough to be offered therapy, it is very limited and restrictive, normally only being allocated between 10-12 sessions of CBT. Putting these limitations on the amount of medical intervention you can get is wholly wrong, imagine suffering from cancer and being told you could only see an oncologist 12 times , Or suffering a bowel disease and only being able to go to the gastroenterology department 12 times. It would never happen, so why have these restrictions on patient’s access to talking therapies? The therapy should be available for as long as the patient needs it. It is counterproductive to put a time limit on treatment as it acts as a barrier for the patient, it does nothing to build up the sense of trust needed in the therapist, or ones faith in the ability of the NHS organisation as a whole to treat some peoples very complex mental health disorders. These barriers are then a real hindrance to the patient making progress.

      “Personal possession of all drugs should be decriminalised”
      I have reservations about this. As a former drug addict myself (though never convicted) how much is personal use defined? At my worst point I would have in my house a half ounce of cocaine at a time. This was all for personal use but would have a street value of £700 if broken down into single Grams. How could you be sure that the police would call it right and not wrongly accuse someone of dealing and an injustice would occur?
      Personally I am against the decriminalization of drugs. Yes I don’t want to see people who are in desperate need of help, constantly ended up back and forth in prison. But neither do I want to see drug laws relaxed or certain drugs decriminalized. Extended drug use does lead to mental health problems and especially exasperates conditions for those with existing mental health disorders.

    • Joshua Dixon 9th Sep '14 - 11:45am

      Unless there are significant amendments I’m not sure I can back it. I feel so incredibly uninspired by it.

    • Joshua Dixon, you will not be the only person to take that view.
      It is possibly the weakest andworst Liberal manifesto in living memory.

      Fortunately most voters will never see it.

      The prospect is of a general election with the most unpopular party leader since records began, party support in single figures for months on end and a manifesto of warmed up compromises with the Tories which nobody will trust our leadership to deliver because of their record of failures on constitutional reform, student fees and nuclear power.

    • Specifically in response to matt’s point on the parity of esteem for mental health:

      One of the factors in the system of CCGs led by GPs was the observation that GPs were telling us that the causes of so much that they had to deal with were mental-health related, and therefore it was expected that GPs would understand the need for mental health provision. Now I guess this hasn’t happened as expected…

    • Jenny Barnes 9th Sep '14 - 2:34pm
    • The claim “that the supply of affordable rented accommodation is going up” is laughable. Perhaps by 0.001%, or in some fantasy world!

    • Matthew Huntbach 9th Sep '14 - 4:33pm

      The content is ok. On balance I’d support it more than what’s coming from any of the other parties.

      But the introduction by Nick Clegg is a disaster.

      It is FAR too positive about the current right-wing Tory dominated government. Quite a lot of it slips into right-wing propaganda language. It uses Tory language to slag off Labour, but says nothing about what was REALLY the problem with the last Labour government – it carried on with the damaging economic policies of the previous Tory governments. Much of the debt built up by Labour came from following the Tory line that “private sector know-how” was some magic fairy dust that would solve everything, so expensive PFI agreements were used because it as supposed they must be better because they were run by big business, and then much more came from regarding the bankers as an untouchable aristocracy, so we had to shore them up with huge amounts of money when they collapsed and came running to the government asking to be bailed out. But from what Clegg has written here, you might suppose the Blair and Brown governments were all Bennite left-wing socialists.

      I have accepted and supported the line that the balance of parties following the last general election meant we had no choice but to support a government whose main thrust was that of the Conservative Party. However, that does not mean we should go on about how wonderful it is, and what great things it has done, as Clegg has done here. It certainly should not mean we should be using Tory lines to sing the praises of Tory policies – as Clegg has done here. We need to make it clear that what we would do if we had the lead in government would be quite different to what the Tories would do, and different to THIS government which is, after all, five-sixths Tory and only one-sixth Liberal Democrat. The language Clegg uses here just goes along with the attacks made on us by our opponents, that we just “rolled over and joined the Conservatives”, that secretly we were much more right-wing in policy than we made out in the general election campaign, and that the coalition is just being used as an excise to bring out what was there underneath anyway.

      A decent opening statement by a leader who wanted to make clear our party is distinct from either of the other two and is not aligned to either of them, would have been MUCH more even handed in what it said about the Labour and the Conservative Party. It would have been more willing to acknowledge the way the economic crisis this country was in was a global thing, not just the fault of the last Labour government, and would have made clear that our country has long term problems stemming from poor policies of previous government of BOTH main parties. It would have been MUCH more critical of the current government, instead of writing it up as super-duper wonderful, it would have pointed out the damage it has caused by being too much on the side of the rich, and too much dominated by elite types who make bad mistakes because they don’t know much about how ordinary people live.

    • I love this! 3.3 Give advice to people in poverty to move into higher paid jobs.

      “YO! POOR PEOPLE! GET A HIGHER PAID JOB ALRIGHT”

      Hahaha brilliant! That’ll learn ’em

    • It really comes across as a shopping list of different things which we hope will appeal to people. There doesn’t seem to be an underlying strategy or philosophy, which has been the problem with our party in recent years. What do we really believe in?

    • David Evershed 11th Sep '14 - 5:21pm

      Celia refers disparagingly to 3.3 which states:

      “Tackle in-work poverty by giving people on low earnings help and advice to move up to higher paid jobs.”

      It seems perfectly clear to me that we should help people into higher paid jobs. They could get training, join an apprentice scheme, be mentored, be given encouragement etc. Most people start on lower paid jobs and through training and experience qualify to better paid jobs.

      Another route is part time workers moving to full time work. The improved child care proposals assist with this.

    • One day Clegg will come clean as a tory secret agent. Probably when he is made a peer by the Tories for helping them so much.

    • Ben — not much of a secret agent — not much of a secret. Clegg claims he has no recollection of being a member.of the Conservative Party but Conservative MP Greg Hands has a record of CUCA members for 1986–1987, and Clegg’s name appears on the list. Hands noted that “for the avoidance of any doubt, there was only one ‘N Clegg’ at Robinson College … [he] is listed in the ‘Robinson College Record’, under ‘Freshmen. He graduated with an upper second class honours (2:1) degree in social anthropology.
      Links with Lord Carrington (Conservative Grandee) and working for Leon Brittan (Conservative Home Secretary and European Commissioner) are remembered by Clegg. But does anybody remember him doing anything for the Liberal Democrats before he became an MEP in 1999 ? Does anyone remember him joining the Liberal Democrats or when that was?

    • Placing as fair an interpretation on Clegg’s membership of CUCA as possible, some students in my time at Cambridge were members of all three main party clubs. I dimly remember that the Conservative Association was supposed to be a good place to meet women. I was a member because once a fortnight Central Office sent down a formidable lady who gave us public speaking lessons. In contrast to Clegg, though, I was an officer of the Liberal Club, attended constituency party meetings, and spent far too much of my time trying to build up the party in East Anglia and campaigning at by elections.

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