Liberal Democrats make change to policy-making process

The party’s Federal* Policy Committee (FPC) has just announced a significant change in the policy making process for 2007. It is setting up a new standing panel of people from which members of policy working groups will be picked in future. The panel will be put together once a year, replacing the old system of advertising for members of each different policy working group separately through the year.

There are more details on the party’s website, including an application form for the new panel; you have until 22nd January to get your form in.

* For the uninitiated in the jargon, “federal” here means “UK-wide” as opposed to Scottish, Welsh, English, London or Crouch End.

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This entry was posted in Party policy and internal matters.


  • Do you have a policy on repaying the Michael Brown £2.4million?

    Let’s re-enact the story.
    You’re standing in the street and a complete stranger shoves £20 in your hand and runs away.

    Later you read in the paper that the £20 had been nicked from a little old lady by a man bearing a striking resemblance to the one who gave you the £20. In law you may feign ignorance of the whole matter and hang on to your £20; but any reasonable person (and especially anyone wanting to be entrusted with running the country) would give the money back.

    So how long does it take to formulate a policy on that?

  • A more accurate analogy, Barry, would be finding out the local NHS trust who had been paying your salary had wrongly taken thousands of pounds in parking charges from elderly patients and this had been used to pay your salary. Paying back a year’s wages (and let’s not imply the party was in Brown’s employ because it clearly wasn’t) is a rather different issue from handing back £20.

  • Antony Hook 20th Dec '06 - 3:17pm

    It would be illegal for the Liberal Democrats to “give the money back.”

  • Hmm, but they haven’t been

  • Anyway in response to what this post is actually about this why on earth has FPC decided to do this? Not that long ago a lot of people were concerned that policy working groups risked being to producer interest dominated if this is a problem this will surely only be made worse by this move.

  • It’s been a common complaint that at times the party’s policy making process has been too slow moving. Having a standing panel of working group members will save a lot of the time previously spent on advertising each working group in turn and recruiting its members.

    I’m not sure how this change would lead to your feared outcome Simon? It’s likely to lead to more people generally interested in policy, rather than just one specific niche, I guess – but if anything that’s likely to run counter to your point?

  • This change has been agreed as part of a package of changes to improve the process and make it do what we want better. The package as a whole has a particular emphasis on shortening the length of time that it takes to create a working group and policy paper. This will help the process be able to respond a little less slowly – it can currently take up to 18 months or even more for a group to produce its report. (I have criticised this but there are reasons for it).

    So the main reason for this change is that it will make it quicker to set up groups – which can actually take up to 3 or 4 months at the moment. We normally allow perhaps 3 or 4 weeks for people to respond to an advert in Lib Dem News; it takes a week or two to get the advert in; we need a couple of weeks to assess the applications, and by the time this has been fitted into the schedule of monthly FPC meetings first deciding to set up the group, and then approving its membership, this can easily take 3 months.

    Having a standing panel will remove this need to advertise in each case and allow FPC to appoint members of groups straightaway from the standing panel. I think shortening the process is helpful, so support this.

    I also think it will have a benefit on tackling the problem of groups being dominated by ‘experts’ (similar to the concern of Simon above). There are many good people in the party who would be willing to help and would be good on groups, who don’t apply because they are not experts in whatever area is advertising. Hopefully such people would be willing to put their names forward for a general panel in a way that they would not for individual groups. We will of course still be able to ensure that groups do contain people with relevant expertise – just that they won’t be completely dominated by them.

    Having a larger standing panel should well also allow FPC to achieve maximum balance (geographical, political views, gender, etc) on groups where in some cases (by no means all) small numbers of applicants for particular groups can make this difficult.

    I think the potential danger is that people with a particular interest in certain areas will not put themselves forward, but I hope they will and I think they should. And as is clear from the original post FPC has already said the major areas it may want to recruit people for over the next year, so party members can see them.

  • this is bonkers! I advised Conrad Russell on heath finance (my special area of expertise), but surely as a liberal part we need to cast the net more widely, not more narrowley…

    ….and no, I won’y fill in the poxy form, this is silly

  • Brown's Money 21st Dec '06 - 7:57am

    I see Dr Monk is on about Brown’s Money again, so I’ll just repeat my post from the previous thread as he didn’t answer it there:

    “Is it immoral to have been taken in by someone who fooled the authorities for several years, who gave a donation that went some way to evening the playing field between the Lib Dems and the other main parties without wanting anything in return (he even said he didn’t really support the Lib Dems, he just wanted to give another party a chance)?
    I don’t think many people would say it was.
    Perhaps the party should return it now Michael Brown has been convicted. But I’m thinking (a) the party didn’t do anything wrong in accepting the money, it just turns out that Michael Brown is a little unsavoury; and (b) the party probably doesn’t have a spare £2.5 mill lying around, and if it does it’s at least understandable why some members would rather use that money to campaign to make the areas they live better places or encourage more women and BME individuals to get selected in winnable seats or make the machinery of the party more professional. I think there are a fair number of members who wish the party would just pay it back (and I count myself amongst them) – whether I’m being realistic I don’t know . . .”

  • hywelmorgan 22nd Dec '06 - 6:44pm

    Presumably it is still open to FPC to say “we are conducting a policy review on X, if anyone wants to be considered to be on the working group then they need to be on the panel, apply by date Y”

    That is of course rather similar to the situation we have now admitedly

    AIUI FPC is always short of finding people to sit on policy working panels so this may create more interest just as a bit of rebranding.

  • Is not the risk with switching to these standing panels that when putting together a group on say education anyone on the panel with education experiance (e.g. an academic or lead councillor) will be put on. With advertising more widly perhpas someone who hadn’t given any thought to being on a policy working group before could come forward (although perhaps in practice that didn’t happen). Hopefully this system will work as Mark suggests to make groups more repressentative. However a pretty big trick seems to have been missed by not advertissing the creation of these panels in the all member edition of Lib Dem News that has recently been sent out.

  • Bonkalot Jones 28th Oct '07 - 9:50pm

    Fine work ! Let us make the process of agreeing policy and strategy so obtuse, and involve so many people, that there is absolutely no connection whatsoever between the party leader, and the policies he has to sell to the electorate as being ‘the very fibre of my being’.

    Then, when it all goes t!t$ up at election time, he can at least say, ‘Well it was nothing to do with me – I would have had different policies if I had a free hand in writing them, but I’m afraid that isn’t the way we do things in the Liberal Democrats…’

    We would be in the bloody Euro if you shower were anywhere near to Government, which would be a very alarming prospect indeed. Can you imagine how long it would take you to make a decision about anything in Government ??

    That would be very handy in stopping us going to another ill-thought through war, but rather painful for the 99% of other decisions a party in Government has to make. But that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon…

  • Martin Land 7th Nov '07 - 9:19pm

    What’s the betting on David Cameron announcing a policy for Crouch End tomorrow?

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