Motions selected for debate at Federal Conference in Brighton


Whilst UK politics is in barely-controlled chaos, the Liberal Democrat policy-making process rumbles quietly on – with Federal Conference Committee (FCC) meeting in London on Saturday to select motions for Autumn Conference. I have described the decision-making process in previous posts so I will not go on at length, except to repeat my usual caveat that non-selection of a motion does not mean FCC does not think the topic is suitable for debate. Many motions are dropped in round one because of drafting problems, constitutional issues, timing in the electoral/policy making cycle or because the issue is covered by another motion or working group.

More detailed feedback has been given to those who submitted motions, often including suggestions for improving motions. This is not something I will try to repeat here as I only have my own notes of the meeting to go on, and errors would be inevitable. The task of rapidly providing feedback requires a lot of effort and is split amongst a dozen members of FCC.

A special note on Europe: three motions were received, but given the volatility of the situation it did not seem to make much sense to select a motion this soon. At the time of the meeting, we were expecting a new PM to be confirmed just a week prior to the start of the conference but even that assumption has turned out to be incorrect. Instead, there will be a separate system in place for an EU-related motion, hopefully with time for amendments which a normal Emergency Motion system would not permit. Details on this will be announced in due course. The Europe motions were:

  • A new relationship with The EU (South East Region)
  • Britain’s Future in the European Union (North West Region)
  • Declaration on Europe (Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association)

Without further ado here are the motions which failed to make the cut at round one, along with their submitters:

  • Business, Skills, and Higher Education:
    • Keeping Higher Education Open to Europe (Liberal Youth)
  • Communities and Local Government:
    • Local Councils (Barrow and Furness)
    • The Road to 300,000 Houses per Year (Liberal Youth)
  • Education and Families:
    • Abolishion of the current Family and Children’s Social Services (East Kent Coast Liberal Democrats)
    • In Defence of Teachers and Schools (Liberal Youth)
    • Obesity, Health, childcare and budgeting in schools (10 members)
  • Energy and Environment:
    • Energy Policy Review (6 members – not valid)
    • Sewage pollution from housing (Kingston Borough)
  • Foreign Affairs and Defence:
    • Facing up to our responsibility for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine (20 members)
    • Increase in military enlistment age (Cambridge)
  • Home Affairs, Justice, and Equalities
    • Access to Justice (Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association)
    • Bodily Integrity of Children (15 members)
    • Ending Privilege and Discrimination by the State on the Grounds of Religion or Belief (42 members)
    • Local Action on Speeding (Calderdale)
    • Local communities welcoming refugees (ALDC)
    • Shared Parenting After Family Breakdown Motion (Newham, Barking and Dagenham)
  • Political and Constitutional Reform:
    • Defusing the Protest Vote (Havant)
    • Federalism and Fair Devolution (North West Region)
    • Liberal Democracy and Representative Democracy (Calderdale)
    • Truth in Politics (10 members)
  • Work, Pensions and Social Security:
    • Motion to amend the current Department of Welfare and Pensions (DWP) practice for welfare benefit sanctions (11 members)
    • Phasing out Food Banks (Copeland & Workington)
  • Business Motions:
    • Confidence and Supply (Islington)
    • Establishment of a State Party for North West England (North West Region)
    • Prioritising Proportional Representation (12 local parties)

In round 2, we eliminated motions due purely due to lack of time:

  • Business, Skills, and Higher Education:
    • Lifetime learning for all across the UK (Bermondsey and Old Southwark)
  • Education and Families:
    • No one should be enslaved by ignorance or conformity (53 members)
  • Foreign Affairs and Defence:
    • Facing up to our responsibility for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine (20 members)
    • Increase in military enlistment age (Cambridge)
  • Home Affairs, Justice, and Equalities:
    • Justice for those in detention (Lewes)

This leaves the following motions selected for debate:

  • Business, Skills, and Higher Education:
    • Maintain the UKs support in full for collaborative research with all EU member states (30 members)
    • Tackling corruption and corporate crime (Tower Hamlets)
  • Communities and Local Government:
    • An End to Homelessness (47 members)
  • Education and Families:
    • Campaign to save Parent Governors (Lewisham)
  • Energy and environment:
    • Investing in green industry (27 members)
  • Health and Social Care:
    • Adopting Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis to Prevent New HIV Infections (Bury, Portsmouth, North West Region)
  • Home Affairs, Justice, and Equalities:
    • Restoring Access to Justice (10 members)
    • Campaigning against racism (Calderdale)
  • Transport:
    • Future Transport (10 members)
  • Federal Policy Committee papers which automatically appear on the agenda:
    • Safe and Free (Liberty and Security Policy Paper)
    • Mending the Safety Net (Social Security Policy Paper)
    • Agenda 2020
  • Federal Executive Business Motions, Constitutional Amendments and Standing Order Amendments:
    • Membership Subscription and Federal Levy
    • Recognition of Specified Associated Organisations and Associated Organisations
    • Governance Review

A one-page summary agenda will be released shortly, with the full agenda including the text of all motions selected for debate planned for publication in the first week of August.

I hope to see many of you in Brighton – you still have time to register!

* Zoe O'Connell is Vice Chair of Federal Conference Committee and Vice Chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats.

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  • Thank you for all the hard work.

  • Are they hiding Trident in the long grass with yet another fudge ? If not, what is going to happen given a Trident vote is likely to feature in Parliament early in the Autumn.

  • Jonathan Coulter 12th Jul '16 - 9:18am

    The publication of the Chilcot report provided impetus for discussion of Middle-Eastern matters: an opportunity missed.

  • M.Overington 12th Jul '16 - 9:18am

    I think we are missing a golden opertunity Why dont we increase our vote share by stating that if we were in power we would stay within the EU 48% of the electorate would be very tempted to vote LD

  • “ABOLISHION of the current Family and Children’s Social Services (East Kent Coast Liberal Democrats)” Miss-spelling the word abolition gives an amateurish impression of the Party’s policy making process.

    As to the issue, a party claiming to be the party of local government ought to be standing up to the Tory leviathan’s push to privatise and hive off local government services in what is an extremely sensitive area. The dedication and professionalism of English Social Services is being dumped by the Tories. We are watching the gradual piecemeal destruction of local government and it is a crying shame that the Liberal Democrats have nothing to say on this.

    The overall impression is that the powers that be are not in touch with the real radical issues facing this country economically, socially, defensively or politically…… and why on earth do we have to trek hundreds of miles down to Brighton at the far distant end of the country in what looks like being a rail free zone ? There is a whole world outside the cosy bubble of the South East of England – with real social issues that need addressing – and with far cheaper hotel accommodation. Give Sunderland, Hull or Preston a go.

  • Iv’e paid and booked in hotel to come for the first time. As the comments say above: not looking worth the money- Trident, Chilcot & 48% etc! About as exiting as a damp rag

  • That is that Trident, Chilcot and the 48% etc are missing, and David Raw is correct- it is a long and expensive haul down to Brighton.

  • Zoe O'connell 12th Jul '16 - 12:36pm

    On the topic of “Why aren’t we debating the topic of X” – this comes up every conference, but there is never enough time at a single conference to cover everything and it’s inevitable different people will prefer a different balance. The job of FCC is to try to come to a balanced agenda that doesn’t disappoint too many people. We can also only select from motions submitted to us.

    Trident was debated in Autumn 2015. We didn’t have any Trident motions submitted this time around, but even if we did we would not usually re-debate the same topic within 2 years. If we did allow a topic to be revisited, the agenda would be dominated by the same few topics every conference.

    Chilcot was published after the deadline for motions. We think it is likely people will submit Emergency Motions on the topic, the deadline for which is 1pm on the 5th September. (Emergency Motions are selected by a members ballot at conference itself) I would encourage people who want a Chilcot motion to submit one – sometimes everyone thinks “well, someone else will do it” and nothing ends up being submitted!

    The EU will certainly be debated – we’ve reserved a slot for it on the agenda. We just don’t know what the situation will be this far ahead, so we can’t pick a specific motion yet.

    The governance review and associated constitutional amendments are at this conference, so for those who would prefer changes to the policy making process this would be the conference to submit an amendment once the agenda is out and to make the case. We are well ahead of all the other parties in how we work!

    We try to move conference around as much as possible, but the number of relatively affordable (For members as well as the party!) locations that have suitable venues for conference is very small. There is also a significant cost in staff time to scouting out a completely new venue, so we do re-visit more popular venues based on conference feedback. In recent years, we’ve visited Glasgow, Liverpool, York, Newcastle, Birmingham, Sheffield, Brighton and Bournemouth.

  • Jonathan Pratt 12th Jul '16 - 2:41pm

    So again this party ignores defence and foreign policy. This is a very broad area and at some point this party will have to discuss it

  • Zoe – First, thank you for this. It’s much appreciated.

    But … as a sometime analyst and strategist in industry I can say from experience this is NOT how to make policy and the voters agree with me; they clearly don’t like the results.

    Looking at the policy-making process with the perspective of my experience what I see is a process-heavy approach, where what goes through and what gets left on the cutting room floor is dominated by procedural considerations with no obvious role for vision or strategy – the 25 year track record says there is precious little of either. That leaves each member free to write-in his/her own ideas about which way the party is headed making it like a rowing boat with no cox where every member of the crew is going at a different pace, even in different directions.

    In policy terms it’s like trying to understand a forest – something of enormous complexity, biologically, ecologically and in other ways – by going into it and collecting a selection of the more eye-catching leaves to bring back to the lab for study conference for debate. That leads to good knowledge of a random selection of leaves but none of the forest and at the end of the process all that is left is a pile of leaves bereft of original context. That is a compost heap and, in the judgement of voters in real national elections, that is more or less what Lib Dem policy proposals amount to.

    In my experience there has to be a two-way exchange of ideas between centre and coalface (or chalk-face). The centre must take responsibility for strategy and that must be rooted in vision and flow outwards to the coalface (constituencies, SAOs, individuals, policy staff etc.) who can then devise policies that support the strategy based on their expertise. Their ideas flow back to the centre which weaves them into a single cloth and provide the necessary support to empower those at the coalface to make things happen – be it money, enabling legislation or banging heads together.

  • Sue Sutherland 12th Jul '16 - 5:52pm

    Gordon. In the spirit of pernickityness which invades LDV from time to time, we wouldn’t be compost we would be leafmould which helps soil structure especially if your soil is heavy and clayey. If we were compost that would probably be better because it provides essential nutrients for plants to grow. There is the old gardening saying”The answer lies in the soil” which we could always use if our policies don’t help.
    Zoe thank you for all your laborious double digging preparing our Lib Dem soil to bear fruit.

  • Well done Zoe. I would echo the fact the process is not fit for purpose and not really much good for coming up with policy aligned to a strategy but that is not the fault of those on the committee.

  • Conor McGovern 12th Jul '16 - 6:47pm

    Some of this looks really promising, especially the “ending homelessness” motion. I look forward to seeing how that goes. A few issues though: where are the motions on Trident, foreign policy and bold social security reform, eg. Basic Income? I hope we don’t keep up this fudge on nuclear weapons for much longer, and we could really do with updating the way we do conference for members.

  • The Guardian website tonight : “David Cameron has used his 215th and final cabinet meeting as prime minister to lay out plans to push for a vote on renewing Britain’s nuclear deterrent and to ensure that his life chances strategy, which he hoped would be a flagship policy of his time in office, will live on”.

    What a bounder that Cameron chappy is. What a rotten trick to pull on the Lib Dems when they’re still going through the two year head scratching phase. Fella just can’t be trusted. Should be thoroughly ashamed of himself especially after Nick was so accommodating. Not the act of a gentleman at all.

    Just hope we never have to use a defibillator in a hurry should one be ever needed.

  • Firstly thank you Zoe O’Connell for writing this report.
    Secondly I wonder if there is a mistake in it as the two Foreign Affairs and Defence motions rejected in round one seems also to have been rejected in round two.

    I would love to know more about the Truth in Politics motion as I feel there should be some laws in place to stop/deter politicians from lying.

    A few people have commented that our process is not fit for purpose.

    Our policy making process has two different paths.

    The first is the production of detailed policy booklets or papers, which I think are supposed to take evidence and apply our principles in the area being discussed, with limited scope for amendment. In this process is reformed I hope that a way will be found to include the amending of the policy paper itself and not just the words of the motion.

    The second is the democratic path where any member can write a motion, hopefully get their local party to support it or failing that get a few members to support it and then submit it. I know the conference committee tries to help in the drafting but if motions are still being rejected for poor drafting this is not working very well. I wonder if every motion can be examined for drafting problems by the relevant member of conference committee and that person contacts the person who submitted it to amend it so it will not be rejected on drafting grounds. I think it is a good thing that an elected committee of ordinary members decides on the criteria for rejection and decides which member written motions are discussed.

    While I have set out some minor reforms to our process I would hate to see a new process that removes the power from ordinary members in both paths.

  • Psi – Thanks for emphasising that this is about a process that’s not fit for purpose. AFAIK that process came out of the SDP/Liberal merger as a result of trying to reconcile two different traditions in rather fraught circumstances. Hence, it’s absolutely not about the staff and committee members who have to make it work as best they can. That’s a point I’ve made before but on this occasion was up against the word limit.

    Michael BG – Re policy papers there is an old military dictum that “no plan ever survives contact with the enemy” so we need to rethink exactly what we expect of them. Are spokespeople (ministers even!) really to be bound to a policy paper that may be a couple of years old – and significantly out of date – in a fast-moving world? One possibility would be to update them regularly but that would be a huge task; another would be to see them as setting out broad principles that spokespeople would be delegated to adapt as circumstances required. That might sound weak but it would be a big advance on what has sometimes happened in the recent past!

    As for the ‘democratic path’ it’s not just the difficulties with drafting that are an issue. The evidence I’ve seen suggests that only a tiny fraction of members (probably < 1% not counting those at Conference who vote but have no other involvement) so it's not nearly as democratic in fact as on paper. IIRC the policy-making consultation paper identified that drawing on the expertise of members (and I would add, enthusiasm) is an unsolved problem and, I think, an important one.

    My suggestion would be that members should be able to suggest what they think is strategically important that the party should therefore prioritise. (My top suggestion would be getting apprenticeships right).

    Also, the party should take strategically important issues (see above) and invite the membership to come up with ideas, in effect to crowdsource solutions. That would be an immense force-multiplier, going from a rather small (perhaps only 200?) group of largely metropolitan people for most policy work to thousands spread around the country (assuming it’s done via the Internet). In this view policy would still go to Conference but many more people would have had the opportunity to participate.

    That’s rather different model but, given where we are, it needs to be.

  • @ Gordon

    I don’t wish to see policy created by our MPs or Lords spokepersons rather than the membership.

    However the suggestion that a process could be set up to include a survey of members on what policy they would like to be discussed is a good idea and then a call made for motions on the subject. I remember from by Student Union days something called composites and we might need a process to combine motions and amendments on the policy area chosen by the membership for discussion added into this process.

    I don’t know if the Conference Committee has a policy on not discussing a subject of a policy paper for a couple years afterwards. If it does then relaxing this policy could go some way to addressing your point about keeping policy papers up to date. The policy paper process I think changed after the constitution review of 1992-93 but I think we should keep it in some form. I particularly like the idea that it is evidence based. I am not sure how much evidence is collected, but I don’t remember reading in the consultation papers the findings of the evidence collection stage.

    While I accept that the number of people who submit motions is small this is not a reason to abolish the process by which they can do this. We need to look at ways of encouraging more people to take part. Maybe a web site, which was heavy advertised to members, where those people who already generate motions were encouraged to get them discussed in draft form well before conference and where they could gather support for submitting their motion, would be a means to increase the number of people involved in writing and drafting motions.

  • Lester Holloway 13th Jul '16 - 9:39am

    I look forward to seeing Calderdale’s motion on campaigning against racism. I hope it incorporates institutional racism as well as individual explicit racism. In relation to the latter, there is a clear liberal approach. Not merely wearing stickers with a heart on it, but an approach of building bridges through devolution / decisionmaking at the most grassroots level possible, and building in elements that foster dialogue, with newly-arrived immigrants and BAME British citizens. On the former, there is also a liberal approach, albeit a social-liberal one. Supplementing the Labour / Macpherson proscription of laws, targets and training with a more vision-inspired one; fostering institutional cultures that commit to the goal of ending disproportionatality and discrimination, and measuring progress against the vision, to allow choice of how far and fast we move, according to the choice of how long we want to wait for race equality. Thereby moving from tackling unconscious bias to promoting conscious unbias.

  • Michael BG – I too remember ‘composite’ motions from student days and I think it’s an idea we should explore.

    Regarding the ultimate responsibility for making policy I think it HAS to be put on spokesmen and, curiously, I think that would actually INCREASE democracy and accountability. Surely that’s exactly what already happens in council groups; I’ve never heard of one where ordinary (unelected) members dictate policy to the councillors (as opposed to councillors consulting widely with the members). And if they did that might perhaps be ‘democratic’ for the membership but would be ‘antidemocratic’ for the voters as a whole since decisions would be made in backrooms by a wholly opaque process from their POV (e.g. Militant Tendency vs. Labour). So, if that’s not how things work in council groups which are geographically compact why should it be done that way nationally?

    Also, I can’t think of any successful army, company or any other organisation where strategy is/was determined by privates and NCO-equivalents. The essence of democracy is NOT that privates/NCO dictate policy but that they can fire the leaders if they prove inept or self-serving.

    On numbers participating I should have said that it’s not just that it’s only a few but also, I strongly suspect, that it’s very often largely the same few so that it tends to be incestuous.

    However, I agree with you that we should put much of the process online. At the moment working parties are effectively ‘black box’ operations that disappear from view until they suddenly surface with a policy paper. That is terrible and should be opened up increasing the depth of participation, especially at the early stages before thinking starts to congeal around a particular set of proposals and for those who can’t get to conference, have disabilities etc. Then formal motions become less important (although ultimately necessary) than establishing the best proposals and the sense of members.

    What is certain is that the existing approach is a total fail; at a time when polling shows liberalism to be more popular than ever, political liberalism is a resounding flop. My fear for the policy-making review is that it will just put a gloss on the familiar without getting to the root of the problem.

  • Lester,

    The anti-racism motion talks mostly about positive action against explicit racism mostly, through steps such as community engagement and metal support from the bottom rung and challenging racist discourse in the media from the top rung, although an amendment on institutional racism would be well appreciated.

  • Lester Holloway 14th Jul '16 - 7:04am

    Sarah, it can be argued that racist media narrative is an aspect of institutional racism, as it is connected to institutional culture, practices, employment etc. But of course this is just one segment in a wider picture. The agenda setters and opinion formers in the media are disproportionatality white and privileged, and too often make assumptions about their readers that are informed by their own rather than the reality of a growing multicultural society. As a media professional myself I’d suggest being precise, forensic and strategic about how we approach this subject. Complaining in general terms makes no difference. Setting it in the context of media/political narrative on race, culture and Islamophobia over decades, how tribalism, nationalism and nostalgia for a bygone era of homogeneous romanticised supremacy all help explain why various cold winds long brewing came together in a perfect storm after Brexit to lift the lid on more explicit racism, as perpetrators felt their preexisting views were legitimised and sanctioned. But let us not make the mistake of ourselves assuming that racism pre Brexit was at an acceptable level. Reported explicit race attacks ran at 130 per day before Brexit, not including an estimated 50% under reporting rate.

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