Opinion: Getting back to the manifesto

libdemmanifesto 2010 wordleGetting this right is probably the foremost challenge the Party faces. Earlier year the Social Liberal Forum conducted an online survey, including open comments, over the contents of the Party’s pre-manifesto themes document and consultation. Although the response rates were low and mostly SLF members, it gives an interesting insight into what some party think of the work done on manifesto thinking to date.

The “Stronger economy, fairer society” theme

77% supported the slogan, 23% did not, but the majority of comments including from those who said “yes” thought it a bit bland and might make more sense put the other way around (ie Fairer economy, stronger society)


Only 40% supported the current Government’s deficit reduction strategy as restated in the pre-manifesto document. 58% thought the aim should be a balanced budget with only 14% supporting a “budget surplus” aim, and 31% considered that it may be necessary to continue a deficit. Nearly all respondents however agreed with the pre-manifesto document lines that investing in infrastructure, reforming the banking system, tackling global economy issues and tax avoidance should be key priorities.


Respondents were evenly split 50/50 on including a referendum commitment in the Manifesto

Growth, jobs and living standards

Nearly all respondents supported the main priorities being green growth, building homes, up-skilling, making work pay, creating and supporting jobs. However 25% did not support the pre-manifesto document’s lines on “reforming immigration”


Nearly 90% supported the pre-manifesto document’s lines on a fair start for children, Schools quality and accountability, further and higher education. Comments suggested that whilst the pupil premium was a good start, we need to go much further with our social mobility offer and many commentators expressed scepticism around the academies/free schools agenda.

A Country Fit to Live In

This section of the pre-manifesto document included strands covering public services, civic society, crime, and heritage. Improving healthcare, age-proofing and creating safe communities were the top supported priorities in this section with 90% support from SLF survey respondents, but significant unhappiness and commentary expressed about the NHS reforms and Police and Crime Commissioners, and some wanting to see these reversed. There was less support for “heritage” strand, comments suggested the language should be shifted towards “valuing the environment”.

Citizenship and safer world

There was generally high levels of support (90% plus) for the pre-manifesto document lines on political reform civil liberties and meeting global challenges. However the comments generally suggested 3 things:

  •  that political reform must involve full PR for local and parliamentary elections and tackle party funding issues
  •  that to regain civil liberties credentials we must come out unambiguously against secret courts
  • that we continue to fudge the issue of Trident when we should be unambiguously against

Other issues/What’s missing?

In response to this open-ended question, the following issues were raised

  • There should be more support for public institutions from health services to schools staying in the public sector with improved accountability
  • More was needed on energy and transport policy
  • Arts and leisure were not dealt with in the Pre-Manifesto document
  • There should be a greater focus on tackling inequality, including a review of welfare reforms to target more support for people with disabilities
  • Our approach on civil liberties must include supporting the justice system, including legal aid
  • We should be pushing for a land value tax in the Manifesto
  • We should be making a stronger pledge on house-building.

Recent threads on Liberal Democrat Voice allude to the need to make a bold differentiated offer to the electorate as did Nick’s speech which talked of economic renewal, opportunity, education and infrastructure. As working groups are shortly to publish their papers – including new papers on the ageing society, equalities, and public services, and a revised pre-manifesto themes document will also be published, all of which will be debated in Glasgow, now is the time to push for a bold manifesto agenda.

SLF is continuing to collect thoughts and generate discussion through its micro-site which we established to better understand our members views on a range of manifesto issues and to enable the SLF to make a constructive and informed contribution to the Party’s manifesto debate, so please visit the SLF manifesto site here.

James Sandback is a member of the SLF Exec.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Eddie Sammon 19th Jun '14 - 9:31am

    At the end of the day, the Social Liberal Forum is a centre-left organisation and I am not centre-left and I’ll continue trying to point out the flaws of their ideology. I’m pro capping wealth and other innovative ideas, but I’ve also got a load of ideas the Conservatives would like too, so we need to stay away from left or right wing ideology.


  • Steve Griffiths 19th Jun '14 - 9:54am

    There was a time when the Liberals and Lib Dems would put the environmental agenda prominently in their manifesto and it’s barely mentioned here. No wonder you have haemorrhaged support and votes to the Greens. I can think of no other more important issue that will affect the well-being of everyone, than failure to protect the planet and the Lib Dems seem to have forgotten about it.

  • James Sandbach 19th Jun '14 - 10:21pm

    Eddie, it’s a familiar charge that SLF is some kind of socialist Trojan horse but that really is just total bollocks – social liberalism has been the mainstream perspective of the Party since the early 20th century and bequeathed many of the civilising institutions which have advanced human, social and economic rights, thus enhancing individuals’ freedom. (And please note I didn’t use words like ‘right wing’, ‘ left wing’ , ‘centre-left’ or ‘ideology’ in the article – you used them in your response and imputed them which speaks volumes about how you understand politics and the debate about the Party’s future)
    Simon/steve – yes our members also agree that our manifesto offer needs to be much greener.

  • Stephen Donnelly 19th Jun '14 - 10:39pm

    James you say : ‘Although the response rates were low and mostly SLF members, it gives an interesting insight into what some party think of the work done on manifesto thinking to date.’. Whether it is an interesting really depends on the numbers. Perhaps you could give us some details.

    How many people actually replied ? How many were Liberal Democrat party members.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Jun '14 - 12:43am

    Hmm, interesting James, I didn’t accuse it of being socialist, I accused it of being centre-left. Even if people don’t want to use these terms, the SLF is partly responsible for the people it associates itself with.


  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 20th Jun '14 - 6:19pm

    I’m more inclined to promote England becoming more like Scotland – with a majority on the left and not at all interested in rightist politics for feathering their own pockets. Why should I want that? It is the view of the majority of the English also, as well as Scotland. Because we need more equality of all kinds in order to advance society in general and aspirations of the individual entrepreneur in particular [which Tories don’t believe in generally of course, just the individuals who plague the rest of us, via banks and housing, and stack up the millions].

    Tories don’t get it that for every one who gets on in life, maybe thousands suffer. Robin Hood in reverse – steal from the poor to give to the rich. NC should watch that one when spinning!! I don’t blame NC’s effort – only his amazing ability to become the Tory fall-guy by going with their top-down spin.

    We read that there are thousands more millionaires in England now, after the recession – but how many more millions are now in poverty and paying the price of a basically extreme Tory government?

    This is not what we campaigned and voted for! Mr Clegg please wake up and support your country! The country is its people – all of us, no more, no less!

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