Postponed: Lib Dem pre-manifesto launch delayed owing to international situation

Liberal Democrat manifesto front coverThe news of a further murder of a US hostage by ‘Islamic State’ broke last night. The Lib Dems have, therefore, decided to postpone today’s scheduled launch of the party’s pre-manifesto.

The pre-manifesto is the document agreed by the Lib Dems’ elected federal policy committee (FPC) to be submitted to this autumn’s conference for approval. Its contents have been heavily trailed throughout the summer. By my count, 19 policies (mostly policies already agreed by conference, and listed at the foot of this post) have been unveiled, as the party gears up the publicity machine to try and get its key messages heard by the voters ahead of May’s general election.

Party process purists won’t much like the publicity preceding the official conference vote, but the reality is unless the Lib Dems take every opportunity to hammer our policy messages home then what we have to say won’t ever be heard. A bit like leaflet delivery in an election campaign, it’s only when we’re sick and tired of hearing the message that there’s a slim chance the electorate might have noticed it even once.

There are further examples in today’s media, with both the BBC and Guardian leading on the Lib Dem pledge for 15 hours of free childcare for all two-year-olds in England. On a different note, the Financial Times reports the party’s aim of abolishing first-past-the-post in local elections in England, replacing it with the single transferable vote system used in Scotland. (This is what we should have argued for in the May 2010 Coalition negotiations, rather than a referendum on the Alternative Vote – ah, hindsight!)

It’s clear the party will use the pre-manifesto for two purposes. First, to emphasise how much the Lib Dems have achieved of the 2010 manifesto in government – from tax-cuts for low-earners to the Pupil Premium to the Green Investment Bank and so on. And secondly, to show how the party would build on those achievements if given a second chance in government – more tax-cuts for low-earners, extending the Pupil Premium to early years, setting up a Housing Investment Bank and so on.

This is the traditional “A record of action, a promise of more” style of electioneering. However, it’s also intended to counteract two of the most common criticisms made against the party. First, that this is a Tory-led coalition in which the Lib Dems have been squashed; secondly, that the party’s breaking of its tuition fees pledge means it can’t be trusted on anything else.

There’s another purpose, too. The party’s internal research shows that one of the biggest reasons our 2010 voters will no longer vote for us is not anger at the party’s supposed “betrayal” by going into coalition (there are some to whom that applies but they’re a minority). Rather it’s the belief that the party hasn’t actually achieved anything in power. When voters hear about the policies for which the Lib Dems are responsible they’re much more pen to voting for the party. The real question, then, is this: are we able to get our message across to enough voters in the time remaining?

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.

**

The 19 manifesto policies announced over the summer:

Protecting education spending: Extend the protection to all education funding from early years through school to college
Parental Guarantee: A core curriculum taught by qualified teachers
Curriculum for Life: Children in state-funded schools, including academies and free schools, will be guaranteed age appropriate sex and relationship education, as well as financial literacy and citizenship lessons
Early Years Pupil Premium: We will more than triple investment in the early years pupil premium from £300 to £1000 per child under manifesto plans
‘Daddy Month’: We will expand shared parental leave with an additional four week ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ paternity leave period
Balance the budget: Aim to balance the structural current budget by 2017/18 and set a course to reduce debt as a share of national income. Make deficit reduction fair by ensuring high earners and the wealthiest pay their share. Set new fiscal rules to balance the budget while allowing borrowing for productive investment. Increase public spending again in line with growth in the economy once the budget is balanced.
Cutting taxes for working people: Raise the income tax threshold to £12,500 before beginning to raise the National Insurance threshold
Making our tax system fairer: We will increase taxes on the wealthiest, including raising Capital Gains Taxes and introducing a High Value Property Tax. Our manifesto plans include: Introducing a banded High Value Property Levy on residential properties worth over £2m; limit tax relief on pensions to a pot of £1m; maximising revenue from Capital Gains Tax by aligning rates more closely to Income Tax
300,000 homes: Set an ambitious target of increasing the rate of house building to 300,000 a year
Ring fence NHS budget: NHS spending will rise by at least the rate of inflation over the next Parliament. We also announced they will pool health and social care budgets. This would help make care more tailored towards individual patients and reduce inefficiencies
Help for Carers: We will support carers with a package of measures designed to make their lives easier. The package includes an annual Carer’s Bonus of up to £250 and raising the amount carers can earn before losing their allowance. It also contains measures for more flexible working hours, support in returning to the jobs market and a scheme informing carers of their rights and giving them access to facilities
Mental health: We will establish a mental health research fund worth £50m per year to help bridge the gap between physical health and mental health treatment
Drugs: We will end imprisonment for drug users whose only crime is possession for personal use. They will instead receive non-custodial sentences and appropriate medical treatment
Safe Standing: Clubs in the Premier League and Championship will be allowed to work with their supporters to introduce standing areas, which provide better atmospheres and allow clubs to offer cheaper safe standing season tickets
Stop and Search: We want to help transform community relations and the public’s trust in the police through tightening the laws on stop and search, and requiring some police officers to wear body cameras when they stop someone. We will introduce rules making the wearing of body cameras by officers mandatory for: Section 60 stop and search areas; officers armed with firearms; members of Territorial Support Groups
Tree planting: Within the first year of entering government we will develop the national tree planting programme in order to plant one tree for every child born in England. We estimate this will be approximately 700,000 to 750,000 trees per year
Benefits yellow card: Under manifesto proposals people claiming unemployment benefit would be given a final warning for failing to stick to claimant conditions. Claimants would be given a reminder of their obligations and clear information about the sanction process which would only be triggered in the event of a further misdemeanour
High Pay: Companies will be forced to publish their highest earners pay. Our outline plans to encourage fair pay deals by requiring companies with over 250 employees to publish the pay levels of their highest paid employee and median pay across the Company. And we will require these larger companies to consult employees on executive pay proposals to help put downward pressure on excessive awards

Update: make that 21 – here’s another 2 policies also pre-announced:
Scrapping the Severn Bridge tolls once the bridges are returned to public ownership and any outstanding debts are paid off (see here).
Reforming funding to the Welsh Government to make up the shortfall (see here).

* 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

  • Tony Dawson 3rd Sep '14 - 10:30am

    ” the reality is unless the Lib Dems take every opportunity to hammer our policy messages home then what we have to say won’t ever be heard”

    The true reality is that unless we start making sure that Lib Dem policies are put forward publicly by people who the electorate trusts then they will not be even listened to, let alone heard. This ‘manifesto’ is something of a comfort blanket for those who wish to pretend that they have some form of relevance to UK politics.. I predict that there will be little reference to it, and even less likelihood of any reference to the individuals who will present it,over the next nine months, by any Lib Dem candidate who will be elected next May.

  • There’s a big problem with the plan to increase the Personal Allowance to benefit lower earners and increase work incentives: it doesn’t play well with the planned rollout of Universal Credit.

    Under tax credits, reducing a tax credits recipient’s income tax bill by £400 made them £400 better off, letting them keep more of what they earn, and helping to make work pay. However, with UC being withdrawn based on net rather than gross income, reducing a recipient’s income tax bill by £400 only makes them £140 better off. Those who are better off and so don’t receive UC get to keep the full £400. UC thus makes Personal Allowance increases an inefficient and ineffective way of helping lower earners.

    This doesn’t just apply to future increases: with this effect applying retrospectively to Personal Allowance increases during this parliament, UC threatens to undo the Lib Dems’ headline achievement from being in government so far.

    Have the Lib Dems considered any alternative policies that would increase work incentives for benefits recipients that might remain effective (and progressive) under Universal Credit? Instead of increasing the Personal Allowance, would the money be better spent reducing the rate of withdrawal of Universal Credit? Or is none of this relevant because Universal Credit will inevitably be abandoned as soon as is politically possible?

  • jedibeeftrix 3rd Sep '14 - 11:26am

    Anything on defence……..

    *crickets – chirping”

  • David Evans 3rd Sep '14 - 12:40pm

    So it wasn’t coalition, but breaking the pledge and people not believing we have achieved anything. And who is responsible? Step forward Nick Clegg.

  • paul barker 3rd Sep '14 - 1:12pm

    At a time when Britains Tory/Labour Duopoly is visibly cracking we need to be looking outward. The time for navel-gazing will be next Summer, at the earliest.

  • David Allen 3rd Sep '14 - 1:22pm

    There’s a dialogue of the deaf going on here, isn’t there? One side keeps asserting that nothing we say will make any impact as long as Clegg is saying it. The other side keeps asserting that it ain’t so and we should keep calm and carry on.

    Why don’t we just go and ask the public what they think about this? (1) Would they consider voting for the Lib Dems led by Clegg? (2) Would their response change if the Lib Dems were led by Cable*? (3) Would they please read this outline manifesto and then reconsider their response? (4) What might persuade them to vote Lib Dem?

    I suspect the general response would be (1) Clegg is a total millstone, (2) Cable, just as a new personality, would only pick up a few percent more, unless he also clearly represented a fundamental change in the party’s position (3) nothing in the manifesto would change anybody’s mind, (4) the answer is either “nothing would”, or else “go back to when you used to be decent, honest and left-of-centre”. But that’s only my guess. Why don’t we get out and ask?

    (* – NB, I think that in an opinion survey, it would be pointless to put forward other names like “Alexander”, “Davey” or “Farron”, simply because none of these have enough public recognition at this stage.)

  • David Evans 3rd Sep '14 - 2:09pm

    Yes Paul Barker – Let’s put off dealing with the Clegg millstone until after it has drowned us!

  • Simon McGrath 3rd Sep '14 - 2:21pm

    @gareth – thanks for the info on the date for amendments being pushed back – and i agree with you the Agenda should have been published earlier.

  • David Evans 3rd Sep '14 - 2:32pm

    And the jury’s verdict is “Guilty!” 😉

  • Paul in Wokingham 3rd Sep '14 - 2:36pm

    @Caracatus – the Ashcroft poll raw data shows LD on 17 (total sample=1001) versus Green on 16. And only 49% of Lib Dem supporters (8 people) described themselves as “absolutely certain to vote” – compared with 62%, 63% and 72% for Lab, Con and UKIP respectively.

    So not only are we polling badly, but what support we have is softer than for any of the other parties. If there is a well-known local who stands as a single-issue independent, we could easily end up 6th again. Clearly that is not a reflection in any way on our candidate, whoever that might be, it is a reflection of the reality that we face.

  • paul barker 3rd Sep '14 - 3:39pm

    Great idea lads ! Lets devote our Conference & the rest of this year to an Internal struggle. The New Leader should be in place by January leaving lots of time for our Election Campaign. Can I just remind everyone that 48 Local Parties discussed this question & of those 48 just 3 voted for a Leadership challenge : thats 15 to 1 against.

  • David Allen 3rd Sep '14 - 4:04pm

    It’s far too early to be thinking about changing the leader. Oops, I’ve been saying that for years but it’s no longer plausible, it’s quite close to the next election. Help, what can I say now?

    Ah, got it, brilliant. It’s far too late to be thinking about changing the leader! Crank up on sarcasm, here goes, “The New Leader should be in place by January leaving lots of time for our Election Campaign”. That should nail it.

    (Remember to remove all reference to Matteo Renzi, who ousted the previous Italian PM on 21st Feb 2014, and then won a landslide victory in the election of 25th May 2014.)

  • Peter Watson 3rd Sep '14 - 4:05pm

    @paul barker “Can I just remind everyone that 48 Local Parties discussed this question & of those 48 just 3 voted for a Leadership challenge : thats 15 to 1 against.”
    Indeed. In which case, if 2015 is a failure it could be seen as the responsibility of the party as a whole and not just the leader that it has chosen to back. Though how much of the party is enthusiastically behind Clegg, and how much has simply decided that rebuilding from Ground Zero after the election is the least worst option? As we approach the general election, the way the party campaigns and individual candidates present themselves could provide a few clues.

  • Stephen Donnelly 3rd Sep '14 - 7:19pm

    The list lacks a big idea (so far). It reads like a collection of small ideas that can be put in to mail-shots.

    If Labour major on the NHS, the Tories on competence (i.e. not led by Ed), UKIP on immigration and Europe, we will be drowned out. All the parties will avoid saying which cuts they will make in government, but will we really try to get through the campaign without saying what will do on NHS under funding, the European referendum and Immigration ?

  • Richard Dean 3rd Sep '14 - 8:21pm

    I agree that the list looks like a lot of little policies, a lot of omissions, and a few policies that are so generic as to be meaningless. The latter category includes “Balance the Budget”, except for the 2017/18 date which looks very unrealistic. The list also surely needs to include policies with heading that include the words

    > the economy
    > immigration
    > Europe
    > fracking
    > Russia/Ukraine
    > IS/Iraq/Syria
    > Scotland
    > poverty
    > HS2

    I wonder how many voters will be persuaded to change to LibDem by the Tree-planting policy?

  • Oh dear, what a timid, uninspiring list of what Joe Dean correctly describes as “little policies”.

    This is not going to get the masses to take to the barricades is it?

    This party used to be a radical party, seeking radical change to improve the lives of citizens.

    What a sad reflection on the leadership of the party in recent years that this dim and dismal list of mediocre tinkering is thought to be worthy of presenting to the public at all.

    I agree with Peter Dawson. This list will not be listened to by the voters because of the trust gap. “Would you trust Nick Clegg on any list of policies after what happened last time?” is the response of ordinary people – if they take any interest in the party at all.

    There is no point taking ” every opportunity to hammer our policy messages home ” when people have stopped listening already.

    This pathetic shopping list of the mediocre would merit little attention from voters even if it were splashed over the front pages every day until election day. I suggest postponing publication until June 2015 to at least save the embarrassment of admitting that this is what the party has been reduced to.

    One final point. Can I assume that whoever thought up the phrase “Daddy’s month” has been punished?

  • peter tyzack 4th Sep '14 - 8:55am

    Dear Gareth Epps, Paul Barker’s comment is no more irrelevant than all those preceding it.. in fact it is quite apposite to point out that a decision has been taken on that question, so lets stop muttering amongst ourselves and get on with the challenge of next May.
    Thank you to Stephen Donnelly and Richard Dean for constructive comments.. why must we have all the nit-pickers and opportunist Mr Negatives at the start of any discussion on here.. they are so predictable that it surely puts many people off making any comment atall.

  • David Evans 4th Sep '14 - 10:11am

    Paul Barker – very interesting. The only place I have seen any attempt to collate data is Mark Pack and he only found 18 who had held a vote of which four were in favour of a ballot. In many others, the executive decided not to let the members have a vote. I can only presume you are privy to better data than Mark. Can you tell us where you get it from?

  • David Grace 4th Sep '14 - 10:12am

    I was going to ask for the 21 policy points to be annotated to show which is already party policy (as Stephen Tall claims most are) and which aren’t. However, I think Stephen Donnelly has made the most important comment. Where are our big ideas ? Where are the policies for the two things which matter most to all voters – jobs and homes ? People want to know that they will have work and a place to live. The rest is secondary. I would like to see a serious commitment to building more houses that people can afford to buy or rent. Apparently we can expect more cuts to local authority expenditure so they will be hard put to build at all.

  • Peter Watson 4th Sep '14 - 10:54am

    @peter tyzack “why must we have all the nit-pickers and opportunist Mr Negatives at the start of any discussion on here..”
    I think that is inevitable in any forum structured like this. Somebody will write an article and, regardless of the topic, the first response will probably be to challenge it in some way. Similarly, most posts are taking issue with something a previous poster has written so if somebody agrees with an original article they are much more likely to wait until they can disagree with somebody else who criticises it. It’s not about “Mr Negatives”: an article might be condoning or condemning a particular party policy and the outcome would be the same, though obviously some topics provoke more response than others.

  • Bill le Breton 4th Sep '14 - 11:25am

    David G and Stephen D are right, there is, so far, a lack of any big idea.

    Many of these ‘campaigns’ extend exisiting achivements and that seems deliberate as it both justifies and defends our contribution to Government over the last 4 and a half years. But it is very cautious. The kind of things that people who have been pummled over recent years might see as the horizon of possibility.

    The big idea seems obvious to me: employment. (David is right to add homes to this issue but we have a an extraordinary opportunity on employment).

    Employment has risen and unemployment has fallen significantly. But already cautious people are worried that the potential for this coninuing is running out and that wage pressures and inflation are round the corner. They argue for an end to stimulus. We have all but completely bridged the output gap. Everything that remains is structural.

    But wage growth remains weak. And you have to look very hard to find wage inflation pressure. The down side is that those in employment are not seeing their real wages increase. But the upside is that surely there is therefore still scope for employment to rise further and for unemployment and underemployment to fall further.

    When Beeridge was looking at the issue of unemployment he calculated that full employment was that level when 3% were unemployed for frictional reasons. Experts now suggest that the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (NAIRU) might be 5.5%. But if the relationship between wage inflation and unemployment has changed back to the days in which Beveridge was working (and we have had a similar period of low inflation) why shouldn’t we target 3% as he and the politicians of his day (from all three Parties) did?

    What a campaign that could be! Up lifting. Transformative. The effect on tax revenues and benefit levels would be extraordinary. The life chances created would be legion. A Liberal campaign. To borrow from an earlier leader: We Can Conquer Unemployment!

  • Most of these policies seem quite slippery to me, providing very little in the way of tangible benefits to ordinary people beyond partly ameliorating the worst effects of austerity. Most people, including me, will be voting on whether they feel better off or worse off than in 2010. It will take a major turnaround in the economy for me to support my own party, I’m afraid.

  • My earlier comment JohnTilley 4th Sep ’14 – 8:51am took some hours to appear perhaps because my closing sentence said something more extreme than merely “punished”.

    David Grace, Bill le Breton and others all make the point about the absence of any big ideas.
    I hope nobody minds if I repeat some of the earlier comment in the context of subsequent comments from others ?

    This is an uninspiring list of what Joe Dean correctly describes as “little policies”.

    This party used to be a radical party, seeking radical change to improve the lives of citizens.

    . “Would you trust Nick Clegg on any list of policies after what happened last time?” is the response of ordinary people – if they take any interest in the party at all.

    There is no point taking ” every opportunity to hammer our policy messages home ” when people have stopped listening already.

    This pathetic shopping list of the mediocre would merit little attention from voters even if it were splashed over the front pages every day until election day. I suggest postponing publication until June 2015 to at least save the embarrassment of admitting that this is what the party has been reduced to.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 4th Sep '14 - 5:29pm

    Nothing here for me and I’m a member. Tell me what’s in the actual Manifesto and I will read again. There may be laudable items in this stuff but I am totally unaffected as I suspect the electorate will be by this. Don’t trust me, I said NC should publish our opposition to Tory policies and bad Acts from the outset but I was ignored – and will be again.

    I re-joined the party to affect change and this is the result. I don’t have access to voting members on this stuff but write here regularly and see what members really think. But I guess there is a broad membership which votes somewhere else. My view is that this stuff will sink the LDs below any level we have ever seen. Good luck, Mister Laws.

  • I am no longer convinced that the unavoidable disaster that awaits the Lib Dems next May will produce a change in leadership. More than likely, we will be told that “this is not the time to change leaders” and “we need Nick’s leadership to manage the crisis” (which he caused). Nor, if Nick does go, am I convinced that will really change things. It seems to me that by now there are too few liberals left among the Liberal Democrats to make a difference; the majority of the membership seems to be apathetic or utterly lacking in direction, and as such easily led by a right-wing rump that would happily turn the Lib Dems into a Tory auxiliary.

  • Some of these look like they started as big ideas, but they’ve been whittled down to absurdity or easily countered/bettered. For example, I heard UKIP want to raise the tax threshold to 13k; it’s this sort of “we’ll beat that figure by £500” thinking that typifies these tinkering policies.

    This is a good illustration as to what happens when the more radical elements of the party are removed or have left – without big thinkers the party is stuck with 3rd rate ideas. I can’t see many being sated by this; it’s unambitious, unexciting and uncosted, so we’ll have to wait and see if the real thing is any improvement.

  • David Evans 8th Sep '14 - 1:37pm

    Noticebly there is no reply by Paul Barker to his query. I can only presume he doesn’t know where his ‘facts’ came from.

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