The Ashdown Prize – how there can be more than one winner

Yesterday, the winner of the Ashdown Prize was announced. This competition was run by Your Liberal Britain with this aim:

In the face of such daunting forces, we must find radical new solutions to protect the power of the citizen – over their own lives, over the decisions that affect them, over the world around them.

This is the Liberalism of tomorrow – the Liberalism Britain so badly needs.

To that end, the Ashdown Prize for Radical Thought will be awarded to the boldest new policy idea that best empowers the citizen in the Britain of today and tomorrow.

Over the Bank Holiday weekend, some party members received an email inviting them to vote on three shortlisted ideas, nationwide online schooling, statutory care leave for all and compelling supermarkets to donate all low risk food waste.

It was that latter idea, on food waste, submitted by Dorothy Ford, that prevailed. This will now be submitted as a motion for September’s Autumn Conference. It will be up to the Federal Conference Committee about whether it will be accepted for debate. If it is, Paddy will speak in favour of it. I will give due notice now that, if it is selected for debate, I will be putting in a card to speak against it.

It’s not that I necessarily disagree with the idea, which is clearly worthy. It’s just that I don’t think it qualifies as either radical or new, as it is already being done by major supermarkets on a voluntary basis. A radical idea gets to the root of the problem, so a radical solution to poverty would be something like better social security, or a universal basic income. It’s a big strategic reform aimed at solving a problem. The NHS was an idea like that. So was social security. That is the sort of bar we should be aiming at. Our big ideas should be about eradicating poverty, not just treating the symptoms.

If Your Liberal Britain or anyone else was to run such a competition in future, I’d make four suggestions to improve it:

1 Give people more than two days to cast their vote and don’t do it over a bank holiday when a lot of people will be away. You will get more take up. This isn’t likely to be an issue, but holding the vote just after a major change in data protection laws may not have been the wisest idea because some people will have inadvertently found themselves no longer on mailing lists

2 Have an online video hustings where the proponents of the ideas are given a couple of minutes to advocate for their plans

3 If you have a shortlist of 10, why not let people vote on all 10, especially when a lot of those ideas were significantly more radical than the shortlisted 3. I was particularly taken by the idea of giving everyone with indefinite leave to remain a vote. That would be a really positive pro-immigrant move. Here were those we didn’t get to vote on:

  • add a voluntary higher tax band;
  • prioritise company pensions over dividends;
  • turn student loans into house deposits;
  • make discrimination against tenants on housing benefits illegal;
  • social care tax for the over 40s;
  • abolish company pension schemes;
  • give voting rights to people with Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK;

4 Use a preferential voting system. The party believes in STV and utterly rejects first past the post. We shouldn’t use that for anything.

However, if you think that any of the other shortlisted ideas have merit, or if you have an entirely different idea, there is still time to submit it to Conference. If you are not sure about how to set it out, you can get drafting advice from a member of Federal Conference Committee until 13th June. All you need to know about submitting a motion is here.

Motions can be submitted by a local party, regional party, state party, federal committeeSAO (like Lib Dem Women or the Lib Dem Campaign for Racial Equality), or 10 members. So, you just need to get 9 other people to agree with you. If you have a good idea, why not write about it for us and ask for supporters?

Let’s have a Conference that is fizzing with ideas as Vince wants.



* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • It’s not often anyone says this any more, but I agree with Nick. Nick Barlow, that is.

    “a process that’s seemingly designed to weed out any inadvertent actual radicalism coming through it that ends up proposing a bunch of worthy and wonkish policies that won’t achieve any of the aims set out for them and don’t do anything towards making the party look distinctive in the eyes of the public”

  • To clarify, I think Nick’s point is neatly encapsulated by the top ten having been revealed: much more radicalism and liberalism in there than the final three: it is often the way that committees gravitate towards managerial centrism and the judging committee have done just that.

    Who knows what gems were in the 1100-odd entries we haven’t seen?
    I guess we’ll never know.

  • How about Lord Ashdown being sponsored to eat Sir Vincent’s hat to raise money for the CAB to train more counsellors to give advice on that fizzing new idea, Universal Credit, – introduced on the Lib Dems watch?

  • William Fowler 3rd Jun '18 - 11:14am

    If you want to radically empower people then you need to extend referendum (via online and mobile phone) to all major govn policies, that would get rid of much of the stupidity in the system and make people less subject to extreme policies of politicians who hide behind there democratic mandate although they are often supported by less than a third of the actual populace.

  • Very interesting Caron. I agree with the idea of supermarkets doing something useful with their food waste, but it feels like it’s going to happen anyway, and the super-markets won’t need much persuasion.

    Without seeing the details, I’d back prioritising pension schemes before dividends, but not sure how radical that is, given that I’d have expected the alternative to be illegal already! Unfortunately, when it comes to big business, they have their own set of rules that don’t match what is expected of the rest of us.

    And shocked that a non-preferential system was used for the vote. That’s embarrassing.

  • Sadie smith 3rd Jun '18 - 2:21pm

    Stick to preamble …. and remember the bit about enslaved by conformity.

  • OnceALibDem 3rd Jun '18 - 2:34pm

    None of those 10 strike me as particularly radical TBH. The winning one certainly not as it is something that already happens in a lot of situations.

  • Dean Crofts 3rd Jun '18 - 6:51pm

    Not radical indeed, any of the 10.

    If we are serious regarding radical policies then I’ll start a with a few
    1) integrate NHS and social care so people get health when required from birth to grave and localise it so that health facilities are provided to local communities and overseen by local people

    2) scrap the Benefit side of the dwp. Let’s help people find work that’s all this department should be doing, save costs on assessments and tribunals, Let’s have a needs based system via hmrc with negative income tax, scrap all assessments for disabled and the sick, make claiming very easy with independent confirmation from a person’s gp or health professional employwd by NHS, giving carers equal treatment in an income based tax credit system liked to tax codes, if you have a negative income tax code you get money from hmrc rather than pay it to them

    Yes I hear you cry but what if this and what if that, my answer keep it simple, we are Liberal and should put people first promoting a caring giving community that supports others

  • David Evans 3rd Jun '18 - 9:30pm

    Certainly the most of the proposals don’t pass either of the two key tests – “Is it liberal?” and “Will it help get us noticed so we can start winning again?”

    A while ago I suggested on LDV “Apologise for the mess we made in coalition,” as an entry, and took a lot of flack from people still in denial about the mess we are in, so I thought it would be a waste of time to enter it; but if a ‘Let’s make nice things happen’ suggestion like ‘add a voluntary higher tax band’ can make it into the top 10, perhaps I was mistaken.

  • Sean Hyland 3rd Jun '18 - 11:15pm

    Sorry but this will not get the voters pulse racing in my view. It is worthy as others have said but not radical.

  • Martin Walker 4th Jun '18 - 8:23am

    Personally I agree with the proposals contained in the original piece as to how the process could be improved in future years.

    With regard to the winner, my opinion is that it is important to separate two points:

    1) Whether that policy proposal is the idea which should have won the competition – in my view there were other ideas on the list of 10 in particular which were more exciting / radical.

    2) Regardless of whether others should have won the prize, whether the policy proposal is a good one which we can support. Obviously that will depend on the wording, and whether it makes it to the Conference agenda, but I think it would be a real shame if a good policy proposal came forward which was voted down simply because people feel that there were other more worthy / radical ideas. On that basis, very few proposals would be accepted, given how anodyne most of the policies coming forward in recent years have been.

  • Ian Hurdley 4th Jun '18 - 10:47am

    It’s high time that we sat down with the Electoral Reform Society to develop a whole new policy for local, regional, national and UK bodies and their respective remits. This should involve more than simply the voting system; it should include geographical area to be covered at each level, frequency of elections, day of polling (many countries opt for Sunday), the principle of subsidiarity, alternative methods of voting, voter registration, age of franchise; everything.
    Are county councils still appropriate entities given that the historic counties derived from land ownership? What other groupings might be better? Devolution for England? Or is there a better way?
    What should be the age of enfranchisement?

  • OnceALibDem 4th Jun '18 - 1:34pm

    Radical policies should really be ones that it would be hard to see either Labour or the Conservatives adopting. And none of these really are.

    That this is the list of radical policies the party could adopt does tend to confirm my theory and experience that the party has changed since 2015 because of the influx of new members then and post the EU referendum. That’s not necessarily made it a bad party, but it has made it a different one. And it’s just not for me anymore.

  • I fail to see why you would speak against it considering it is clearly a good idea. It may not comply with your definition of ‘radical’, but I don’t understand why you think that means we should not support it.

    By all means tell Your Liberal Britain that you think they made a poor choice, but if you support the policy, it seems strange not to think the party should back it on the basis that it could be more radical.

  • Tom Papworth 5th Jun '18 - 11:00am

    “It was that latter idea, on food waste… that prevailed… [If] accepted for debate… Paddy will speak in favour of it.”

    Poor Paddy. Wheeled out to give an empassioned plea for this vanilla policy.

    What has the world come to?

  • Innocent Bystander 6th Jun '18 - 12:42pm

    The only coverage I’ve seen in the press was a letter in the ‘i’,
    The correspondent mocked and derided the proposal and the party. Hands up those who think this concept will capture the nation’s attention.

  • Matt (Bristol) 6th Jun '18 - 1:07pm

    As I’ve said elsewhere, there is a best response to this: all members, armchair or otherwise, whether or not they submitted AP ideas, should regard this as a challenge, read up on the process, and flood Federal Conference Committee with proposals.

  • There is indeed a lot to criticise about this competition. Something not touched on was the 6 word limit to explain the problem and 6 words for the solution, which is just hopeless if you want to convey the full, broad impact of a truly great policy. That alone makes this whiff of a stunt, more than a meaningful think about the state of Britain and the world.

    If the competition was designed as a headline grabber, fine, boring, but at least do it properly. Giving away unsellable food is so obvious and expected by common decency that people are angry when it doesn’t happen (e.g locked bins). What’s radical here?

    You want something to actually get press attention. Off the top of my head, abolish the role of prime minister and instead have two heads of government a la Roman Consul model; the second Consul is the leader of the opposition. Justify with something punchy like “the role of government isn’t to pick a playground winner, it is to create the best laws that we can all live by”. Added bonus, more than half the electorate will be represented in government. That’s radical! It might even be a good idea 🙂

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