Virtual Conference shows how Lib Dem members can change our policy

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Adam Bernard, who was our candidate in Harrow East at the last General Election, and James Baillie, a leading voice in the Radical Association have spent much of the past five years trying to persuade the party of the merits of Universal Basic Income.  They campaigned and networked and worked with others, including the Social Liberal Forum to build the case for UBI. They have put huge amounts of energy into persuading people that this was the way to go.

When Coronavirus exposed the inadequacies of the social security safety net, they tried again to get this issue debated at Conference.

This time, it was not only chosen, but it had the full backing of the Parliamentary Party.

Last night, Adam proposed the motion which called on the party to campaign for a regular payment to all UK residents, funded in a socially just way and to ensure that people who need it still have access to support for housing and disability support.

He had the support of Jane Dodds, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader and long term advocate of UBI and Wendy Chamberlain, our DWP spokesperson. Christine Jardine had been making the case for UBI all over the media. She wrote in the Mirror yesterday that UBI could be our generation’s NHS:

A basic income will be the best, fairest and simplest way to safeguard the most vulnerable in society and care for those who need it.

At the time of the creation of the NHS, doubters opposed the idea at every turn, yet now we treasure it.

Through this crisis, our pride in the institution and in the principles which created it have been palpable.

That post-war generation’s achievement has been the salvation of so many in this one.

Providing a fixed universal income to everyone with no stigma attached has the potential to be our generation’s National Health Service.

We need the states role to be helping people out of poverty and creating the equality of opportunity that leads to a prosperous life.

We must free people from the insecurity and anxiety that this virus has created and will be with us long after we have beaten it, and instead empower them to live their lives with security, dignity and freedom.

There were some fantastic speeches in the debate on both sides. Concerns were raised about affordability and whether the payment would be sufficient to meet people’s needs. Sheffield’s Laura Gordon had technical problems and was cut off mid speech and had to come back in for her 90 seconds but made her concerns about practicality really well.

One of the features of this Conference so far has been the number of first time speakers.

The conversation continued on Twitter.

Hannah Bettsworth from Brussels made the point that UBI would help with the precarious nature of the jobs market at the moment and would help people who could only get short term contracts.

The debate itself was fairly evenly balanced on both sides, but the result was very clear – 715 votes for and 250 against. Those in favour how this policy could transform lives for the better.

It was great to see that Adam and those who had been campaigning for UBI for years were able to lead the Conference debate to see their campaign come to fruition. It shows that as a member of the Liberal Democrats you can make a difference. It’s in stark contrast to Labour’s online event this year when their members didn’t get a say on anything.

Now we need to get out there and make the case for a policy that has the potential to benefit us all and make us a healthier, happier, more secure nation.

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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • We still cannot ‘go out there and make the case for the policy’ until we know the answers to what level it would be paid at and how the overall cost would be met.

    If the level is high enough to meet the aims expressed by supporters then the cost will very high to astronomical. If the level is low enough to be ‘easily affordable’ then it will be too low to even remotely achieve all its supporters proclaim.

    I seem to recall the Green Party Leader in the 2017 being taken apart by the media in the 2017 General Election because she couldn’t answer basic questions about the cost of such a scheme. In the same election Diane Abbot, as Shadow Home Secretary, had a car crash media performance when she was incredibly hazy (and wrong) about the costings of Labour’s policy on employing more police. Jeremy Corbyn in 2019 was unable to answer costing questions about his Manifesto. Charles Kennedy in 2005 had the same problem -although for different reasons in his case since our Manifesto in those days used to be costed to the last penny.

    This is not the media being nasty right or left wingers. It’s journalists doing their job. As for any loopholes our opponents can exploit…..! As with the Revoke policy, it’s no good just asking Lib Dems at Conference if they think something is a good idea. When I was an MP we always used to ask if something would stand up to the Daily Mail test. Not would the Daily Mail like it -but could we put up a robust and convincing case under hostile scrutiny? At the moment we can’t even say what level UBI would be paid at let alone whether it would indeed cost as much or more than the entire NHS and where we would find the money.

  • Find the money? A wealth tax on those earning over 100 thou?
    BoE prints the amount required as a money tree seems to have been found for employment.This money will go round and round Bank produces it .Money spent on goods ,education,saved.A lot will be recirculated

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 26th Sep '20 - 1:15pm

    I’m so glad this motion has been passed.
    Congratulations to James and Adam for campaigning tirelessly on this, and refusing to give up.
    I hope the party will now make this one of its main campaigning issues.

  • richard underhill 26th Sep '20 - 4:01pm

    So, do we want an association of some kind with newer Labour or not?
    Remember that they are “under new management” and that the larger party would expect to provide the Prime Minister designate.
    UBI could provide the longest suicide note in history.

  • richard underhill 26th Sep '20 - 4:07pm

    Have we forgotten, or ignored, the carefully thought out Alderdice Review?
    ‘Black Lives Matter’ is more than just a slogan. It is a campaign and we should own it.

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