What does the Queen’s Speech mean for Liberal Democrat strategy?

When the Government sets out its agenda for the next year in the Queen’s Speech, it gives the other parties a chance to do the same. What can we learn from the frenzy of Liberal Democrat activity in the press in the past few days about where we might be going.

Well, Tim had a piece in the Huffington Post the other day that put education at the heart of our thinking. This is far from being a new concept. It’s one of our core principles that we’ve always talked about. Tim had developed a 5-point education charter with the aim of giving young people and the economy the skills they need for the modern world.

The future is full of exciting opportunities, as technology changes the way we work and live. However, there are also massive challenges, from giving people the skills they need to adapt to our changing economy, to tackling climate change.

Education is key to meeting these challenges. That is why the Liberal Democrat vision is for a country which enshrines the rights of every child to a decent education. We believe this should be the number one priority of the Government when they set out their agenda. We are calling for a Charter for Education which guarantees every child is taught a curriculum which includes creative arts subjects, sports, languages, technical and vocational courses and practical life skills.

Over the years education has become more about passing tests and getting a good Ofsted rating than making sure children get the skills they need and grow into healthy, happy and confident adults. This is harmful for young people, and my fear is that it will leave them ill-equipped to deal with the challenges – and opportunities – of the future.

It’s a bit more satisfying than the Tories’ battle with teachers and local authorities for the sake of it. It also looks at wellbeing and happiness which are crucially important.

The nuts and bolts of the Charter are:

The Liberal Democrats’ proposed Charter for Education would include:

1. Guarantee every teacher in state funded schools are qualified, or working towards qualification

2. Guarantee every child is taught the sort of broad and balanced curriculum which includes creative arts subjects, sports, technical and vocational courses and practical life skills.

3. Work with teachers to devise new ways of carrying out inspections and assessments, to reduce the bureaucratic pressures placed on teachers and pupils.

4. Extend free school meals to all primary school students

5. Prevent schools from being forced to academise.

Willie Rennie’s success in Scotland, highlighting education as one of the key factors in making Scotland the best again may have influenced this thinking.  It is very schools focused at the moment whereas the Scottish ideas incorporated nursery and college education.

The focus on the wellbeing and health of individuals continues with a proposal for healthcare which includes improving mental health care setting up the cross-party, independent commission on the future of healthcare that Norman Lamb has been talking about.

With the Government set on undermining our human rights protections coupled with some very worrying counter-extremism measures, senior Liberal Democrats have been talking about how important human rights laws are and how they influence our daily lives. In yesterday’s Scotsman, Jim Wallace said:

And let’s be clear, when I say that the Human Rights Act gives us the ability to challenge the state, I do not mean in some arcane philosophical debate. I mean on ordinary, day-to-day issues people often take for granted. The right to life isn’t just about life being protected by the state. This right has ensured justice for the families of victims of domestic violence, and families of hospital patients who were not properly supervised who then, tragically, took their own lives.

The prohibition of torture has ensured that the use of restraint on an older woman in hospital was able to be challenged, and ensured that the authorities are accountable for failing to protect children who are being abused.

The right to liberty and security has ensured that people with mental health problems are not unlawfully detained.

The right to respect for private and 
family life has often been lamented in the press as a block to deporting foreign criminals. But this right helped a couple who had been married for 59 years to live in the same nursing home when their local authority threatened to move one of them to a nursing home too far away for the other to visit. It also secured proper support from a local authority for a child with Down’s syndrome.

We’ll be hearing a lot more from Home Affairs Spokesperson Alistair Carmichael on these issues in coming months.

There’s a similar theme running through a Global Responsibilities Bill. This will involve things like not selling arms to regimes with dubious human rights records and strengthening international humanitarian law. Tom Brake has been raising those issues pretty consistently in the past year.

There is a theme of optimism, of embracing new technologies, new ways of living, in the party’s thinking. It’s all about making the most of the opportunities available to us.

Our alternative Queen’s Speech will include a Future of the Economy Bill which would set out measures on broadband, housing, transport infrastructure, developing new ways of working, developing new technology and an industrial strategy (as championed by Vince as Business Secretary and which now seems to have been misfiled in some archive at the Business, Innovation and Skills Department.

A Social Justice and Equality Bill is also planned, although its measures, including tackling the BAME pay gap, ending discrimination, same sex civil partnerships, introducing a gender neutral marker for official documents for those who need it. We perhaps need to do more of the social justice and show a real commitment to tackling inequality.

As you would expect, the future of the planet features heavily in our thinking. A Zero Carbon Britain Bill will set a legally binding target of zero carbon emissions by 2050.

And, of course, political reform is on the agenda with electoral reform, votes at 16, and Lords reform. The interesting thing is that there will be a requirement to assess laws for intergenerational fairnesss to make sure that our young people aren’t being short-changed as so often happens.

There’s a lot that’s good in here. I would like to see more focus on the core values from which these policies emanate. We are a planet-saving, freedom-loving, internationalist, establishment-busting, forward-thinking, optimistic party and we need to think about getting that across more effectively.

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

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10 Comments

  • ” We are a planet-saving, freedom-loving, internationalist, establishment-busting, forward-thinking, optimistic party”.

    Nailed it. I’m memorising that.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 18th May '16 - 1:21pm

    Rob,

    Thanks. You’re not the first to say that to me today. I’ve been using this on and off for well over a year, maybe more, but nobody’s commented that much on it before.

  • Tony Dawson 18th May '16 - 6:53pm

    First define Liberal Democrat ‘Strategy’. I have seen none at the national level in the past eight years. What the Lib Dem parliamentarians do in this environment will be of necessity tactical. They do not have strategic resources at their disposal.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th May '16 - 1:34am

    Caron

    Your phrase is excellent , would it were true of many in our party, on issues like the BBC this week, all I heard was BBC establisment line etc from party Grandees! And freedom loving could mean thinking of the seventy per cent of those who go to prison , who are women , for non payment of the sqirearchys TV licence !

  • David Evans 19th May '16 - 2:15am

    I too like the “We are a planet-saving, freedom-loving, internationalist, establishment-busting, forward-thinking, optimistic party,” part with the exception of the establishment busting bit. I thought we were establishment busting, but 2010-2015 showed we were as much a party of the establishment as the others once our senior members got hold of a little power. In truth we were busted by the establishment, as too many became comfortable with the flattering blandishments of the bureaucrats.

  • Good to see Education coming up at the heart of our party’s concerns and in Tim Farron’s response to the Queen’s speech.
    Yes, Caron, your charter ideas are a good start, but much more is needed. A group of us are working on a motion to conference that will set out some basic principles for the kind of education we need. So keep the comments coming in.
    Nigel Jones
    Chair, LDEA

  • I’m not sure what Tony means by “strategic resources”. The main strategic resources anyone needs is brains. With those you can think strategically (ie, long-term, about aims, priorities and how to get where we want to be). Our MPs appear to be reasonably well provided with this resource, though of course the atmosphere and culture of Westminster, national media and political contest can divert people from strategic thinking.

    I like what Tim’s picked out. I’d just stress in addition that education can help people to understand and value co-operation, community, fairness and basic democracy – through doing, not just listening – and these things are essential to a humane and functioning society.

  • Very pleased to see education centre stage of Lib Dem policy again, but a bit confused by point 4 – Extending free school meals to all primary school children.

    Why?

    The poorest already get free school meals, so who are we helping here? Plus free school meals is actually a useful heuristic for targeting all sorts of assistance to the most socially disadvantaged pupils.

    Did you know average spend per primary school teacher on training is only about £100 per year? Thats right, a school of 10 primary school teachers (so about 250 pupils) and a budget of over a million will spend just £1000 on training those teachers. By contrast they will spend about £5000 on printing cost.

    Here’s an idea. Double the teacher training budget. Give the teachers something to get excited about, and affect a much more direct improvement on pupil outcomes than giving them a free lunch.

  • Catherine Smart 20th May '16 - 9:39am

    I am sorry to see that Housing appears to have dropped off the list – again. If ever there was a generational unfairness, that is it: plus the difficulty of affording a stable, decent home on average or below average income in some parts of the country.

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