Why stand for Federal Policy Committee?

Here is the third article about the work of party committees, written by current members. Each provides insight into how a specific committee functions. We hope these articles will encourage party members to consider putting themselves forward for election.

Why did more people put themselves forward for election to the Federal Policy Committee than any other federal committee in 2010? Because with Liberal Democrats now in Government our policies matter more than ever before – as this new booklet  makes clear.

So what exactly does the Federal Policy Committee do? While the party Constitution enshrines Conference as the Liberal Democrats’ sovereign policy-making body, the Federal Policy Committee is charged with leading policy development and overseeing the policy process.  In other words, the Federal Policy Committee’s constitutional power lies in setting the policy agenda and influencing the context in which policy is made.

Since the advent of the coalition government the Federal Policy Committee’s ‘soft power’ has taken on a new dimension. Over the past two years Federal Policy Committee has had a key role in bridging between the party in the country and the party in government.   We engage directly with Lib Dem Ministers in the course of major government policy development, as well as with MPs and peers through Federal Policy Committee representation on Parliamentary Policy Committees.

How does this work in practice? For the past two years I’ve been the Federal Policy Committee’s representative, along with Evan Harris, on the Political & Constitutional Reform & Cabinet Office Parliamentary Committee. This has involved weekly meetings in Westminster (when Parliament is in session) and a ringside seat during the House of Lords reform shenanigans. Our committee, co-chaired by Lord Tyler and Mark Williams MP has not only met regularly with Nick Clegg and his advisers, but also with Conservative Cabinet Office Ministers – Francis Maude, Oliver Letwin and Mark Harper. We put our questions and concerns to them directly and secured notable improvements, for example to proposals for individual electoral registration.

The bread and butter of full Federal Policy Committee meetings (generally held once every three weeks throughout the parliamentary year) is discussing draft policy papers produced by the party’s policy working groups (which any party member can apply to join). As a Federal Policy Committee member there is a real opportunity to influence the direction of party policy and the wording of motions presented to Conference for debate. For example, in a Federal Policy Committee discussion earlier this year I raised the issue of taxation of non-doms; other Federal Policy Committee members were supportive and as a result several lines specifically relating to non-doms were included in the ‘Making Tax Fairer’ policy motion debated (and passed)  at Spring Conference.

Most Federal Policy Committee meetings also include an update from at least one Lib Dem Minister or Secretary of State about government policy developments in their area. These discussions act as an ‘early warning’ mechanism flagging up likely areas of controversy while there is still time to influence government policy.  Over the next two years the Federal Policy Committee will also have a key role in agreeing the party’s manifestos for the 2014 European Election and the 2015 General Election – this will go to the heart of what we stand for as a party and how we differ from both Conservatives and Labour.

Having come into politics via the ‘real world’ rather than through the researcher/ think tank route I’ve found the Federal Policy Committee an invaluable window into the inner workings of Westminster and Whitehall. It’s also cemented my belief that policy-making works best when the people sitting round the table have a wide variety of backgrounds, insights and experience to bring to the process.

So if, like me back in 2010, you’re feeling shy about standing for Federal Policy Committee because you’re not completely au fait with the occasionally esoteric world of policy wonkery, do not be deterred. Federal Policy Committee needs a balance of skills and experience – people with a range of perspectives who can think critically and work constructively. For a diligent FPC member there is a chance to make a real difference – which, after all, is what attracted most of us into politics in the first place.

There are 15 directly elected members of the Federal Policy Committee, in addition to representatives from state parties, parliamentary parties and local government. If you are interested in standing for any of the Party Committees (Federal Executive, Federal Policy Committee, Federal Conference Committee, International Relations Committee, European Liberal Democrat Party (ELDR) Council Delegation), you can log in to the Members section of the party website and download a nomination form here or contact the Returning Officer directly at [email protected]. You must be a party member to stand for these roles. The closing date for nominations is 3rd October 2012. Party Committees are elected by Federal Conference Representatives.

* Dinti Batstone is a member of WLD and Acting Co-Chair of Campaign for Gender Balance.

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  • Liberal Eye 18th Sep '12 - 6:06pm

    Some questions.

    1. It is said that a camel is what you get when a committee sets out to design a horse. Does this in any way explain the long-standing and much commented upon tendency for LD policies to resemble a disjointed list with little discernable narrative?

    2. How confident are you that the FPC successfully identifies and then focusses on the key issues it must get right rather than just picking up on political bling? For instance this might include a developing a better line on Europe than that coming out of Brussells or some big thinking about our response to the economic crisis.

    3. Why is the model for policy development still based around working parties – an approach devised in the pre-Internet age that now feels distinctly clunky?

  • Richard Dean 18th Sep '12 - 6:31pm

    As a long-time camel rider, I can assure you that they are much better designed than horses! More versatile in every way, far less highly strung, often strong characters well able to spit in the eye of any would-be opponent! And no, you really do not want to be spat at by a camel!

    Policy committees and working parties exist for at least two reasons. One is that most everyone else doesn’t have the time, patience, or interest for more than occasional commenting or chat. Another is that communication can be affective between members of a small group, so that there is a fair chance that agreement can be reached and an actual policy proposal can be produced. There’s no harm and many benefits for open access via the internet, but even that in the end will recuce to a small group managing things at the centre.

    I certainly agree that issues like Europe need major makeovers. Who dares may win, but who would dare?

  • Tony Dawson 18th Sep '12 - 9:41pm

    “with Liberal Democrats now in Government our policies matter more than ever before ”

    Hmmmm. Discuss?

  • Dinti Batstone 19th Sep '12 - 11:17am

    Thanks for your comments.

    I would add a third reason to Richard’s list. Working groups work because they bring in people from outside the Westminster village. People with particular technical/ professional expertise, but also people at the coalface of local government, people working in the private sector and people who use public services.

    Tony: I see the hyperlink to the booklet I referred to at the start of the article isn’t working. I’ll ask LDV to resolve, but meanwhile here is the URL: http://www.libdems.org.uk/what_we_stand_for.aspx

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