The Federal Policy Committee met again on 18th October 2017. This was a fairly heavy agenda this time and decisions were taken that will reach some distance into the future.
Association of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)
Peter Price presented a report on the work of ALDE. The organisation has a total of 59 member parties throughout the EU and members of the Liberal Democrats have traditionally played a significant role within it. It is governed by a Bureau, a Council and a Congress, the latter meeting annually. Motions and papers can be submitted and there are usually quite a lot of them, often on what are regarded as difficult subjects. Brexit has featured in the past. We have previously submitted motions on the treatment of LGBT+ people in Azerbaijan and on the Centenary of the Balfour Declaration (along the lines of our own motion at conference in Bournemouth).
Peter said that the aim of participation was to build contacts and mutual understanding. However, there have been problems in securing close Liberal Democrat involvement in the motions process owing to a long lead-in time for the submission of motions and a relatively short timescale within which to input and secure agreement with others thereafter. Peter recommended a greater involvement by the Federal Policy Committee officers.
Robert Woodthorpe-Brown also took the committee through some of the recent work of ALDE and stressed that our involvement will continue post-Brexit.
There were questions raised about whether there was general support for our Brexit stance and what was being done to help the position of BAME people across Europe.
Representative to Federal Conference Committee
Many of the various party committees are permitted to elect members to other committees to ensure that there are good communications between them.
The representative from Federal Policy Committee to Federal Conference Committee (FCC) had recently been elected to FCC in their own right following a resignation and therefore a new person had to be identified. There were two nominations, Alistair Calder McGregor and Sally Burnell. The committee held an election and Sally Burnell was elected.
Policy Development Issues
The committee considered in some detail its policy programme moving forward into 2018 and 2019.
There are a number of working groups presently in progress. They were to report to the 2017 conferences but the snap General Election caused them to be postponed. They are now to report to the 2018 conferences instead:
- Rural Communities
- Power to the People
- 21st Century Economy
- Britain in the World
- Community: Immigration & Identity
Some further policy work was commissioned:
- Manifesto Themes Paper: this will set out the party’s key policy positions and will be produced in an attractive design like the one from 2013. It will be debated in Autumn 2018.
- University Funding: David Howarth is presently putting this paper together and a draft will be ready by December 2013. There will therefore be a consultation session at conference in Spring 2018.
There remain several papers that have been agreed but which are yet to be timetabled. The committee agreed that they would be set up and report to the 2019 conferences. They are:
- Health and Social Care
- Climate Policy
- Race Equality
- Crime, Policing and Justice
The committee agreed to prioritise the one on Race Equality. That group will be set up immediately and it will report to conference in Spring 2019. There are four further areas that require work. They are:
- Housing: the committee decided to ask the relevant spokespeople in Parliament and Local Government to consider this issue and prepare a series of policy motions to deal with the most pressing matters. The last time the party had a housing policy paper was in 2012. This was stressed to be an urgent issue.
- Inequality: this is an important area of work but it is one that can integrated into others that have been agreed. For example, the taxation paper can deal with issues reducing inequality through taxation and it may be that we would want to update our policy on wealth taxation through a motion to conference. There would also be a section on inequality in the Manifesto Themes Paper for Autumn Conference 2018. The committee was clear that we needed to emphasise this area.
- Natural Environment: there will need to be a paper dealing with changes in Government policy that have taken place recently and with the impact of Brexit, which will be great. The relevant spokespeople will be invited to consider whether a motion to conference is required.
- Democracy at Work: two members of the Federal Policy Committee were invited to consider this question and consider what action is required and whether it should be in the form of a spokesperson’s paper, motion or anything else.
There were a large number of contributions from members of the committee over what should be prioritised. Several people said it was vital that we articulated our values in our policies and there was general agreement about that.
The Policy-Making Process and Support to Spokespeople
The committee also discussed the question of policy-making generally and, in particular, the support we can provide to spokespeople. A paper was circulated from Richard Kemp and Chris White identifying several areas in which the current system might be improved and suggesting that a number of policy teams be established around the main cabinet responsibilities. The Federal Policy Committee would be represented, as would be relevant spokespeople and others. This paper was welcomed by the committee.
There was a further paper from Your Liberal Britain suggesting that small policy teams be appointed to ensure that ideas from the membership in particular areas are fed through to spokespeople and their advisers. Those groups would be self-sustaining and would allow spokespeople to be supported by relevant experts. This paper was also welcomed and agreed.
It was stressed that it was important that all the different elements in relation to policy-making link up and communicate.
The committee went through the various votes taken by conference on the motions that it had submitted.
All of the motions submitted by the committee were passed by conference. There were a couple of amendments made to them and the committee was happy with most of those. There were two matters that the committee had resisted but which passed nonetheless. They were on Safe Building Standards in Homes (the amendment concerned the Fire Service) and Corporate Responsibility (that amendment concerned workers’ representation on company Boards).
The FPC amendment to the Brexit motion also passed.
At Conference in Bournemouth, there was a session in which members could feed back on the manifesto, what they liked about it and what they did not like so much. The session was well attended. The committee spent some time going through the various comments and the submissions on email and taking them on board.
There were a number of general themes that emerged from the session:
- Generally people liked the content of the manifesto,
- There was a desire for focus on small number of easily communicable policies which exemplified our values. People would have liked something like the front page top four/five priorities from earlier years,
- There was a dislike of pitching for opposition as opposed to power,
- Some would have preferred a stronger focus on economic policy
- There was a desire for specifically crafted offers to appeal to variousgroups, e.g. young people, families, BAME and generally more spelling out of the practical benefits of our policies,
- There were some complaints from candidates in particular that the manifesto launch came after a lot of hustings had already taken place and they could have done with earlier release of key policies/messages.
- On specific policy criticisms, there was some push back on the anti-Brexit focus of the manifesto and the legalisation of cannabis.
- Some thought we should have claimed more credit for coalition achievements.
There were a couple of comments from members of the committee. It was stressed that there needed to be improved links between policy-making and campaigning.
Party Strategy Update
Jeremy Hargreaves reported to the committee that the Federal Board was developing an overall party strategy. There has been concern in the past that there are many areas of the party that operate in silos and it is hoped that the development of a strategy will involve all stakeholders and get them to work together better.
A confidential paper was circulated setting out the way in which the strategy was taking shape. Members of the committee made a number of comments and suggestions about it. Those will be fed back to the Federal Board which will continue its work.
The final strategy will be taken to Spring Conference in 2018. A further draft will come back to Federal Policy Committee before that.
Your Liberal Britain Vision Statement
Your Liberal Britain is an organisation which seeks to promote greater involvement by members in policy-making. Recently, they have been involved in producing a new vision statement for the party which was consulted on at conference and which will be voted on later. You can see it here.
Jim Williams said that there will be some resources produced for Local Parties and Working Groups about how they can use it. It is also being taken to conference in the Spring.
Membership Engagement Update
Duncan Brack reported to the committee that work was underway to update and improve the policy pages of the party website. Some of the content is out of date.
There is also a guide being finalised to encourage Local Parties to discuss policy at their Annual General Meetings. That will be circulated shortly.
The committee is also planning to run a session on drafting a motion at a forthcoming Federal Conference.
The committee has also now appointed a full slate of representatives to the different bodies in the party, including Regions, Specified Associated Organisations and Associated Organisations. There was a discussion over what was to be expected from members in liaising with them. It was stressed that the FPC contacts need to get in touch with their Regions.
Equalities Impact Assessment Update
The committee has always run an audit of its policy papers and motions to ensure that any equalities impacts are known and can be addressed. A small group of people generally carried out those audits and reported back.
Belinda Brooks-Gordon updated the committee on how the process is to work moving forward. A number of people have been identified to help with the task. That includes members and non-members of the FPC. They will provide invaluable help to the committee and to chairs of Working Groups in the future. Belinda is also to arrange to meet the chair of Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats.
* Geoff Payne represents the English Party on the Federal Policy Committee. He is also one of the Vice-Chairs of Federal Conference Committee. He chaired the Criminal Justice Working Group.