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Party policy development this autumn

December 2, 2021 12:14 PM
By Jeremy Hargreaves
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

The Federal Policy Committee has had a busy autumn, kicking off our next programme of policy development work.

We have spent some time over the last few months trying to understand the party's key political priorities to win over the voters we need, and the right messages and supporting policies needed to achieve that (recognising that detailed policy is not usually the thing that swings most voters). This has been the starting point for our latest programme of work.

At the heart of this is developing proposals for 'A fairer society', where people broadly see the system as fair, and there is much greater economic fairness. We advertised widely for party members to join the policy group to work on this and were very pleased that 255 applied to do so - with similar enthusiasm for other groups. We have appointed Julia Goldsworthy, former MP for Falmouth & Camborne, to lead an excellent group here; the group's remit and membership can be found (with those for the other groups too) at https://www.libdems.org.uk/policy-working-groups

A second key priority is setting out our vision for a more caring society, also flowing from research into priorities for our key voters. We have appointed Baroness Judith Jolly to lead a policy group developing proposals on this, including responding to the government's own plans for funding social care, and also incorporating ideas from our own Commission on Carers set up last year by the Leader.

A major interest of both our voters and also councillors, the Young Liberals, and others within the party, is how we can provide more homes and improve the planning system. Cllr Peter Thornton from Cumbria, will lead a group working this through and developing proposals here.

The environment also remains of course a key issue for Liberal Democrat members and voters, and on top of our existing extensive and very impressive proposals for tackling the climate emergency, Richard Benwell is chairing a group developing ideas about the natural environment. This group has been under way for some time, and like the other groups mentioned here, FPC aims to bring proposals from it to autumn conference next year.

Commitment to early years care and education has been a longstanding priority for us and was a major funding commitment at the last General Election. We have appointed Cllr Dine Romero from Bath & NE Somerset to lead a group looking at this area in further detail and to support an updated set of proposals.

The proposals for policy on the whole nature of public debate at the moment, were referred back from Conference in September to FPC. Following further discussion with the movers of the reference back, we plan to bring updated proposals to this spring conference.

FPC received a petition asking us to set up a policy working group on the party's policy on nuclear weapons; after discussion over a couple of meetings, we do not believe this is a priority area for FPC to focus its attentions at this time, and do not plan to do this.

At the heart of all of this, must lie our party's underlying principles and values. Our paper setting these out in today's context, which conference approved in September, resulted in a number of requests to help communicate these more widely across the party and beyond. Some work is under way to do this; in the meantime you might be interested to see this set out at https://www.libdems.org.uk/a21-beliefs-and-values

We have been working to make better links with the groups of party members interested in particular policy areas or groups (in party jargon variously known as SAOs, AOs, party bodies, and others). We have appointed a number of FPC members as part of the Party Bodies Forum, set up this year to bring these groups together, to facilitate two-way discussion with them about policy development progress and plans. Over the summer, for example, we were glad to consult the PBF about our planned future policy development programme set out above, and looking forward to continuing to work more closely with them in the future.

As party members will hopefully will be aware, we are currently consulting all members about the future direction of our policy on Europe (an email was sent to all members last week). Conference has made the decision for us to support a long-term aim of being a member of the EU again, and a policy group chaired by Duncan Brack is developing proposals on a rolling basis in support of this. Conference this autumn approved plans for immediately improving cultural and educational ties, and the group is currently working on plans for our future trading relationship, to bring to Conference next year. Please do contribute to the consultation.

FPC is always keen to promote as many party members as possible participating in policy discussion, and we have been discussing some other ideas for taking this forward which we hope will come to fruition over the next few months.

Last and by no means least, we have begun planning for the manifesto for the next General Election, which could be held as early as spring 2023. We have appointed (Lord) Dick Newby to chair a group responsible for leading its drafting, which FPC will discuss regularly over the coming months. It's worth perhaps saying that because of the way we as a party develop policy, the main task of writing our manifesto is to shape our existing ideas and well-established body of policy into an appealing pitch to the electorate - and not, as it's sometimes seen, especially in other parties, as simply starting building a whole new set of policies from a blank sheet of paper.

We're conscious that the actual proposals in our manifesto document at the last General Election, and ones before that, were very well received, taking plaudits from a wide range of different directions for its proposals both for the health of the economy generally, and specifically to help the least well off. It scored less well amongst those who didn't actually sit down to read it, in setting out an appealing top line message which drew its proposals together. This will be an important priority this time, and in support of this a small sub-group of FPC members will be doing some intensive work, working with others in the party, to look at some of the likely key messaging challenges of the next General Election, to feed into this.

So as you can tell this is mostly a time of starting off new projects for policy development. Over the next few months FPC and the policy working groups will be working hard on these, so that we can bring proposals on them to Conference to debate in 2022. Our firm aim is that we should develop and bring forward proposals which help us appeal to key voters.