Sunday, 13 March 2011

The Lib Dem Difference: Policy-making and internal party democracy

One of the things I love about being a Liberal Democrat is that Party Members agree and develop our policies by voting on them at our Conferences. This is not the case in either the Conservative or Labour party. And to the continual surprise of attending national media Lib Dem Conference is not a stage-managed rally, like Labour or Conservative Party conferences, it is a democrat policy-making forum.

The only difference about the Lib Dems now as Nick Clegg acknowledged is we have moved from policy-makers to law makers in government:
"The Coalition Government is shifting power from state to people: restoring civil liberties, protecting personal freedom and privacy, crushing the ID database, we’re ending the house arrest of Labour’s Control Orders, guaranteeing freedom of the press, undertaking the biggest devolution of financial power to Scotland since the formation of the United Kingdom, tearing up the Whitehall rules that dictate to Town Halls how to spend local people’s money, running a successful referendum to give more power to Wales, putting public health in the hands of local authorities, reforming party funding, giving voters the right to sack corrupt MPs, creating an elected House of Lords, finishing the job this party started a century ago.
We passed the policies, conference after conference
Now, finally, we’re passing the laws."

Today I voted in a favour of a motion that asserts our independence as a Party and sets out a way in which individual Party members can continue to exert real influence over the future direction of Party policy both in this Parliament and beyond.
As has been said, we did not win the last election so we should not be surprised that all our manifesto has not been implemented in full. As Party President Tim Farron pointed out during the debate, 64 % of our 2010 Manifesto made it into the Coalition Agreement. This is despite the fact that the number of Lib Dem MPs in Parliament is vastly outnumbered by Conservatives.
We need to ensure that in future years we continue to have a mechanism to develop meaningful policy and feed into the Government's policy programme. Our current policy-making processes were developed in opposition and they need to be strengthened now we are in government.
The direction of travel set out in this motion helps us do this but as Tim Farron said motions alone will not define us as a party. In the words of Chris Huhne MP we will be judged as a Party not on what we say but what we do in Government.

Conference notes:
1. The Liberal Democrats decision after the 2010 General Election to join a coalition government with the Conservative Party in order to take the action needed to deal with the severe financial and economic crisis.

2. The inclusion in the Coalition Agreement of many Liberal Democrat policies from the Liberal Democrat 2010 Election Manifesto and the subsequent success by Liberal Democrat Ministers in implementing these policies.

3. The continuing strong and effective leadership of the Party’s Leader and his team.

4. The importance of communicating to the public the distinctiveness of the Liberal Democrats and our contribution to the programme of the coalition Government.

Conference asserts that:

A. The Liberal Democrats will fight the next General Election in Great Britain as an independent Party without any pacts or agreements with any other party and presenting our Manifesto as the clear and distinct basis for liberal government.

B. The Liberal Democrats will fight elections as an independent Party for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the European Parliament and local authorities throughout Great Britain.

C. The Liberal Democrats intend to enter the next General Election campaign with no preference for potential future coalition partners.

D. Following the next General Election, the Liberal Democrats will decide on their position in relation to government bearing in mind:
i) The will of the British people expressed at the ballot box.

ii) The Party’s Manifesto.

iii) The political position and capacity to govern of other parties.

iv) Where relevant circumstances apply] the ability to reach an agreed programme of acceptable policies to ensure a stable Coalition Government.

Conference endorses the five key goals of the Federal Executive’s Strategic Plan for the Party, specifically:
I. To build the Party’s appeal for the 2015 General Election, ensuring and communicating the effectiveness and distinct identity of the Party both as part of an effective government and as a strong and distinctive voice inside and outside the coalition.

II. To win elections in 2011 and beyond, including the referendum on the Alternative Vote, elections to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, local authorities and the European Parliament.

III. To reflect more effectively the diversity of the Party and the country in our elected representatives at every level.

IV. To build further and to maintain a cohesive Party, building capacity, membership and support and communicating effectively with all members and leaders.

V. To widen and build the Liberal Democrat movement, recognising the wider support in communities and interests for liberal ideas and principles.
To assist in the party projecting a distinct and effective identity, Conference:
1. Urges all Liberal Democrats, including parliamentarians and ministers, to demonstrate to the wider public the specific contribution that we have made to the programme of the Coalition Government by identifying:
a) Those policies which derive from the Liberal Democrat’s existing and emerging policy platform.

b) Those aspects of Government policy which Liberal Democrats have changed to be more consistent with our principles and beliefs

c) Those aspects of Government policy which originated from the Conservative party policy platform.
2. Calls for the programme of the Coalition Government in the second half of the Parliament to include Liberal Democrat priorities drawn from our manifesto and policies, and for such a programme to be agreed by the Federal Executive and Federal Policy Committee.
3. Calls for there to be appropriate consultation through the Federal Executive and Federal Policy Committee, when significant new Government policies are proposed, which are not included in the Coalition agreement and which conflict with Liberal Democrat policy or principles.
4. Calls on the Federal Executive and the Federal Policy Committee to:
a) Review, in consultation with the Parliamentary parties, the challenges of coalition which have an impact on the independence of the party, its policy position or its freedom of political movement.

b) Report back on whether the existing constitutional provisions and other arrangements are sufficiently democratic.

c) Propose recommendations, for any constitutional amendments or other protocols which may be needed, in time for debate in September 2011.

5. Calls for the development of a radical distinctive and progressive set of Liberal Democrat policies for the next election, and such policy, although informed by the programme and record of the coalition Government, should be derived totally independently of the views of our coalition partners.

6. Requests the relevant party Committees and departments to develop ways of working that enable us to campaign effectively on a national level against all our future opponents well before the next general election.

Conference re-asserts that the UK Liberal Democrats are based firmly in the historical and global traditions of the liberal and social democratic philosophy and beliefs and commits the Party to developing a promoting the clear narrative setting out what modern liberalism is and can do.

Applicability: Federal

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