For what it's worth, I'd like the manifesto to have a short, easily understood preamble saying that these are our manifesto commitments and if we form the next government on our own, we will make sure they happen. If, on the other hand, no one party wins the election, we will negotiate with the largest party so that we can ensure that these policies are enacted in the following order of priority. Then number the policies to show which ones have priority. It's transparent and easy to understand. Separately, for the election campaign, I'd see if we couldn't get an excerpt of "Mock the Week" from just before the last election in which Ed Byrne (?) and Hugh Dennis mock the LibDem manifesto because LibDems can promise anything confident that they will never be in a position to deliver and then list all the bits of the 2010 manifesto that were delivered...
In a great example of what can be done now that the party’s election rules have been relaxed, over on her blog Jennie Rigg is posting answers to the questions she has sent to all Liberal Democrats standing for either the Federal Policy Committee (FPC) or Federal Conference Committee (FCC).
As I’m running for FPC, that includes my own answers, which I’ve also reproduced below:
I’ve tried to keep my answers reasonably concise as there are of lots of good questions (and even more good candidates answering them!). If I’ve skimped on any details that any reader is interested in, I’m very happy to answer further questions – email@example.com or www.facebook.com/MarkPackFPC
1, Which of the following activities do you consider the most dangerous and why?
- taking a single ecstasy tablet
- taking an advanced motorcycle riding test
- giving birth.
Giving birth. Save for those tragic exceptions, it leads to the birth of a new life, which then brings joy, pleasure, frustration and tragedy many times over for many years to come; wonders and dangers. Even if the child leads the most blissful of lives, it also leads to the pain of them at some point having their parents die. Neither of the other two are guaranteed to produce heartache, and neither usually trigger both happiness and calamities of all sorts repeatedly for years to come. And that wonderful mix is a reminder why simply trying to avoid danger is rarely enough in making choices.
2, What four pledges would you put on the front of the next Lib Dem manifesto?
The best set of pledges need not only clearly represent our values, they must be electorally useful in winning support, distinguish us from the other parties and be plausible to deliver in any hung Parliament negotiations.
I would therefore pick:
a. Income tax threshold increased to what someone in a full-time job on the minimum wage earns (and linked to it in future) – it is a clear policy that addresses an issue of great concern to the public, builds on our current successes on tax and has a strong and easy to explain principle behind it.
b. Introduction of a nursery premium (so that extra support for children doesn’t take its current dip for 3 and 4 year olds) – again allowing us to build on what we’re doing in government, supporting the core liberal idea of giving people a fair chance in life and giving a strong headline policy on education, which is often a good vote-winner for the party.
c. A major expansion of the Green Investment Bank (details dependant on where we have got to by 2015) – another case where we can take what we’ve been achieving, make it a positive and promise more, again in an area that is central to the party’s long-running beliefs.
d. Electoral reform for local councils in England and Wales – the trickiest of the lot as political reform is not going to have been one of our triumphs in this Parliament. But political reform is so central to what the party believes is important that we must come back and try again – and I think this area offers the best chance of success.
3, A genie appears and tells you that you can remove one law and make one law; what would you remove from the statute book and what would you add to the statute book?
Best make good use of the genie and pick two laws which would otherwise run into fearsome opposition from entrenched powers – and so otherwise only have a very slim chance of happening.
Hence for repeal – RIPA (the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act), which by removing it completely from the statue book is the only way to force major reform to the dreadful way interception is over-used, abused and under-supervised (most notoriously by the Interception of Communications Commissioner, surely a strong contender for a ‘worst regulator in the UK’ award).
As for introduction – a political reform act including STV for the House of Commons, elections for the Lords, electoral reform for local government, a written constitution, implementing the independent recommendations on party funding (oh – and of course changing the design of poll cards!).
4, What balance should the committee give to the views of the leadership, the parliamentary panels and the membership in setting policy priorities?
A sensible one. All three groups have an important part to play in the policy-making process and all three need to work together, as also applies to other parts of the party, such as our local government structures, our elected members of devolved bodies and the party staff involved in communicating our policies.
A directly elected member of the FPC, of course, should be particularly mindful of being on the committee via a route designed to represent members – and also of what they said to members during their bid to be elected.
5, How would you change the party’s procedures on gathering and analysing evidence when formulating policy?
My own direct experience of the policy making process and policy working groups is that a pretty good job is done at the moment in this respect. I would like to see more of the evidence and references put into policy papers, especially consultation documents, so that they play a great role in the debates which they trigger.
6, Which is more important – freedom from ignorance, poverty or conformity?
All three are important and mutually dependent – which is why the preamble to the party’s constitution rightly brackets them together as a trio.
7, Are you a member of any (S)AOs or other pressure groups which might give us an insight into your policy priorities?
Social Liberal Forum, ALDC, Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform, Electoral Reform Society, Open Rights Group, Amnesty International.
8, Which external bodies would you like to see audit the manifesto to see if our policies are workable?
Fundamentally I don’t think we can out-house judgements on our policies to other bodies. Policies require choices and decisions based on values which come from our political ideology.
Many external bodies interesting and useful things to say, and even those coming at issues from a completely different set of values and with a shonky set of evidence can be really useful in highlighting weaknesses and likely points of controversy in our polices.
But in the end choosing the best policies to create a Liberal Democrat society is a job for Liberal Democrats.
9, What proposals do you have to improve the process of negotiating policy priorities for a coalition agreement in the event of another hung parliament?
The changes already agreed, especially the involvement of the Federal Policy Committee in the future, means much of what I would have previously said is now catered for. I am more concerned about how the process would work for the other parties and whether they will really get the commitment of their rebellious backbenchers to any deal that is agreed (a problem we are currently seeing with the Conservatives and MPs who feel that they don’t have to back a deal that they didn’t sign up to).
10, If elected, how do you plan to engage with the wider party?
I’ll make particular use of two things I do already: a high number of local party visits (around two a week on average at the moment) and online, especially via my email newsletters which go to thousands of (mainly!) Liberal Democrat members.
11, Are you standing for any other committees, if so which ones, and if elected to more than one how do you plan to divide your time?
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