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Federal Policy Committee report, 21 March 2018

March 27, 2018 1:00 PM
By Duncan Brack in Liberal Democrat Voice

Liberal Democrat PolicyFPC met for three hours on the evening of 21 March. The first item on the agenda was a discussion with the Leader; Vince is chair of the FPC, but inevitably his parliamentary and party duties mean he can't attend every meeting, so we were pleased to have this opportunity. He updated us on three separate pieces of work under way on aspects of tax policy: on business tax, on the prospects for land value tax, and on options for a wealth tax. He hopes to be able to publish short 'spokesperson's papers' on all of these and submit motions on them to the Brighton conference, though that depends on sufficient progress being made before the motions deadline in late June. We discussed how the proposal for a wealth tax could form part of a wider set of proposals on issues of income and wealth inequality, and/or whether its revenue should be hypothecated to funding something like education and training.

We also discussed how best to take forward the work on tuition fees; as you may remember, we published a consultation paper on this in February. At the consultative session at the Southport conference there was general (though not universal) support for the replacement of tuition fees by a graduate tax, but there was also a strong feeling that it would be better to consider the issue in the context of post-16 education funding more broadly, rather than look at it in isolation. We will come back to this after discussing it further with Layla Moran MP, the party's education spokesperson.

Denise Baron, from the party's campaigns and communications staff, gave us a presentation about the work the party is doing to refine its messaging, in the sense of the words and concepts we use to promote our vision and beliefs. This is directly relevant to the 'policy themes' paper that FPC is preparing for debate at the Brighton conference, which is intended to be a concise summary of what the party stands for. Obviously, we know our core beliefs, and our specific policy proposals are those agreed by conference, but there is a wide range of different ways in which all these can be communicated, which policies we stress and which we don't, and so on, and the messaging exercise should help us with that. It's still under way, so we only had a brief discussion of possible structures for the themes paper; we'll return to it in much more detail after the local elections.

The longest single item for discussion was the final draft of the 'Britain in the World' policy paper. Martin Horwood, the chair of the working group, and several members of the group, attended to take us through the paper and its key proposals. Overall, FPC was very happy with the draft; we agreed a few changes, but otherwise we thought the paper was very good. We will finalise it over the next few weeks and submit it for debate to the Brighton conference.

We appointed chairs of two of the new policy paper working groups we're establishing, after inviting applications a few weeks ago. The Committee agreed to appoint Tamora Langley and Ian Mack as chair and vice chair of the health and social care group. I was honoured to be appointed to chair the group on climate and energy policy, with vice chair still to be appointed (I should also point out that I was not in the room for that part of the discussion!). We will advertise for the full membership of both groups soon, with the aim of getting them going in the summer, preparing consultation papers for either autumn conference this year or spring next year, and final policy papers for the autumn conference 2019.

We decided not to appoint a chair of the third group we had advertised for, on crime and policing, as we now think that the original remit was probably too broad, and we are considering splitting it into two; watch this space. We also noted the question to the FPC report at the Southport conference about the need to make it easier for people from outside south east England to participate in policy working groups, and we'll come back to this at our next meeting, when we have time to discuss it fully.

Finally, Sal Brinton, the Party President, discussed with us the implementation of the Alderdice Report, Race, Ethnic Minorities and the Culture of the Liberal Democrats, and its aim of ensuring the party becomes much more welcoming to the involvement of people from BaME communities. From FPC's point of view, this affects us primarily in how we advertise for and appoint to policy working groups, who the groups take evidence from in drawing up their draft papers, and how we assess the drafts for the impacts of their proposals on equalities outcomes - where we have a system already in place, led by Lizzie Jewkes.

* Duncan Brack is the Editor of the Journal of Liberal History and Vice Chair of the Federal Policy Committee.