How would you reform the Lib Dem policy making process?

May 30, 2015 4:36 PM
By Mark Pack

Manifesto coverThe first post-election meeting of the Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee (FPC) agreed to look at reforming the party's policy making process and in particular, I'm glad to say, a large number of us spoke up in favour of having a faster moving policy process in future.

As I wrote before, my concern about the existing process is that:

We have loads of new members, and indeed many old members, who want to get involved in party policy making - and we certainly need to get our policies right even if they're not the number one solution to our predicament.

Yet we have a policy making process that doesn't suit mass involvement very well.

On paper, it looks like it does because there's a democratic process with policy working groups that any member can apply to be part off and with motions and votes at party conference (soon to be opened up to all party members). In practice, it usually works pretty well too - especially for members who know (or who know to ask) how the details of the system work.

But there's a huge drawback. It's that the core of the policy making process - policy working groups reporting to conference, with their eventual policy papers then the source material for a general election manifesto - means the answer to 'how can I help make party policy on X?' often is really 'wait for a working group on that in a few years time'.

That's a really off-putting response. It's not quite the whole story because you can still put in motions to party conference before then - and some have a really big impact, so I don't want to downplay that too much. But that's very much a one-off short term piece of involvement in policy making (and also constrained by conference agendas usually avoiding returning to the same topics too frequently unless something has happened in the outside world).

Structurally, the party's policy making process is designed around paying attention to a few topics at a time, rotating around them over years. So if you're a new, keen member you may hit lucky - or hit very unlucky.

An additional reason for looking at ways of moving around different policy areas more flexibly and more quickly is that with a much diminished number of MPs, the ability of our Parliamentarians to react rapidly to political developments will be greatly stretched. There is likely to be a much greater need for the voluntary party to be able to support them with swift policy making than in the past.

The FPC is going to look in more detail at options for reforming our policy making process at our final meeting before the summer break - and to consult more widely in the party too.

So as an early step in that direction: what's your view?

Federal Policy Committee, Party policy and internal matters

Stephen donnelly