Yesterday, the Times reported that the Liberal Democrat leadership were preparing to ditch policies from our manifesto which wouldn’t get agreement from either the Conservative or Labour parties. I wrote of the dangers of such a move, arguing that our manifesto needed to be brimming with liberalism.
David Laws, who chairs the manifesto group, wrote on the party website that the Times story was highly misleading.
The latest example of this is the highly misleading article on the front page of today’s Times (18 February) under the headlines ‘Lib Dems Axe pledges for coalition deal’ and ‘Lib Dems seeking policies to suit rivals’.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
As Chair of the Manifesto Group, I see it as our role to set out a clear Liberal Democrat vision of where we would like to take Britain in the next Parliament – this is why our Manifesto themes paper at the Glasgow conference has a chapter on the Liberal Democrat Vision for 2020. I certainly do not envisage us ‘pre-negotiating’ a possible future coalition agreement by watering down the idealism of our own manifesto.
In today’s Times (£), several members of the Federal Policy Committee and the Social Liberal Forum, including our own Mary Reid, former co-editor Mark Pack, SLF Director Prateek Buch and co-chairs Gareth Epps and Naomi Smith, have written a letter saying that the sort of action the Times reported yesterday would be “an act of folly”:
At a time when political leadership and vision are in short supply, to present a manifesto devoid of either, as you report some Liberal Democrats as planning (“Lib Dems axe pledges for coalition deal”, Feb 18) would be an act of folly.
Thankfully, the democratic nature of the Liberal Democrats means that our elected Federal Policy Committee has the final say over what goes in the manifesto.
It is in the event of a balanced Parliament that compromises shall be made — not before. While commitments made in a manifesto must be affordable — like ours were in 2010 — the central message is what ultimately matters. For Liberal Democrats, who seek a fairer, more sustainable future, what we want is to fundamentally change the way British politics works — not to become a pale imitation of the two old parties.
Prateek Buch, Gareth Epps, Helen Flynn, Evan Harris, Lucy Care, Mark Pack, Tony Greaves, Kelly-Marie Blundell
Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee
Naomi Smith, Mary Reid, Mathew Hulbert, Paula Keaveney, Michael Steed,
Linda Jack, Gordon Lishman
Social Liberal Forum
As an aside, I did have a wry smile at one of the comments, a grammar pedant saying:
as ours were”, please. ‘Like’ is a preposition, not a conjunction.
There is a “how much is your inner pedant under control” quiz going round Facebook at the moment. A Lib Dem minister got 0%, I managed only 10% but generally Liberal Democrats aren’t scoring terribly highly. The irony of such a comment is therefore amusing.
The Times smells infighting (£) in a follow up story today. It reports the FPC/SLF letter but, strangely, fails to mention Laws’ unequivocal denial of their earlier report.
Journalists are so used to toxic internal strife in both Conservatives and Labour that they can’t get their heads round the very genuine, passionate and reasoned debates on policy that take part in our party. I think that those discussions are necessary and ultimately a force for good. I’m sure the leader would love to be able to write the manifesto unencumbered by such things as party democracy, but even he knows that that wouldn’t be good for either him or the party. He needs his activists to turn out on the doorsteps. They will only do so if they are taking with them a set of ideas that inspire them.
The Party does get this, I think. After all, the Manifesto Group has done widespread consultation and its website is still open for ideas from members. Make sure you submit your idea soon.