‘The Lib Dem Conference is a recognisably democratic event in a sense that the other conferences can no longer claim to be. Policies are proposed, amended, debated and voted on in an impeccable manner’. (Martin Kettle, ‘The Guardian’, 18/09/09)
Policy forms a vital role within the Liberal Democrats, not only enshrining values as the party evolves but also forming part of the fundamental democratic process that centres on pluralistic beliefs.
However, conference observes
Since becoming a Coalition partner, policy motions have become extremely ambiguous, vague and unspecific.
Take for example the policy motion paper entitled “Violence against Women”. Not only did this paper commence by not defining violence against women, but nor did it address the subtle nuances between domestic abuse, domestic violence and non-domestic abuse and violence that occurs across a broad spectrum of relationships in the United Kingdom.
Further to this, the paper discriminated in failing to address non-gender bias of domestic abuse, but it also covered a broad spectrum of subjects. One area appeared to be focused entirely on trafficked women without taking into account refugees, asylum seekers, first-generation immigrants or ethnic minorities at all.
Should the proposer of the motion wish to address these areas specifically, then not only should the title reflect that intention of the motion, but it should also be inclusive, with clear definitions and a clear purpose.
Due to the ambivalence of the motion proposed, it was passed, as a great deal of policy motions appear to be in recent years, not because the motion was well written, well argued for or well disciplined, but because people generally object to domestic abuse and felt that there should be a better regulation and focusing social policy on prevention and addressing domestic abuse.
This was further seen in the motion on the Digital Economy Bill. The campaign to stop the erosion of civil liberties is a central part of policy within the Liberal Democrats, and the bill looking at repealing legislation and preventing the detrimental effects would naturally be supported. However, when going through the proposals, elements of the bill were removed by the Federal Policy Committee and announced by the proposer of Amendment one who was attempting to get the detail re-entered and the specifics readdressed.
The motion looking at Drug Harm in Communities was also a rhetorical repeat of Liberal Democrat policy produced in our manifesto to the 2010 election. While it may be considered that putting such motions forward when we are a party in government is both radical and progressive, none of these motions helped shape or develop party policy beyond what has already been achieved previously. This therefore implies that there is no mandate or accountability within the ordinary membership of the party to help shape and evolve Liberal Democrat policy when we are in government.
While there was a significant increase in the level of political engagement, inclusion and enthusiasm at a conference seen amongst members, there is a need to increase this at all levels throughout the party and not just for those that can attend the conference.
Passing of equivocal motions that fail to address, go far enough or develop and construct party policy leaves party members feeling less engaged, less part of the pluralistic foundations of the Liberal Democrats and less able to influence and shape government policy.
Interviews of party members on the radio yesterday spoke of the party redeveloping and confident to go back out and knock on doors and continue to proclaim a Liberal Democrat message. While this is one integral value of the Liberal Democrats, the ability to shape and develop policy is also essential and there is a need to engage more on this level with methods as much as there is to engage at a campaigning level with supporters.
Conference therefore asserts
Policy Motions have the potential to help the Liberal Democrats, as coalition partners, distinguish themselves from the Conservatives and demonstrate to the electorate how things will be done differently were we the larger party in the coalition or in a majority position.
Liberal Democrat Policy Motions should be stronger in their intentions, more clearly defined and above all specific.
Policy motions should not simply repeat current Liberal Democrat policy but seek to improve upon and evolve policy.