Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Forthcoming Excitement From the FPC

Interested in student funding? A big change in taxation policy? The backbone of our next Manifesto? Or just a bit of gossip? Well, the Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee met last week to make final – and not so final – decisions on some of the principal policies coming soon to Conference debates. Some of it’s readable, too. Now, as you try to prevent your overpriced, underdone hot dog slithering into your lap while you settle in front of this year’s Summer blockbuster, you won’t be seeing a thrilling, explosive trailer for our thrilling, explosive new policies up for debate in September. Hmm…

Starring Nick Clegg, Sal Brinton AND Danny Alexander
WITH Linda Jack AS ‘Linda Jack’
Directed by Greg Simpson and Christian Moon…

I’m drifting. But wouldn’t you be more likely to read all the policy papers coming to you next month if they were trailed at the cinema rather than arriving in a great lump? In the absence of a spectacular cinematic experience, then, this teaser from last week’s FPC will have to do.

Due to a hospital appointment running very late (though, for once, I was on time), I missed the first half of the early-starting meeting, so I wasn’t there for what was by all accounts a full and frank (with pickaxes) discussion of the Further and Higher Education Paper – or, more accurately, a storm over the future of student funding. The question was whether to commit several billion to scrap tuition fees (as we’ve argued since the Labour Government broke their manifesto promise and brought them in), or to commit several billion to other forms of student support instead. Coming in – through a much more organised but circuitous new Parliamentary security check – right at the beginning of the following discussion, I was eager to find what the FPC had decided in my absence, and passed a note to a Person With a Clue next to me. Was it tuition fees, student maintenance or options to Conference? None of those, he wrote. The argument had so failed to reach any common ground that the paper had been sent away for more work, so the debate would be delayed until Spring Conference next year. But you can’t say we don’t do things in detail.

The big debate to which I contributed, though, was the second main draft of what your almost unbearably exciting preliminary agenda calls the “Vision and Values Paper” but which I know by a marginally more exciting name, one that I’m not allowed to disclose until we try to get it in the papers. It fills the gap that would in previous years have held a ‘Pre-Manifesto’, but it’s a rather different beast to those: there are no lists of bullet points, for example, and you can actually read it from cover to cover and feel that it had something to say rather than regurgitating pre-digested morsels of everything we’d said before – though if you want all that, of course, you can always look up our Pocket Guide to Liberal Democrat Policies.

The important thing about the “Vision and Values Paper”, then is that it’s probably the most readable thing the FPC has ever produced. And it’s only about a dozen pages long, with bigger pictures and much less print. So if you see only one movie read only one policy paper this Summer, make it this. It is, actually, worth it.

To finish by whetting your appetite, in the style of movie trailers giving you flashes of some of the exciting bits without giving away the end of the story, what did the FPC row about over it? Well, at our all-day meeting a couple of months ago where we saw the first draft, the green section was completely rewritten and things got heated over Europe – just for a change, and, I have to confess, I was at my most inflammatory – as well as over optimism versus putting the boot in, families, the stocks, and apostrophes. Over the much-changed version last week, it was localism, whether the voting system was terribly exciting and, most of all, the economy. Not only did one FPC member claim that
“There’s been nothing interesting from us on economics since Keynes died in 1946”
(“You have been on the Committee a long time,” came a heckle back)
but I spotted a hugely significant change to our tax policy that had crept in since the last draft, and that set off a debate of its own. To find out what, turn to the page on the economy and look for, ooh, about paragraph four out of seven. What? You thought I’d tell you the end of the story? No spoilers here, but it does tell a story.

Is this that elusive Liberal Democrat ‘narrative’ at last? Read it and decide.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

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Good - autumn conference, whether or not brought forward a day, is ALWAYS in our arrivals week - not a great time to have people working IN HE or FE involved in a debate many miles from their institutions which need them that week.

I am now a regular at Spring Conference, so I shall wwelcome the opportunity, as a university governor amongst other things, to participate. I have, shall we say, unorthodox opinions on how we should be playing the fees issue (hint - full fees with full scholarships basically and a bigger onus on institutions to subsidize their own students and a bigger child trust fund to help people save for tertiary educaiton).
Linda Jack as 'Linda Jack'

- very witty use of inverted commas!
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