I am always told to be very careful about what I say about what goes on in meetings of the Federal Policy Committee. However, in the interests of transparency and accountability, I should say that I did not vote in favour of the composition of the Manifesto Working Group when FPC met last night.
Indeed, I went further and moved an amendment declining to endorse it.
The membership of the group is not particularly representative; while it undoubtedly contains many people of merit (including, for the record, David Laws who does think originally and usefully in many areas), it is noticeably larger than previous incarnations. Despite the process of the production of the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto being owned by FPC, there is a risk that a large group may be seen by some as a rival group. That must not happen.
The larger the group, and the higher-profile its membership, the greater the risk that any public statement by its members and particularly its Chair be seen as a significant shift in Liberal Democrat policy. In September 2004, David Laws and his co-editor Paul Marshall deliberately set out to torpedo the Party’s pre-manifesto document by launching a collection of essays that in places directly contradicted that. (How would he react if social Liberals, or any Liberals for that matter, took similar action in 2014 now becomes an interesting hypothetical point.) There have been numerous subsequent public statements which are out of kilter with Liberal Democrat thinking and policy. A large number of Party members would like some reassurance that the Manifesto will sit, constitutionally, with FPC and in line with Party policy.
There were other reasons, too. In the end, though, the motion I moved (and lost) triggered a useful debate about how we put together the next Manifesto. Certainly much better than the arguments now being triggered about the merits or otherwise of a particular individual.