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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Policy on the hoof

One of the hazards of Conference is the ability of so-called senior MPs to monopolise the agenda with their own policy announcements. Even though the particular proposals they are talking about are not up for discussion and will not be voted on by representatives, suitable pre-briefings and a properly timed speech on something especially controversial can give the ordinary public the impression that the whole Conference has agreed with the MP in question.

We have just voted to reject a constitutional amendment that would have meant that all policy will lapse afer eight years. Those behind this amendment were worried that our opponents might pull out a paragraph from some old policy paper and use it to attack us. What they should be more concerned about is what our enemies will do with the words of MPs who do not seem to understand that it is Conference that makes policy not them and that if they want to get a proposal through then they should do so in the proper deliberative manner.

This morning's speech by David Laws is a good case in point. He stood before the Conference and told us of his plan to cut up to £2 billion off the benefits bill for lone parents. This is not party policy, it has not been approved by Policy Committee or the Conference representatives, but the media are now quoting it as part of a so-called rightwards drift in the Liberal Democrats.

I could speculate that David Laws chose the route he did because he knew that he would never get this policy through Conference. We will see. However, one thing is clear, somebody needs to give all of the MPs a good talking to on their role in the policy making process in the party.

In doing so they might want to use the excellent example set by Norman Lamb, who took his Post Office motion to Conference, accepted the reference back gracefully, consulted, amended his proposals and then brought them back to Conference again. In doing so Norman earned respect and credibility in the party that will hold him in good stead in the future. David Laws will do well to learn from that. This party does not like being hijacked.
That is unfortunate...
Laws seems to have a habit of doing things like this (the Orange Book thing where he used it to promote his own paper on NHS reform rather than the book as a whole which had some very good pieces)

Its a policy which should be looked at, but I can't see the party accepting easily, especially put like this...
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