Policy Committee says no to Clegg: game over?

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18 of the 29-strong Lib Dem Federal Policy Committee have signed a letter in the Guardian today asserting that…

…as a clear majority of members of the FPC, we think it would be valuable to clarify now that we predict that our commitment to scrap tuition fees, as part of our plans to create a fairer society, will indeed be included in the manifesto and that the party will be united in strongly campaigning on this in the run-up to and at next year’s general election.

Some of the names on this list are surprising. They can’t be dismissed as lefty malcontents – far from it. I would be very surprised if there weren’t other FPC members who would have signed the letter had the organisers managed to track them down in the short time period on Tuesday.

This is a slap down to Clegg and Cable. It can’t be spun in the way the debate was. One assumes it will dominate this morning’s Today programme. I am of course delighted.

My only concern is that with the party’s press operation under the control of the leadership how much longer is this contest of nerves going to go on, with Clegg and Cable constantly ramping up the rhetoric in the media and the FPC having to keep digging its heels in. This leads to very serious questions being asked about the wisdom behind the Federal Executive’s decision last year to fold the day-to-day running of the party into a leader-led Chief Officer’s Group. We have, in effect, the press office briefing against the settled will of the party. The cost of continuing this is coming out of our membership fees. The true cost could well be paid in votes and Members of Parliament next May.

If Ros Scott appreciates the implications of all this she showed little sign of it in the questions to the Federal Executive yesterday. But she did let slip that the COG was up for review in October. The task of persuading FE members to either scrap this committee or rationalise it to ensure that the press and campaigns departments are clearly working to advance the party’s agenda rather than whatever Vince Cable has decided this week, begins now.

ADDENDUM: I feel I should add that I was somewhat irked that the questions to the FE were slightly cut short due to the Q&A session with Vince Cable et al overrunning. These sessions are bland theatre which serve no democratic purpose; do they even get televised? We really need to scrap them and, in my opinion, replace them with consultation sessions (instead of limiting consultation to the very start of conference when most people can’t take part).

3 thoughts on “Policy Committee says no to Clegg: game over?

  1. James,

    On a point of info…

    Unless, things have changed in the last two years (and I’m pretty certain they haven’t), the press office staff are all paid for by POLD (i.e. Short Funds). POLD also pays the Federal Party for rent of the office space in Cowley Street and the accompanying services (phones, payroll, toilet paper etc). The payment to the party is…cough…at the high end of market prices. Membership subscriptions are certainly not being used to fund the press team.

    The press office staff are taxpayer-funded to provide public information about the activities of the LibDem MPs.

    The guidelines are notoriously unclear, but it would not be total hyperbole to say that it would be illegal for the professional press team to be promoting the FPC line. Certainly, if Vince and the FPC disagree on polcy X, the press officers are duty bound to spin (sorry…”provide public information about”) Vince’s position.

    This might raise a whole range of other problems – but not the ones you highlight here.

  2. You’re right Mark, that was a dumb thing of me to write. Nonetheless, the party does need a means of communicating to the media and the public purse should not be used by MPs to spin against their own parties.

    Perhaps we should pay for the conference week’s press operation out of the party purse and ensure that neither member nor taxpayer is being screwed?

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