Lib Dem pre-manifesto launched: includes policies to reform drugs laws and bus pass discount for under-21s
by Stephen Tall on September 8, 2014
Last week’s pre-manifesto launch by the Lib Dems was postponed owing to the international situation. Thankfully no important news has broken over the past couple of days which might over-shadow today’s launch. Unless, that is, you think the potential break-up of the UK or a new Royal Baby are headline-grabbing events.
You can read the Pre-Manifesto in full below.
The party trailed its publication today with a couple of announcements intended to highlight key policies:
Personal possession of all drugs should be decriminalised, the Liberal Democrats will announce today. The policy will feature in the party’s ‘pre-manifesto’, which is being unveiling this morning as it lays out its priorities in the next parliament. While the document will not use the word ‘decriminalisation’, Liberal Democrat sources have told Politics.co.uk it will formally adopt a policy document proposal which called on the UK to adopt the approach used in Portugal. … Under the system, police would decide whether someone caught with possession of a drug is a dealer or user. For those only using the drug, the onus would be on medical responses rather than criminal sanctions. The move goes a step further than Nick Clegg’s previous pledge to stop sending people to jail for drug use. It is the latest in a line of increasingly liberal positions on drugs from the party, as it becomes more confident in demanding wholesale reform of Britain’s drugs laws.
Young people aged 16-21 would get a 66% discount on bus travel in England under Lib Dem plans outlined by Nick Clegg. The scheme would be paid for by cutting the winter fuel allowance and free TV licences for better-off pensioners, the party’s “pre-manifesto” proposes. Mr Clegg told reporters: “We are telling you today that we are choosing to put the next generation front and centre of our plans.” The proposals are part of the Lib Dem pitch for next year’s general election.
These can be added to the 21 policy announcements the party has already issued based on the pre-manifesto.
As I wrote last week:
When the pre-manifesto is launched, there will be three key questions unanswered:
First, how do we pay for it all? The party has committed to balance the budget but has also committed to some major new spending initiatives, albeit some are openly billed as aspirational. Take, for instance, the party’s pledge to continue raising the personal allowance until it reaches £12.5k (the current minimum wage level), and then, as an aspiration, to start raising the national insurance threshold to £12.5k too. Each is hugely expensive. Combined with other spending commitments and the need for continuing severe austerity to reduce the deficit and something will have to give.
Secondly, what are our top-lines? In 2010, the party listed four top priorities: tax-cuts for low-earners, the Pupil Premium, the Green Investment Bank, and political reform. Four years later, we can put ticks against the first three, and a cross against the fourth (though that’s mostly the result of Labservative opposition). What will be our equivalents in 2015? That’s still to be decided.
Thirdly, what are our red-lines? In 2010, the party vetoed a number of Tory manifesto ideas, such as prioritising inheritance tax-cuts for the wealthy. However, we infamously didn’t draw a red-line around our tuition fees commitment (the Coalition Agreement enabled Lib Dem MPs to abstain, though when it came to the vote the parliamentary party split three ways). It’s safe to say the leadership has learned its lesson: there will be no open-ended commitment to vote for/against individual policies no matter what the circumstances. That does, however, run the risk of looking slippery.
On the first of those – balancing the budget – the position is no clearer. The pre-manifesto notes the Lib Dems would introduce a Mansion Tax “help[ing] enable us to continue to protect NHS spending, extend the protection of schools’ budgets to include early years and 16-19 education, and ensure 0.7% of GNI is spent on international development aid.” It’s amazing how far c.£2 billion will stretch. Other decisions about spending are parked in favour of a full Spending Review “after the General Election”. Breezily, the document then notes, “Once we have balanced the books…” Of course, the Lib Dems are no different any of the other parties in this regard: none are saying what cuts will be needed and where to meet their aims of continuing to reduce the deficit.
As for top-lines and red lines, it looks like we’ll have to wait a while for those. The pre-manifesto is divided into eight sections: Responsible Finances / Balancing the budget / Green Britain Guarantee / Family Finances / An Opportunity Society / A Better Place to Live / Secure Communities / Power to the People / Britain in the World. I imagine the final, streamlined version will focus on emphasising policies where the party has already achieved success in government, such as tax-cuts for low-earners, extending the Pupil Premium to early years, family-friendly policies, pro-green economy initiatives, and (perhaps) something on political reform.
Anyway, here’s the full document for you to read…
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.