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The Liberal Democrats have backed plans to cap political donations to £10,000, scrap big payoffs for disgraced ministers, and abolish mandatory voter ID rules.
The party has become the first to adopt a “pre-manifesto” for the next election, with proposals to give everyone the right to see a GP within a week as their centre-piece policy.
The pre-manifesto document, which was voted on and approved by party members at its Autumn Conference in Bournemouth, sets out an early draft of the party’s manifesto for the next General Election.
They’ve also set out their proposals for overhauling democracy, after a slew of scandals over the past decade – from lobbying to cronyism and tainted House of Lords appointments. Many of the scandals were triggered by donations to MPs or parties, with donors subsequently landing Government contracts or positions.
Last week, the Mirror reported that a Conservative party donor whose company was awarded £160 million worth of PPE contracts has been appointed to a senior Government role on the Board of Trade.
David Meller, a former chairman of the scandal-hit Presidents Club, has donated almost £70,000 to the Conservative Party and its politicians since 2009.
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On voter ID, an Electoral Commission report in June found that at least 14,000 people who tried to vote in the local elections in England were denied a ballot paper because of the new ID requirements. It also found a further 4% of non-voters said they didn’t attempt to vote at all because of the voter ID requirement.
The SNP and Green Party also back scrapping mandatory ID – but Labour have only called for a “review” of the policy.
Following a fresh election watchdog report this month, which showed that voter ID disproportionately impacts marginalised groups, Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain MP said: “This is just another example of the Government burying its head in the sand while all the evidence suggests a potential calamity at next year’s General Election.
“The Conservatives’ botched Voter ID scheme was always going to be a disaster. It’s vital that they listen to the warnings and urgently act to ensure that people across the country are not denied their fundamental democratic right to vote”.
Shaun Robert of campaign group Unlock Democracy has branded the current Voter ID system a “poisoned cure”. The Government’s own figures stated that 2 million people did not have an accepted form of photo ID, but only a tiny fraction of those applied for the official free ID card scheme.
“Poll watchers at the time of the local elections suggested that those being turned away were disproportionately from minority communities. Today’s report adds weight to those findings and reveals that voter ID meant disabled people were also subject to discrimination.
“Voter ID is a solution to a non-existent problem. Out of 58 million votes cast across three elections in 2019 elections, one person was convicted of voter impersonation,” Roberts said last week.
Lib Dem Political Reform Plans in Full
“We want to ensure that your voice is heard – and we want to transfer power back to the people. The shambolic Conservative Government has created a crisis for democracy in this country, with their cronyism, rule-breaking and constant sleaze scandals. Successive Conservative Prime Ministers have acted without integrity and treated Parliament and the people with disdain.
“It is a symptom of a broken political system, which enables the Government to take families up and down the country for granted. It is clear that we need a political system with fair representation, so that politics is made to work for you again.
“Liberal Democrats want to begin to repair the damage that has been done by the constant stream of Conservative sleaze, and to end the era of neglect.
The Liberal Democrats will:
- Ensure no politician can take you for granted, by introducing proportional representation for electing MPs, and local councillors in England.
- Strengthen democratic rights and participation by scrapping the Conservatives’ voter ID scheme and giving 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote.
- Finally hold Government Ministers to account for corruption and sleaze by enshrining the Ministerial Code in legislation.
- Transfer greater powers away from Westminster and Whitehall to the nations and regions that make up the Union.
- Introduce a written constitution for a federal United Kingdom, with a strong voice for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
- Enhance and strengthen the powers and standing of local government in England in the new federal constitutional settlement.
- Ensure a strong union with Scotland by opposing both a second independence referendum and independence.
- Make it a national security priority to protect the UK’s democratic processes from any threats or interference.
- Take big money out of politics, by capping donations to political parties at £10,000 a year.”
No Handouts for Disgraced Ministers
The Liberal Democrats have also called for taxpayer-funded handouts for disgraced former ministers to be scrapped, as analysis by the party revealed £530,000 was paid out in ministerial severance payments over the past year.
The research shows that ministers in the Department for Local Government and Levelling Up received £77,654 in severance payments in the past year, more than any other department. It would be enough to pay the average monthly council tax bill for 476 families, the party says.
Education ministers claimed £49,495 severance payments in the past year, enough to fund 19,500 free school meals, while Department for Transport ministers claimed £41,575, enough to pay for around 14,850 typical bus fares.
Other former ministers to have received severance payments include Liz Truss (£18,860), Boris Johnson (£18,860), Kwasi Kwarteng (£16,876), and disgraced Conservative MP Chris Pincher (£7,920).
In a speech to the party’s Autumn Conference on Monday (25th September), Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain is expected to call for a major overhaul of ministerial severance pay.
Under the proposals, MPs who have resigned for breaking the Ministerial Code would be barred from claiming the severance pay. The proposals would also ensure that ministers have to serve in post for a reasonable period of time – a move targeted at ousted PM Liz Truss’ 44 day Government – and that payouts cannot be claimed if they are reappointed to ministerial roles within a year.
Other key policies in the pre-manifesto include protecting the pensions triple lock, investing in social care and banning sewage dumping in rivers and beaches.
The party has promised a “return to community policing” to tackle the “unsolved crimes epidemic” alongside an insulation programme to cut energy bills.
“A truly fair democracy, where everyone’s rights are respected and individuals and communities are empowered,” is a key priority for the party’s plans.
Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said: “This is a landmark moment as we set out our ambitious plans to the country to deliver a fair deal for families and pensioners.
“Families are feeling let down by this appalling Conservative Government which has crashed the economy, neglected the NHS and ruined our environment…Every vote for the Liberal Democrats at the next election will be a vote to fix local health services, a fair deal on the cost of living and an end to filthy sewage dumping in our beaches and rivers.”
The full pre-manifesto document can be found here. Lib Dem Autumn Conference is taking place in Bournemouth from Saturday 23rd September – Tuesday 26th September. Byline Times’ Josiah Mortimer is reporting from Bournemouth.
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