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Are you standing for the first time or restanding? If first time what new thing do you bring that nobody else could; if restanding, what about your record are you most proud of that you think should make us vote you back in?

I’m not currently a member of FPC, but I have been in the past, and was vice-chair of the committee for eight years. In that role I did lots of things to influence the committee’s proposals and also the way it works, but I’d highlight two.

Firstly, I’m proud of the efforts we made when I was closely involved, to actually engage party members more closely in the policy the party was making. We’re rightly proud of the fact that all our policies are voted on by members at conference, and the FPC is dominated by people directly elected to that role and so accountable to the wider party. And that’s fine as far as it goes. But of course most work goes into developing it well before that stage. As chair of three policy working groups during this Parliament which have brought policy proposals on some big areas to conference, I’ve worked very hard to ensure that we engage all members throughout their work as much as possible. In particular I’m proud that the group I chaired writing the party’s tax policy, did a large range of things, ranging from an emailed survey on key questions to members, to a webinar and events at state and regional conferences. I’ve said a bit more about this on my page at www.facebook.com/jeremyhargreavesforfpc

Secondly, I’m really proud of the work that I and the group I chaired did, to put wellbeing on the map as a key part of the party’s approach to policy. This resulted in the paper approved at the 2011 autumn conference A New Purpose for Politics – Quality of Life. I think this is a crucial part of how politics will develop during this century, and is a modern manifestation of very long-standing liberal approaches and principles, to empower people to be in control of their lives and live the lives they want to lead. Put very simply indeed, it sets as the starting point for politics people having the best quality of life, and looks at what policy-making can do to help people achieve that – not doing it for them (as Labour might seek to do), but supporting them to take the decisions they want to. The best thing to help people’s lives might be about money – often it is – but it might not: in our own personal lives, do we all really think the things that really matter most to us, are about money? Government certainly shouldn’t take these decisions for us, but in the same way that it sees it as its job to create the conditions for economic prosperity, it should surely see it as its role to create the conditions where we can each make our own choices about our own quality of life. Again I’m saying a bit more about this at www.facebook.com/jeremyhargreavesforfpc and the policy paper (the summary is quite short if you don’t want to read the whole thing!) is at http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/2008/attachments/original/1390839600/102_-_Quality_of_Life.pdf?1390839600

Are you standing for any other committees, if so which ones; and if elected to more than one how do you plan to divide your time?

I’m just standing for the FPC.

Are you an active member of any SAOs, and if so which ones?

I’ve been active in many AOs, SAOs, local and regional parties, council groups and other party bodies and initiatives. In particular I was chair of the Lib Dem European Group (LDEG) a few years ago, when we were very active in making the case for reforming the EU and positive UK engagement in it.

If someone asked you on the doorstep, the hustings or on TV to sum up in one or two sentences what the Lib Dems, uniquely, stand for – and then why anyone should vote for us – what are your answers?

What the Liberal Democrats have always been for, and have now been implementing in government, is letting and supporting people to be in control of their own lives.

I think people should vote Liberal Democrat because in government we have, and will continue to, make a huge difference in making Britain a fairer place.

What is your view on diversity quotas for committees? Should they be extended to cover more than just gender, scrapped totally, kept as is or something else?

People should elect candidates to committees (and anything else) because of their own individual merits – whether that’s their perceived ability, agreement with their political views, or however else they decide. Classifying candidates in boxes as ‘the disabled candidate’, ‘the woman’, ‘the ethnic minority candidate’ or whatever is basically just wrong, and not liberal – we believe individuals are multi-dimensional individuals, not just uni-dimensional symbols of their categories.

If, for whatever reason, this isn’t happening, and if we have committees that are seriously unrepresentative, then we do need to do something about that. There are a whole range of things we should do and often have done to tackle it – for example encouraging and supporting candidates to put themselves forward, and looking at procedures or other factors which discourage particular candidates, to see if they can be changed.

If this still doesn’t work and we still have unrepresentative committees, then imposed quotas should be the last resort. There is a pretty good case I think that other measures have been tried and failed to even up gender balance, and it is pure and simple unacceptable today that a committee should, for example, have no or almost no women on it. That’s why I argued at conference in Glasgow that there should be quotas for genders on party committees (though not in the particular confused and I think unsatisfactory form that FE put them forward).

If there is evidence that other important groups are under-represented on committees then I definitely think we should review the evidence and would be open to quotas for them too. I haven’t personally seen that evidence but would be open to it if it’s there. But quotas are not essentially a liberal approach and they should be one of the last things we try to remedy problems of unrepresentativeness, not one of the first.

Secrecy rules prevent the party knowing what committees are doing. What will you do to communicate with members; and in what circumstances is confidentiality justified?

I certainly agree that party members should be able to know what party committees are doing on their behalf, but I actually much of the current fuss about ‘secrecy rules’ is quite confused and wrong, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the committees do actually produce quite a lot of information about what they do – the problem is that no-one reads it, as much that it is not available. By the end of my time on FPC, it was publishing, as well as a full report to conference every six months, a report on every meeting every month. Not many people really actually read the reports to conference, and almost no-one read the monthly report. I think anyone who did take the few seconds to do that, would find out most of what are sometimes claimed as ‘secrets’.

Secondly and perhaps most importantly, there really isn’t any reason why in general a member of a committee can’t talk about the decisions coming up to a committee, what’s happening at it or was then decided. When on two party committees, often dealing with matters of particular controversy and interest within the party, I often raised the issues, attempted to outline my own thinking and engaged in discussion with others. It was useful, didn’t break any rules, and I’d certainly do it again if elected this time.

Finally, I think much of this debate really gets confused about how committees like the FPC actually work. A few people talk as if they want to be able to have voting records for who lined up on one side of an argument, and who the other. But this is really to misunderstand what it is that a body like FPC actually does. It seems to assume that two, fully formed and worked out, directly opposed, options come to FPC on every issue, which FPC (like the House of Commons) then divides for a vote on. But that isn’t in fact remotely the reality. FPC’s job is more to try and develop proposals in the first place than to judge between them, and most of the time what it comes up with isn’t controversial. Where there are differences of view, these are more nuanced than simply being opposed - much more likely to be, say, a proposal to develop it further, or to emphasise some aspects at the expense of others. So the outcome of this is genuinely the work of the group as a whole than ‘these people were angels, and those people were devils’! Actual votes for or against proposals are, in my experience of chairing dozens of FPC meetings over several years, a minuscule part of the committee’s work. The policy output from a committee like FPC is a collaborative mix of the inputs of many members interacting and working with each, and to attempt to reduce it to ‘so and so made proposal x’ and ‘so and so made proposal y’ tends to be misleading and give a simply wrong impression of how different contributions were made to developing proposals.

So I am absolutely in favour of openness and two-way communication with committees – a lot of my time on FPC was devoted to it, and I find the current debate about so-called ‘secrecy rules’ quite unhelpful to that!

If you had the power to do so unilaterally, what one party (not government) policy would you change, and what would you change it to?

We need a clear and simple policy about government collection of personal electronic data. And it should be a pretty simple read-across from the approach to traditional information. If an individual is under suspicion, the police or other agencies should be able to get a warrant to collect data to investigate them. But there should be no mass-scale permission to collect data (whether communications meta data or anything else) about anyone “just in case it might be useful later”. The real-world equivalent of this is agents of the state standing on every street corner, noting who is coming up and down, when and with whom, “just in case it might be useful later”. We don’t allow that, and the same principle should apply to gathering of mass-scale electronics data.

What is your view on electoral pacts? Should the party make them, and if so, who with?

Well if this question is effectively “should we seek to have no impact on government unless we have an absolute majority in the House of Commons?”, then my answer to that is emphatically no! It’s inherent in our position – as well as running right through Liberal Democrat thinking - that government should be collaborative and through building coalitions, rather than only confrontational.

As to who – well as we have kept saying, that really depends on the electorate and the hand they deal us at the election. Like a lot of people I think, I was very surprised that we ended up in government with the Tories this time – a deal with Labour feels more natural and likely to be politically easy. Though I would say that however much we have disagreed politically, the Tories have been a much more disciplined coalition partner – if we do a deal, rightly or wrongly, it mostly gets stuck to – than Labour would be. But it really isn’t our call but the public’s, how they make the numbers add up. A deal between us and say Labour, in which together we still don’t have the numbers to form a government, doesn’t achieve anything for anyone!

All answers are presented unedited, as entered by the candidate (mainly due to time). You can find links to other candidates' entries here

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Hello! I'm Jennie (known to many as SB, due to my handle, or The Yorksher Gob because of my old blog's name). This blog is my public face; click here for a list of all the other places you can find me on t'interwebs.

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