Initial Take on Lib Dems’ Pre-Manifesto


Joshua Townsley analyses the precursor document to the 2015 Liberal Democrat manifesto, and finds some interesting recurring themes with potential implications for the next parliament.

Amid the headlines of the last week of the potential breakup of the United Kingdom, a royal pregnancy, Ukraine, Syria and Iraq, it is perhaps unsurprising that the release of the Lib Dem ‘pre-manifesto’ document slipped under the radar somewhat. However, while at first glance this preamble to the General Election manifesto will pale as insignificant compared to world events, or even what Nigel Farage has to say about, well, anything, given the potential for a hung parliament, and the likelihood of the Lib Dems retaining enough MPs to hold the balance of power once more, it could have repercussions for the next parliament.

Headline Commitments: 

  • Continuing to balance the budget
  • Expansion of shared parental leave
  • Increasing the personal allowance to £12,500
  • Expansion of free childcare
  • Introduction of a Mansion Tax
  • Completion of Universal Credit
  • Raft of green measures and initiatives
  • Protection of the education and NHS budgets
  • Free School Meals for all primary school children
  • Discount bus pass for >21s
  • Ending the use of imprisonment for possession of drugs for personal use
  • Scrapping Police and Crime Commissioners
  • ‘Devolution on Demand’ for English regions, federalism for UK
  • Votes at 16, House of Lords reform, electoral reform, and other constitutional and political reforms


Upon analysing the 77-page document, a number of key themes emerge.

Education and young people

The emphasis in the document on education and young people is telling. From the protection of the schools budget, expansion of Free School Meals and blocking any attempts to run Free Schools for-profit to the introduction of a 75% discount bus pass for under-21s, the next manifesto will focus heavily on the theme of investing in children and young people.

Continuation of government policies

Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, the party defends its record in government. The emphasis placed on the need to balance the budget and reduce government borrowing represents the most significant continuation of the current government’s policy. A commitment to the Universal Credit, and protecting the NHS budget also mark a level of consistency with the current government.

Break with government policies

However, the party advocates some notable discontinuation of government policy as well. The scrapping of Police and Crime Commissioners and the blocking of profit-making free schools seem like the picking of a low-hanging fruit given the party’s concerns with both ideas from the outset..

Small-l liberalism

..But some of the most significant breaks with coalition policy overlap with another theme of the document, the espousal of a more confident small-l liberalism from the party. The headline policy in this theme is the commitment to end the use of imprisonment for possession of drugs for personal use. While the term ‘decriminalisation’ is not used, the increased focus on rehabilitation over criminalisation marks a confident headline-grabbing attempt to reform British drug policy. In addition to this, protection of civil liberties, a Digital Bill of Rights, and expansion of shared parental leave represent other liberal commitments.

Centre-left positioning

Perhaps the most important theme emerging from the pre-manifesto is the advocating of policies designed to pitch the party on the centre-left. Protecting the education and NHS budgets, the introduction of a Mansion Tax, expansion of Free School Meals, and free childcare all represent commitments designed to appeal to the centre-left voters that have deserted the party.

Implications for the General Election and the next parliament

The manifesto is likely to headline with policies that will appeal to the centre-left voters that have switched from the Lib Dems to Labour. This slice of the electorate will be much sought-after by both Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband as they are essential to the former’s hopes of retaining enough seats to hold the balance of power after 2015, and to the latter’s coalition of voters required to give Labour a majority come May. Former Lib Dem voters including students, public sector professionals, particularly those working in education, and university staff in university seats are groups that used to comprise the closest thing the Lib Dems had to a ‘base’ of support. Winning back support among these voters will determine the outcome of a number of university seats currently held by the party. The extent to which Nick Clegg can woo these voters will therefore have enormous repercussions for the next parliament.

The effect of pursuing these voters with centre-left policies has and will, in-turn, increase the likelihood of a coalition being formed between Labour and the Liberal Democrats as overlap in key policy areas increases. An unashamedly centre-left manifesto with a distinct liberal flavour will mark a return to Lib Dem party platforms of the late 90s and 00s, may just be enough to save around half of the party’s seats, and could well pave the way for a hung parliament that would result in the presence of Lib Dems in government for a decade...

So the document might be worth a look:

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