Changing the Preamble for People and the Planet – Keith Melton

Changing the Preamble for People and the Planet

We hope to see many of our GLD family at the virtual conference this coming weekend and we have four fringe meetings to whet your political appetite. The fringes are loosely grouped under the strapline “For People and Planet” and there is a conscious element of addressing the issue of `Wellbeing` this year too. Indeed, our second fringe meeting, which is on Saturday evening, will address Wellbeing as its central goal, with our former MEP, Councillor Jane Brophy, Chairing the session from 17.35 pm onwards.

Friday Fringe

We will also be touching on the theme of Wellbeing in our fringe on Friday, because we want to set the scene for our motion on Monday at 14.30 – F41 Empowering Liberal Democrat Values: for People and Planet. But more of that a little later.

Guest Speaker

The Friday fringe will take place at 17.35 through to 18.45pm and we have the pleasure of the company of one of our GLD Peers – Baroness Kate Parminter. Indeed, she is the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, as well as a paid-up member of GLD and the Chair of the cross-party Committee on the Environment and Climate Change in the Lords.

I am pleased to say that Baroness Parminter – Kate – will be telling us a little about the work that our peers are doing, in holding the government to account, as much as is possible in our archaic political system. Kate, herself, has asked many questions on environmental issues and spoken severally on important amendments which seek to hold this pathetic Government in check.

It may be because we have many more Peers in the House of Lords than we do MPs in the House of Commons, but it is pleasing to see that there seems to be a general willingness for there to be more cross party working in the upper house than in the Commons, so I hope you are ready to ask searching questions about the way the system works `up there`.

Longevity

One of the reasons for bringing our Constitutional Amendment to this conference is to restate in a very public way just how long we have been campaigning on environmental issues. I recall reading a critique of the Liberal Democrats written earlier this year by Daniel Finklestein, in the Sunday Times, calling into question the value of our existence. Perhaps no surprise there! He said he doesn`t know what we stand for (more than anything, the bias of his loyalties suggests that he was being deliberately mischievous, of course) but he is not the only commentator to question our purpose.

Generally, political commentators may glance at the first sentence of the Preamble to the Liberal Democrat Constitution “The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.” Good Liberal stuff! Even then, it is often the case that their critical faculties stop when they get to the word “Liberty” and we are sometimes labelled as a party, therefore, merely for our Libertarian values.

Indeed, as I have said before in other essays/blogs, I believe that one of the key things that broke us apart after 2015, was the determination under Clegg`s leadership, to emphasis our libertarian roots rather than our radical Liberal roots. Therefore, the focus was on an economic policy model which mirrored Cameron and Osborne`s views on individual wealth and, too much, betrayed the need to “…balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality AND community…”

Our Green Values

The other thing that gets lost in that economic world view, of course, is the clear declaration of GREEN values that was written into the Preamble to the Constitution all those years ago, when the Party was formed in 1988. As I have also written elsewhere, I am particularly proud of that statement, not least because I actually wrote it! I can still distinctly remember the sense of urgency at the conference where the Preamble was being written, by a “Commission”, live, in real time.

Different groups were discussing the different aspects of our “values” and how we wanted them to appear in this key document. Our recently and sadly missed friend, Tony Greaves – before ever he became `elevated` to the upper house – was dashing round collecting contributions and patching them altogether. Originally those of us concerned with our environmental values had provided a whole paragraph. “It`s too long”, said Tony, “you`ll have to get all of that into one sentence!”

We were both walking… Correction, we were both `scurrying`… to the plenary session where the final session was soon to take place. I was carrying a lined pad which I had been using to make notes… “Hang on a minute then…” we both paused, and I wrote a sentence. Not really content, I crossed a few words out scratching my head for the perfect phrase. “Come on, come on!” he said, hurrying me up, “the session is due to start soon and we need to get this all into one document!” A couple more slight changes and it was there. I tore the bottom third of the page off and handed him the scrap of paper. He hurried off, waving this scrap of paper over his shoulder. “Thank you…” he said, his words fading into the distance. I went to get a cup of tea.

So that you know what `declaration` I am talking about, let me drop it into this article. It is currently languishing as the second sentence in the second paragraph of the Preamble, where it often gets overlooked, and it says this… “We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long-term continuity of life in all its forms.” Our motion seeks to promote the sentence to the second sentence of the first paragraph, so that our GREEN values are on a par with Liberty, Equality and Community in everyone`s mind, from the outset!

Our Upper House

Just doing my homework on the role of our representatives in the Upper House, in order to introduce our guest speaker properly on Friday, for example, I was struck by the number of peers who are, or have been, members of our GLD family over many years. They are all pictured on the Party`s website – https://www.libdems.org.uk/peers

One of the few advantages of having an `antique` date of birth, as I do, is that I can recall many of the faces of our Peers when they were activists and councillors and such, before they were `elevated` and I can recall their names appeared on our early mailing lists when the Green Liberal Democrats began – and, indeed, before that, when some were members of the Liberal Ecology Group, of which I was briefly the treasurer many years ago, before becoming Chair, not long before the merger with the SDP.

Taking a “Wellbeing” approach to a Green New Deal

The motion F41 Empowering Liberal Democrat Values: for People and Planet is really in two parts. The first part promotes our green values as I have just outlined above. The second part is designed to place a few words into the Preamble which will act as an anchor point for providing a new approach to our economic thinking.

We need a Green New Deal which moves away from an economic model which measures success just by comparing GDP figures from one year to the next or from one country to the next. We need to move towards a circular economy, where all our resources are utilised to the greatest extent possible and we do not have a stream of `waste` which has to be cleaned up using funds from the public purse. And we need an economic system which empowers communities, enabling their members to “Thrive” and which is measured for success by the degree to which people achieve a sense of “Wellbeing”. Kate Raworth calls this a Doughnut Economy and we had the pleasure of her company at this year`s Spring Conference.

We felt, when writing this constitutional amendment to our Preamble, that we actually needed to SAY these things out loud as part of our system of values as a political party. We have developed our policies, to a very large extent, to recognise these things. But the Preamble to the Constitution has never been brought up to date to reflect these policy changes. We believe our relatively small wording change, in the second part of the amendment achieves that goal. So we are seeking to add the words “thrive” and “wellbeing” into the Preamble.

The proposed new third paragraph will read… “We will foster a strong and sustainable economy which enables people to thrive in their communities, assessing progress by measuring people’s wellbeing. Such an economy will encourage necessary wealth creating processes, develop and use the skills of the people and work to the benefit of all, with a just distribution of the rewards of success.”

We hope you will not only approve of this change, but that you will talk to your friends and colleagues before the debate on Monday at 14.30pm to get them all present at the debate and voting FOR our motion. Pass the word along. I am looking forward to meeting you all over the next few days – SEE YOU TONIGHT AT THE FRIDAY GLD FRINGE MEETING!

Keith Melton

Chair Green Liberal Democrats

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