Now, while I disagree with David Laws about quite a lot, I think he will do a good job on the process. I worry that the ideas may not be entirely to my taste, but that's another matter. Laws has a brain the size of Jupiter and, those in the know tell me, is engaging, approachable and prepared to listen. He's accessible, responds to well constructed argument and has the full confidence of the leader. In fact, it might be worth Jo Shaw and Martin Tod talking to him on secret courts....
I know most of the rest of the group and they're all good people. I'm concerned that there's nobody there under 32 and that there is nobody from an ethnic minority or who's disabled as far as I know. There are 7 men and 5 women, which is ok, In terms of geographical spread, only one Scot is a concern for me, especially given that much of the manifesto won't apply in Scotland but will have consequences. We may be a Federal party but we're not always so good at understanding how federalism actually works. That's bad enough, but if I'm reading this right, we have one from Wales (Willott) and only two from north of Cambridge (Farron and Shipley). That means 8 from the south of England. That is not balanced.
My biggest worry is that 10 out of the 12 are Parliamentarians. Ask anyone from Scotland, but when a small cabal of parliamentarians take it upon themselves to write a manifesto,it does not end as well as we'd hope. This is what happened in the 2007 election and the only idea that had any traction from our manifesto was that kids in primary school should have an hour of PE a day. That was it. We had been in Government in a much easier environment than we have now. Remember 2007? That's when we had cash. Anyway, this cabal kept everything to themselves, wouldn't let any of the party see what they were up to until it was way too late. The manifesto was risk averse, cautious, bland. It's not that there was anything terrible in it - it's just that there was nothing that could be even vaguely described as radical or interesting. It had no compelling narrative as to why you should vote Liberal Democrat.
This manifesto needs to be reality tested outside of the Bubble in some way. And I don't mean by focus group. Our values need to drive our policies, although we need to understand how people are thinking and respond to that. We need people on that group who don't spend all their time in the corridors of power, who understand what it's like at the sharp end, now, more than ever. The Federal Policy Committee is going to have its work cut out keeping tabs on this group, but it's going to have to. It's more important than ever that this manifesto not only connects with the people, but tugs at the heartstrings of Liberal Democrat activists who have had a pretty tough couple of years. It needs to make them feel that there's something worthwhile getting out on the streets for.
I am sure that all of these people understand the enormity and complexity of the task ahead of them. It worries me, though, that they are too Bubble and South of England centred. Huppert being on it is fantastic, especially after his vote against the benefit cuts the other night and his work on web snooping. While I feel a bit reassured by his presence, I want to feel confident about what they'll produce, but I don't. Let's hope they prove me wrong.