On the UK conference trail: The REC reports on the Lib Dems digital event

Given all that is happening with Covid-19, one would be forgiven for not being aware that we are now in the middle of the annual Party Conference season!

Last week the Labour Party gathered online, and this weekend the Liberal Democrats met, not in Brighton as planned, but digitally as well. 

The economy
In his speech to Lib Dem members, new leader Sir Ed Davey (pictured) set out how he thought the UK economy should adjust not only to the pandemic, but also to climate change and Brexit. As a party that is keen to be seen as caring and compassionate, he covered a wide range of issues, albeit without much detail. 

Addressing the new world of working from home (possibly for the long-term), Sir Ed said: “…if there's less demand for office space, let’s work with businesses to turn those buildings into sustainable, affordable homes to help solve the housing crisis.” A big appealing plan, but one that’s maybe easier to say when you’re in Opposition. 

In a very personal speech, he also promised to be “the voice of 9m carers”, referring to his own caring responsibilities for his disabled son, but offered little on his plans for the social care sector, which has been the bedrock of this pandemic.

On Brexit, Sir Ed said his Party would “always be European” but needed to listen to voters following poor election results. During the 2019 election, the party adopted a strong anti-Brexit message, but feared they had alienated large sectors of the population. Nevertheless, speaking on a radio interview he said he has not ruled out voting down a possible Brexit deal between the UK and EU “if it harms our economy”. 

Referring to Boris Johnson’s ‘oven-ready deal’ he said: “At a time of economic and health crisis, when you don't want to put up barriers to trade, to job creation, to saving jobs, he might well agree a deal that hurts our economy even more.”

The REC is continuing to press the need for a deal, but we need your views on how Brexit will impact your services to EU-based clients from the UK, and on your recruitment of EU workers for the UK. Your responses to our trade survey will underpin our discussions with government and policy makers.

Supporting the vulnerable
To bring an end to the financial insecurity, the Party’s new Economy spokesperson Christine Jardine discussed plans to campaign for a Universal Basic Income, challenging her Party to tackle the injustice of too many people being “caught between low-paid work and a punitive benefits system”.

In demanding reform, the Liberal Democrats have pointed to the estimated 8.5m adults and 4.5m children living in poverty in the UK, as well as the people that society relies on but aren’t adequately supported, such as unpaid carers – the majority of whom are women. The Liberal Democrat Policy Committee will work on plans where the very richest in society will pay more into the system than they will receive.

Ones to watch
The party currently has 11 MPs in Westminster, five MSPs in Scottish Parliament and one assembly member in the Senedd Cymru [Welsh Parliament]. They may not yet be a force to be reckoned with, but watch this space as we edge closer to leaving the EU; it will be interesting to see what voters make of the Lib Dems.

Neal Suchak is senior policy adviser at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC).

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