It’s just over three weeks until Liberal Democrats gather in Brighton for our annual Federal Spring Conference. This morning the agenda landed on my doorstep and I thought I’d share my highlights with you.
If you can, it’s worth trying to get there for 3 pm on Friday 8th March for the consultation sessions. This is an important part of the policy making process, where ordinary party members can have their say as policy documents are being written. Most of them are on issues which apply to the whole UK this time: Defence, tax, Europe and political and constitutional reform.
The traditional Rally to kick off Conference reflects the fact that it’s taking place on International Women’s Day. Shirley Williams, Jo Swinson, Nick Clegg and Lynne Featherstone will be looking at the Coalition’s work internationally and at home and looking at what needs to be done next to make sure that women have an equal chance to get on in life.
Pick of the fringe
It wouldn’t be Conference if there weren’t at least two things going on in each fringe session that you want to go to. This year is no different and I’ve really struggled with some of my choices. I’ve chosen one from each fringe session.
Friday evening: As a party I don’t think we do enough of showing off our councillors and our excellent record in local government. That’s why I’ve picked the LGA/ALDC Reception and Awards, and not just because of their promise of tearful acceptance speeches.
Saturday lunchtime: I want to know Olly Grender’s coalition secrets. That’s why I’m heading to Liberal Reform discussing how the Coalition works behind closed doors.
Saturday early evening: Liberal Youth on transport and young people. What can be done to improve cost, accessibility and service provision? With Norman Baker MP.
Saturday late evening: Fans of Julian Huppert can see him in action at the Seekers of Sanctuary Fringe. Liberal Democrats have famously ended child detention for immigration purposes. Why not end adult detention too?
Nobody should miss the incomparable Glee Club, either. If you’ve never been before, it’s basically a wild, irreverent sing-song that is great fun.
As always there’s a full training session. Whether you’re new to the party or an experienced campaigner, there are always enticing training sessions. From lessons from the Obama campaign to fundraising to time and stress management to developing your political career to “exploiting hidden talent”, you are bound to find something for you.
A reason to get up early on Saturday morning
Constitutional amendments don’t always excite but one has been tabled which is probably the single most controversial debate on the Conference agenda. If Ed Joyce and Rich Clare have their way, just 10 conference representatives would be able to submit a motion of no confidence in the leader which, if passed by a two thirds majority of conference, would result in a leadership ballot. Whether it’s right to allow such a small number of people to wield so much power is yet to be seen, especially when the agenda is published, as this one has been, several weeks before the Conference. Does it give the leader a fair chance given the inevitable media firestorm that would result? Are the current constitutional provisions for the grassroots to call a leadership ballot, 75 local parties or SAOs, more broad-based and more swiftly brought to a conclusion? Be in the hall first thing Saturday morning to have your say.
Other policy debates take place on subjects as diverse as the rural economy, access to social security tribunals, manufacturing and corporate tax avoidance.
Set piece speeches are always a highlight of Conference. Nick Clegg closes Conference with his keynote speech, but the day before he has a question and answer session. Paddy Ashdown has his first chance to wow Conference in his new role as Chair of the General Election campaign. Pensions guru Steve Webb and Jo Swinson also have prime speaking slots.
Still need to register?
Nobody can pretend life is easy for Liberal Democrats at the moment. Conference provides an opportunity to spend time with our Liberal Democrat family, to recharge our batteries, engage in robust debate, learn new skills and have lots of fun. If you haven’t registered yet, you can find out all you’ll need to know about the event here.
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings