A welcome rebalancing of the media/members ratio at conference

Tim Farron 2015 bournemouth

Tim Farron, with Rosie Farron, awaits the cue to deliver his first conference speech as leader at Saturday’s night conference rally.Photo by Paul Walter.

Pssst. Let me tell you a little secret which you may not have noticed if you haven’t attended Lib Dem conferences. As we went through the coalition years, the numbers of members attending conference dwindled. No doubt someone is going to dispute this and quote detailed numbers. But it was pretty obvious and, towards the end, feintly embarrassing.

While the numbers of members attending conference went down, the numbers of media, police, security guards and sycophantic business people buzzing around soared.

So, the conference ceased to really be a members’ conference and became a rather grotesque media performance.

At the autumn conference in Brighton in 2012, the arrangements for the leaders’ speech (to which I did not give a standing ovation) were ludicrous. Totally ludicrous. The rag, tag and bobtail members like me were pushed to the back into the dark recesses of the auditorium, in front of masses of empty seats. Then around the leader’s podium, they created a sort of TV studio with masses of lighting and doughnut style groups of carefully orchestrated, invited members surrounding him.

At the Liverpool conference there were actually at least three – count them – three journalists there from the Mail group. I know, they nicked my power socket.

Thank goodness that utter madness is now behind us.

OK. We’ve only got 8 MPs, but there are consolations. This time at Bournemouth there are no police, a smattering of security people, no bag checks, no X-rays, a distinct absence of odious sycophantic businesses and a nice, relaxed atmosphere with plenty of members, many of them new.

I yearn for more of this. And, also, less of the middle-aged male representatives like myself who can talk the hind legs off a donkey if you let us, and more of the young, the women, the ethnic minorities, the LGBT+ and the new members of whom I have seen and met many at Bournemouth this time.

Bring it on!

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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10 Comments

  • Matt (Bristol) 21st Sep '15 - 12:20pm

    All very interesting and somewhat heartening … A good membership culture could be an asset to us.

    As an irreverent diversion – Can I ask why Norman Lamb is moonlighting in Australia?
    http://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/sep/21/ffa-and-pfa-close-to-resolving-footballs-pay-dispute-says-david-gallop

  • Did anyone see Daily Politics? They were asking people : ” Nick Clegg Hero or Zero? ” . A nice bearded man popped up to say “zero”. Wondering if that was you John Tilley? It sounded like Matthew Huntbach but I know he doesn’t go to Conference. Exciting putting faces to names!

  • Ruth Bright 21st Sep '15 - 1:18pm

    Paul – I know what you mean. The first conference of coalition actually felt quite monied and glamorous. In almost thirty years of attending conference those are words I would never have believed would apply to a Lib Dem Conference/Liberal Assembly! Saturday at Bournemouth felt distinctly less glamorous but very, very busy with real people. I was too claustrophobic to put up with such a packed rally and had to slope of for an ice cream instead.

  • John Tilley 21st Sep '15 - 8:08pm

    Phyllis 21st Sep ’15 – 12:50pm
    “….Did anyone see Daily Politics? They were asking people : ” Nick Clegg Hero or Zero? ” . A nice bearded man popped up to say “zero”. Wondering if that was you John Tilley? ”

    Not me, Phyllis. But whoever it was gave the correct answer.

  • John Tilley 22nd Sep '15 - 8:47am

    Phyllis 21st Sep ’15 – 12:50pm
    “….Did anyone see Daily Politics? They were asking people : ” Nick Clegg Hero or Zero? ” .

    Phyllis,
    I have now watched the Daily Politics piece that you mentioned. I notice that Paddy Ashdown refused to put a ball in the box to vote for Clegg as a “Hero” .

    Paddy said proper Liberals do not follow a”hero”.
    He does not always say things that I agree with but on this occasion he was certainly correct.

  • Denis Loretto 22nd Sep '15 - 10:21am

    “Hero or Zero” is obviously inappropriate terminology. Understandably conference attendees interpreted it as “For or Against” and it was interesting to see the overwhelming number of ping pong balls on the “For” side. Put together with the remarkably positive reaction from a packed auditorium for Nick Clegg’s speech it reinforces in my mind how unrepresentative much of the comment in LDV about Clegg has been throughout the coalition period. The anti-Cleggites may claim they have been reflecting what they see as general public opinion but they have clearly not been reflecting Lib Dem activist opinion. Let’s hope Tim Farron gets better treatment from the LDV aficionados.

  • Old liberals ruled 22nd Sep '15 - 11:54am

    Ian Sanderson makes two very perceptive points with his comments that “There can be a lot of discussion about whether you want a night watchman to stay to the end of the innings …” and “This made him a lightning conductor for much of the ill-feeling, diverting it away from other leading party members.” By May 2014 it was crystal clear that Nick’s strategy was a total failure and apparently even then there was not a single player, not Alistair as Chief Whip, Norman or even Tim, prepared to tell Nick to sacrifice his wicket and let a better batsman come to the crease and risk taking a hit in order to save the party. Indeed, if the press are to be believed, Tim actually persuaded Nick to limp on to the bitter end. Perhaps that unwillingness to emerge from the comfort of the pavilion should be the final entry in the scorebook of the Lib Dems innings in the Five Year test match of 2010 to 2015.

    Nick Clegg …………………………………. Finally Out hit own wicket …………..0
    Other LibDems ………………………… retired unwilling to be hurt ………… 0

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