All in a day’s Lib Dem conference: hustings, fringes, OMOV and sex work

It’s felt like a slow start to conference – I’m habituated to the Friday night rally and meaty policy debates starting at bleary o’clock on Saturday morning. But with the rally moved to Saturday night, conference itself wasn’t opened until this afternoon.

20141004_100527_resizedHowever, that meant there was time this morning for the first official hustings of the Party Presidential contest, with Sal Brinton, Daisy Cooper, Linda Jack and Liz Lynne all present. In fact, there was possibly too much time – 90 minutes in a too-efficiently air-conditioned room at times dragged a little. No fault of the candidates themselves – they were all fluent and thoughtful – but they also all agreed on pretty much everything of substance. All pledged to be the independent voice of the membership and to speak truth unto leadership power.

That’s not to say there aren’t differences, though: there are. Linda freely admits to being the ‘risky’ candidate, Daisy makes a virtue of her youth, Liz her parliamentary experience, and Sal her insider knowledge. And on one issue there was a definite divide: the prospect of all-women short-lists. Both Liz and Sal spoke strongly against them, Linda strongly for them, while Daisy said she was increasingly sympathetic so long as local circumstances were taken into account (eg, a defeated male MP trying to win back his seat).

As our members’ survey this morning indicated, there’s still a lot to play for in this contest. And if you missed today’s event, don’t worry: LDV’s presidential hustings take place on Sunday, 1-2pm (Crowne Plaza, Castle 2), chaired by former party president Baroness (Diana) Maddock.

cf fringePost-hustings and a couple of random catch-ups with friends, I went to chair the lunchtime CentreForum / British Influence fringe meeting, “How to win a European referendum” – and in particular looking at what lessons could be learned from the Scottish experience.

Craig Harrow, convenor of the Scottish Lib Dems and a Better Together board member, shared his view – in particular on the need to identify the undecideds and the importance of endorsements from business people and celebrities. Elections expert Professor John Curtice cautioned that the EU referendum would be a lot tougher to win, not least because it doesn’t have the same emotional resonance – the pro-EU side will have to rely a lot more on practical, ‘instrumental’ arguments (ie, jobs). Professor Helen Wallace of the LSE looked at the experiences of Ireland and the Dutch in their European referenda, and pointed out that the 1975 Yes vote had been on the back of a Prime Minister-backed treaty re-negotiation – there may be parallels. Finally, Danny Alexander noted two reasons the campaign would be tricky – the anti-Westminster/politics mood; the complexities of a cross-party campaign – but said he thought it was eminently winnable: the economic arguments were just too good for Britain to end up saying no.

And then into the conference hall for the debates themselves – I missed the first one, on tackling poverty and discrimination (it was passed: see here for details), but the second one roused healthy passions: “Expanding the democracy of our Party with ‘One Member, One Vote'” which would enable any member (not only conference representatives) to vote at conference and in internal committee elections. It’s been the subject of much internal debate — see here on LDV for a flavour. It included perhaps the sweariest speech I’ve heard from a conference representative, with Twickenham’s Sir David Williams arguing against any delay to OMOV: “don’t give me this crap. It’s about the democracy, stupid” was the mildest sentence. The motion was eventually passed, but amended by Mark Pack and Duncan Brack to first secure a number of constitutional changes to be approved by federal conference. The timetable for the move to OMOV is, therefore, currently unclear.

Only at a Lib Dem conference would a debate on OMOV be followed by one on “Towards Safer Sex Work” — but, then, that quirky truism is the one of which Lib Dem members are perhaps proudest. (It was also true of last year’s fine debate on the risks of online pornography and how best to respond in a liberal way.) Speaker after speaker, with only one exception, took to the stage to argue for a policy approach which treats those engaged in sex work with respect, recognises their personal autonomy, and decriminalises the activities associated with sex work to promote safer conditions and focus police resources on non-consensual sexual activities. The motion was passed unamended and almost unanimously. I can’t imagine anything like that happening at the Tory or Labour conferences.

20141004_171457_resizedAnd with that I’m signing off to attend the rally. Oh, and then there’s the little matter of the LibDemVoice Awards at 10pm. I’ll leave you with the image that greeted me as I left the conference auditorium – somewhere at the foot of that rainbow, y’know, Danny Alexander’s gathering the gold to plug the deficit.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • “The motion was eventually passed, but amended by Mark Pack and Duncan Brack to first secure a number of constitutional changes to be approved by federal conference. The timetable for the move to OMOV is, therefore, currently unclear.”

    I image the grass is very long where this policy motion is going. It does not say much for aspirations to change our nation’s constitution and democracy, if even cannot get it right when only changing our party’s inter-workings.

  • paul barker 4th Oct '14 - 10:56pm

    I was at home watching on my PC but as I understood the debate, the timetable for completion is next summer, well in time for next September. I didnt see any long grass, themotion was passed overwhelmingly.

  • A party in dreamland. A leader in denial. The leader’s speech. Great electoral triumph! Was I dreaming? Had I missed something? Oh yes. The Lib Dem triumph, fighting almost alone to stop the yes campaign. The Euro Elections unmentioned. The local elections erased from history. But now the fight of our lives. Or is it the fight for our lives? Keep marching towards the light. A new dawn. Or is it the final curtain?

  • Liberal Al: The grass is pretty short – and shorter than it would have been without our amendment! As others have said, there’s no reason why this can’t all come in next year.

  • It included perhaps the sweariest speech I’ve heard from a conference representative, with Twickenham’s Sir David Williams arguing against any delay to OMOV: “don’t give me this crap.

    I cannot believe that a nice old pensioner like David Williams would resort to such language. Must be some mistake. 🙂

  • Oldliberal 5th Oct ’14 – 9:50am
    “The Lib Dem triumph”

    This is a reference to the 1962 Triumph Herald.
    A car which comfortably seats two people, but you can squash in four. It will be used to drive the entire parliamentary party after May 2015.

  • Ruth Bright 5th Oct '14 - 4:28pm

    Is OMOV the same thing as the “anyone can walk in off the street and vote” thing that David Steel and chums got a teeny bit upset about in 1986? Just wondered.

    Re “the women question” perhaps the successful presidential candidate could begin a new era by taking down the extraordinary piece about Rennard on the party’s website outlining how helpful he has been in promoting the cause of women candidates!

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