Author Archives: Ian Sanderson

Back to Conference

Tomorrow, Liberal Democrats will be gathering at Bournemouth for the Autumn Conference. This is the main conference, traditionally held during the parliamentary recess, as opposed to the shorter Spring Conference and the two conferences held per year in each Region/Nation.

If you watch the conference on BBC Parliament you will see the proceedings in the main hall – the debates, the set piece speeches and perhaps the procedural bits.  Sometimes news or politics programmes will carry excerpts from the rally or fringe meetings.

But this doesn’t give the members’ full experience of conference, which also includes the exhibition, training sessions (held during the main conference hours), fringe meetings (held outside main conference hours), lots of other meetings formal and informal and chance encounters. These meetings and encounters can happen just because so many Liberal Democrats are together in one place. 

Some of this requires further explanation. The stands in the exhibition may be from national party bodies, AOs and SAOs, outside organisations who see themselves as being likely to share interests with Liberal Democrat members, suppliers, the town hosting the next conference and sometimes organisations who (ahem) feel that their image needs improving within the Liberal Democratss. (AOs and SAOs are official Liberal Democrat bodies who cater for particular cohorts of members, including those from professions, and those who wish to emphasise some aspect of policy.)  People who have stands in the exhibition are also those who are likely to hold fringe meetings, or even sponsor them. Fringe meetings are at breakfast time, lunch time and until quite late into the evening (in 3 slots).

All this results in Choice: what am I interested in? What would my local party want me to go to? What debates are so vital that I should attend and vote? What speeches (including the Rally) would inspire me? What about the exhibition? I need to go around it and help on a stand. And more practical issues: how and when will I eat? Which fringe meetings that I would love to go to will be so oversubscribed that I would have to stand, or not get in at all? Perhaps I would enjoy the Quiz or the Glee Club, but would they make me too tired in the morning?

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Let this be the last first past the post election in London Boroughs

On 3rd May all the Borough Council seats in Greater London are up for election, which happens every four years. The Borough I live in is typical and has 18 3-member wards. Each voter votes by putting up to 3 Xs on the ballot paper. In each of these wards the top three candidates in terms of Xs on the ballot win. Hence F3PTP rather than FPTP (First Past The Post).

So what’s wrong with that? Five national parties are contesting the borough election, plus around four parties with Residents’ Association in their name, who are active in their own patches. Usually, a party sees its whole slate of three elected, but sometimes one candidate impacts more on the electorate, positively or negatively, and the result is a ‘split ward’. But I have seen nine candidates from three parties having each around 30% of the vote, but only one party gets the councillor seats. Natural justice suggests that they should have had one councillor each. With three councillors of one party, we KNOW that they were NOT the first choice of 70% of the electorate; at worst, the three victors could be the LEAST favoured candidates of 70% of the voters.

It gets worse. Some parties are so entrenched in certain seats that the others have given up. A friend of mine expressed it as ’If you put up a feather duster for XXXX party in YYYY ward, it would get elected.’ Two national parties contest all 54 seats, but the presence of the parents, spouses and children of local party worthies on the ballot papers gives a strong hint of what they think. The voters in such wards show what they think by not turning up to vote for the council, which, more than any other body, delivers government services to them.

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