Autumn Conference FCC Report

As well as setting out the agenda for this Autumn, we also discussed future venues for Spring 2020 and beyond. We know many of you are eager to book travel and accommodation as soon as possible but this is the one area where the committee observes strict secrecy until an official announcement can be made – when it has leaked out before we have found commercial companies block-booking accommodation in advance, putting the prices up for ordinary members. Staff are in the process of finalising arrangements to ensure favourable rates and the venues will be announced as soon as this is completed.

Returning to this Autumn, regular readers will be familiar with the process by now. In the first round, FCC considers the timeliness, accuracy, quality of drafting, overlap with other motions and so on to decide which motions can be debated. In the second and any subsequent rounds, timings are allocated to motions and motions culled in order to fit into the limited debating time available. Over the last couple of years, we have had more pressure on debating time as the 2017 General Election disrupted the Federal Policy Committee’s schedule for policy papers. We are now roughly back on track, which has left a little more time for member and local party motions. The selection process is name-blind, which means that the detail below on who submitted a motion was not available to committee members until after sections have been completed.

The full text of motions will be available once the agenda has been typeset for publication. If you are thinking of submitting an amendment or emergency motion to autumn conference, the deadline is 1pm on the 2nd of September – but please do consider making use of the drafting advice service, as many motions and amendments fall purely to to problems with how they are structured. The deadline for that is the 20th August.

Business and the Economy

Brexit Bonus (Bexhill and Battle) – not selected
Bringing Prosperity to the Regions (North West Region) – not selected
Business Tax Reform: Fair for business and fair for society (12 Party Members) – selected for debate
Corporate tax avoidance (Oldham) – received after deadline
More Sustainable and Responsible Business (13 Party Members) – not selected
Well Being First (30 Party Members) – not selected

Communities, Local Government and Housing

Greenbelt (Young Liberals) – not selected
Housing is a Human Right: Ending Homelessness (Southwark) – not selected
Permitted Developments (Young Liberals) – not selected
Reforming Housing Legislation: Scraping Section 21 ‘No Fault Evictions’ (13 Party Members) – selected for debate

Crime and Justice

Deprivation of citizenship (18 Party Members) – selected for debate
Turning Lives Around: Rehabilitation and Cutting Reoffending (Spokes’s Paper, 10 Party Members) – selected for debate
United Against Crime (Policing Policy Paper, Federal Policy Committee) – selected for debate
Youth Criminal Records (Young Liberals) – not selected

Culture, Media and Sport

Abolish the TV Licence Fee (11 Party Members) – not selected
Open Britain – Policies to support Tourism (Spokes’s Paper, 12 Party Members) – selected for debate
Save Our Music Venues (14 Party Members) – selected for debate

Education and Families

Education is for Everyone – investing in further education and learning throughout life (13 Party Members) – selected for debate
Fairer resourcing for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disability (Kingston Borough) – not selected

Energy and Environment

Action for Climate Change at a Local Level (ALDC) – not selected
Declaring a Climate Emergency and proposing the way forward (30 Party Members) – not selected
Tackling the Climate Crisis Together (Climate Change Policy Paper, Federal Policy Committee) – selected for debate
Environmental recovery (Bexhill & Battle) – not selected

Equalities and Civil Liberties

Continuing the fight for gender equality (11 Party Members) – selected for debate
Equal Marriage (10 Party Members) – selected for debate
Freedom of Conscience – Bodily Integrity of the Child (12 Party Members) – not selected
Statutory Fertility Pay (11 Party Members) – not selected

Europe

As with previous conferences, FCC has decided to allow a later deadline for Europe Motions and has not selected anything for debate yet.
Bollocks to Brexit (10 Party Members)
Brexit: Revising our policy in light of emerging events (17 Party Members)

Health and Social Care

Fully Funded Elderly Care (Newcastle)
Save the NHS by Stopping Brexit (Health Policy Paper, Federal Policy Committee) – selected for debate
Supporting Carers in the 21st century (20 Party Members) – not selected
Young Carers and Young Adult Carers (Young Liberals) – selected for debate
The Mental Health Covenant: Adolescent Mental Health (Barnet) – not selected

International and Defence

A Nuclear Weapons Free UK (85 Party Members) – not selected
Upholding the rules-based system of international relations, especially in the Middle East (25 Party Members) – not selected

Political and Constitutional Reform

A New Progressive Policy for British Citizens Abroad (West Midlands Region, Lib Dems Overseas, Europe, Hammersmith & Fulham) – initially selected, dropped in round 2 due to lack of time
Reform of Westminster Elections (Cambridge) – not selected
Regaining trust in politics (Richmond Yorks) – not selected
Making the franchise fairer: voting rights for immigrants and emigrants (12 Party Members) – not selected

Transport

Building railways fit for the 21st century (Spokes’s Paper, 10 Party Members) – selected for debate
Restructuring Transport (Reading) – not selected
Transport Oriented Development (Young Liberals) – not selected

Work, Social Security and Pensions

A fairer share for all (Social Security Policy Paper, Federal Policy Committee) – selected for debate
Protection of pensioners from business (Southwark) – not selected

Miscellaneous

Embracing the Sustainable Development Goals as the focus for LibDem policies across the board (16 Party Members) – not selected

Business Motions

Fairness of Opportunity in Electing Diverse MPs (10 Party Members) – received after deadline
Membership Subscriptions and Federal Levy (Federal Board) – selected for debate

Constitutional Amendments

Chair of Federal Board (11 Party Members) – not in order
Constitutional Amendments (Federal Board) – in order
Electorates for Selection (Eligible Voters) (LibDems in France) – not in order

* Zoe O'Connell is Vice Chair of Federal Conference Committee and Vice Chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats.

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29 Comments

  • Matt (Bristol) 10th Jul '19 - 2:35pm

    Can I ask how we would go about obtaining access to the text of motions not picked up for debate?

  • Zoe O'connell 10th Jul '19 - 4:51pm

    Matt – quickest route is to contact the authors of the motions you’re interested in.

    Geoffrey – We had a working group that reported back to Autumn 2018. Item F20, “Britain at the Heart of a Changing World (Britain in the World Policy Paper)”

  • Tony Greaves 10th Jul '19 - 5:02pm

    Whether or not anyone knew where motions came from (and I cannot believe that lots of members did not know about some of them rendering the anonymity rule ridiculous – which it is anyway – the kind of stupid politically correct stuff which infects this country nowadays) the resulting list of motions for debate is very heavily biased to establishment sources. As for the strict rules as to “how motions are structured” this is now so ludicrous that all we get are motions full of waffle and blather and about five times as long as necessary. It is not surprising that nowadays there are so few motions submitted by local parties and members – the whole process is no longer fit for purpose. This is a criticism of the nonsensical process we have, not of the FCC who try to make it work. But should the FCC not be taking a long hard look at it all?

  • Tony: I agree with you that many motions are too technocratic and waffley. Sadly they seem to be the vogue. And also, sadly, tend to be better written and contain fewer factual errors. Perhaps technocratic types are more fastidious about such things?

  • David Becket 10th Jul '19 - 5:18pm

    @ Tony Greaves
    Agreed. Reading the motions as laid out in conference papers is like watching paint dry, and I was watching the same paint 20 years ago. Let us have an improved process for the Spring Conference.

  • With regard to FCC doing some innovative stuff: I, personally, would love to. And I’d love to have a proper session on it at conference so members could tell us what they want.
    Sadly, between FPC, spokespeople assisted by FPC, and FB we get pelted with so many federal committee related things that adding more feels a bit cheeky…

  • Nonconformistradical 10th Jul '19 - 5:27pm

    @Jennie
    “Tony: I agree with you that many motions are too technocratic and waffley. Sadly they seem to be the vogue. ”

    But that might be because of the rules about structuring motions – why can they not be simplified?

  • Tony Greaves as usual speaking absolute sense.
    I’ve always thought there is a real arrogance in the party telling members ‘how to write a motion’. I’m sure the intentions are good, but if you think about it, it is incredibly patronising. Yes I know some motions are very poorly written, but the thing to do is to engage with the proposers and help them make it competent, while NOT squeezing the life of it. Policy motions don’t all have to read like civil service reports. Let’s have some variety, some brevity – and let the passion shine through them.
    I also think the anonymity rule is incredibly stupid and pointless. Our conference today is full of vibrant energetic young/new members. We need to shed the (small c) conservatism that we picked up during the Clegg years and start acting like a radical party again. I’m not just talking policy but the way we do things.
    Sorry Zoe this is not a criticism of you or the committee per se. You do a lot of work for no remuneration, but as you can see here there is a lot of frustration about how stuffy our conference agenda has become in recent years, in terms of its language and tone.

  • There’s a how to write a motions page on the party website which a lot of us link people to when the drafting advice is “look this really is not submissible” – is this what people are referring to when they say “strict rules”?

    Because that’s not rules so much as “this is what we expect it to look like, you can deviate from this if you want, but use it as guidelines or a template if you’re unsure”.

    Saying there are strict rules for structure on conference motions is like saying there are strict rules for structure on poetry. There ARE, sort of, if you want to call the party’s advice “rules”, but once you’re good enough you don’t need to obey the advice you’re given to be successful.

  • The anonymity rule was brought in at the behest of people who thought that MPs were getting favourable treatment. They weren’t, and still aren’t, at least not with me.

    As for engaging with people and helping them to rewrite, we do this, both with the drafting advice service prior to submission and with feedback and assistance offered for resubmission after rejection, if rejection happens.

    We can, however, only offer advice. We can’t make people take it.

  • Tony is correct. They’re not motions, they are long winded undergraduate essays.

  • Alisdair McGregor 10th Jul '19 - 7:25pm

    It’s worth saying that FCC is by no means a monolithic entity, and by-and-large the people who you end up arguing with in the comments to articles like this are the ones who are mostly on the same side of the internal arguments as you are.

    Just bear in mind that the people who are bringing you these reports are the ones who are most dedicated to putting as much transparency as possible into the process.

  • Because FCC don’t publish rejected motions – to save the authors and the party from public embarrassment – most people don’t appreciate just how badly written some of the motions are.

    There have been motions rejected because they don’t actually create any policy (they’re just a list of facts, without any proposals to do anything), motions rejected because they’re ridiculously illiberal, or motions that call for things that are utterly vague (I understand that “we should fix this” was proposed once, literally in those words).

    As long as the motion states explanatory facts clearly, explains the principles it adopts, explains what it wants to do, and the facts are actually true, the principles are actually liberal and the actions are actually possible, then it will do much better than the average motion.

  • As was demonstrated with painful regularity during the coalition, LibDems are very good on the detail of policy but poor at seeing, let alone selling,the political big picture.

    Conference debates should be about painting a big political offer for people outside the conference hall, not deciding the minutiae of policy detail that we’ll likely never get the chance to implement. As a younger delegate I used to keep all the lengthy turgid policy papers I picked up at conference, but for years now I have been binning the lot as essentially worthless.

  • Alisdair McGregor 11th Jul '19 - 8:01am

    Ian: If you are just going to bin all the conference paperwork, please consider switching to the Green Pack, which has minimal actual paper, and using a tablet or smartphone to access the rest of the material in digital formats.

  • Tony Greaves, I think it’s also the mechanism of our debates that needs fixing, not just the quality of the motions.

    Our Conference debates are not debates but often a series of monologues with little scope for rigorous intellectual challenging of proposals because in the whole, the proposers of an idea (or an amendment to an idea) are constrainted in the position they speak in the “debate”. There is absolutely no give or take in this and they have no control over the other general contributions from the floor that might be in their favour. I’m not not proposing that they should have that control, but those two factors together mean that there is limited opportunity to rebut arguments (whether fallacious or wholly accurate) made by opponents of their idea.

    This is just rubbish. A proper “debate” would still allow the usual timed speeches/interventions from the floor (selected by FCC as now) but would give a far greater flexibility to the main protagonists who should, I content, remain on the stage throughout. They would be able to reserve sufficient time to answer specific points made by others and in a timely fashion in the debate rather than having to wait for the Summator to deal with it right at the very end of the debate. Their overall speaking time can still be strictly controlled. It’s not rocket science to control the accumulated time of each individual.

    This is what we need, I think, if we’re to have “debates” and better policies.

  • Leekliberal 12th Jul '19 - 8:54am

    Was the motion on a nuclear weapons free Britain not selected for debate because of poor phrasing or more likely because the ‘powers that be’ do not wish it to be discussed?

  • Alisdair McGregor 12th Jul '19 - 12:02pm

    Leekliberal: 100% Poor phrasing. FCC will select motions on controversial topics *gladly*, but we won’t accept badly drafted motions.

    We want Conference to have some meat to it; an Agenda full of Motherhood and Apple Pie neither makes for an interesting debate, an interesting conference, nor on a commercial level does it drive attendance.

    But we’re not going to put awfully written, badly thought out motions on the Agenda. That makes Conference (& by extension the party) look bad.

  • Ian, I do agree with your first paragraph: ” LibDems are very good on the detail of policy but poor at seeing, let alone selling,the political big picture.” And with the second, while endorsing the suggestion from Alisdair that digital is good: as with the LDV articles, I copy and paste and edit, then print, and then annotate with pencil, so I don’t use much paper. (Commercial white envelopes for A4 once folded, are good.)

    So “good on detail but poor at seeing, let alone selling, the political big picture” is an important and valid criticism, IMO, of much of what appears for the benefit of supporters like me — lifelong supporters who have perhaps only in the last few years realised how badly wrong things have been going (largely thanks to FPTP), and now how urgent the need for radical change on several fronts.

    Our having good policies will only be valuable if we get elected, and to do that the first requirement is the attention and then the approval of literally millions whose votes do not depend on minutiae but on your “political big picture”. Our party (except for the last few months) gets little exposure in the Media, and that means that for our prosperity our conferences are especially important occasions — almost the only time we get looked at by the voters we haven’t yet got.

  • I agree with Tony Greaves and others. The process simply isn’t fit for purpose.

    Just to restate the obvious about the context: Labour has fallen into full civil war, the Tories are splitting into two, have put their faith in unicorns and become hostage to the far right. They will not long survive contact with reality.

    In all the long years that Liberals have dreamed of returning as a party of government there has never been such an opening – not even close.

    And yet … Lib Dem support still owes more to ‘none-of-the-above’ than any vision of a better future for the party hasn’t articulated any – just a mass of well-intentioned but disjointed detail. And that tracks back to the flawed design of the party’s policy process.

    We live in a representative democracy so the people who MUST lead are the MPs, the party leader and various spokespeople. As politicians, the key skill they require is the ability to simultaneously listen and lead, to articulate a vision and be practical, to be straight but cunning.

    Committees can do none of these things for they embody a top-down, process-heavy and slow approach; over 30 years’ experience tells us this simply doesn’t work. So why do we still do it this way? Conformity to tradition is no excuse (not to mention conflicting with the preamble to the constitution).

    Moreover, in opposition our elected politicians are little more than spokespeople for others’ policies and so don’t get the experience they need to survive in a rough world. In government, the ponderous policy making process breaks down completely and so we get naïve and inexperienced ministers falling into every trap set for them.

    It would be better by far to treat them like football managers – give freedom to develop their talents but hold them to account and summarily depose them the moment they lose the plot and/or go off piste. Very few politicians know when they have outlived their usefulness, so they have to be pushed; the party is NOT a vehicle for anyone’s personal ambition.

  • “We must take power away from the members and give it to the MPs” is certainly an unusual argument to be put forth by a liberal…

  • Andy Hinton 12th Jul '19 - 9:33pm

    There have, for years, been voices in the Lib Dems decrying our “slow, bureacratic, process-heavy” committee-driven structure, and saying that if only the party could throw off the dead hand of these democratic encumberances, we could seize the public imagination with a bit of bold, big picture, visionary leadership.

    And then in the last few years, there was a steady stream of people outside of our party, who had decided that whilst the Lib Dems were obviously an embarrassing mess who couldn’t possibly be the answer, nonetheless what Britain needed was a New Centrist Party, with An Exciting New Centrist Vision! And lo, they were founded. Admittedly, many of them (the Renews, the Advances, the Volts) face an uphill struggle in terms of cut-through and being seen as relevant, so you can argue that they are an unfair comparison.

    But I don’t think you can argue that with Change UK. They had media cut-through, they had fairly well known public figures, they were free from the kind of cumbersome federal structure that the Lib Dems had. In the end, they fizzled and died, because it turns out that MPs don’t necessarily have all the answers, and that even when there are only 11 of you, there will be differences and policy positions will still have to be thrashed out, and before you know it, you’re proposing such exciting New Visions For The Country as a 1p charge for automated tills.

    Meanwhile, thanks to their freedom from all that boring back-room process stuff, they did next to no vetting of candidates (several of whom defected during the Euros) and suffered a death of a thousand blows to their credibility from blunder after blunder.

    Is it perhaps time for the anti-committee voices to admit that maybe there is something that the Lib Dems are doing right, and the test-cases that look more like what they have been advocating since time began are… not overwhelmingly encouraging?

  • Jennie,
    I did NOT say we should take power away from the people despite your putting it in quotes as if I had.
    You seem to imagine that leadership necessarily follows a Stalinist model. It can, but not for liberals. For us it should be about enabling and that is very different.
    Andrew Hickey is quite right to say MPs have too much power because it’s the wrong sort, exercised opaquely in committees and in practice therefore unaccountable. Bringing this out into the open would show up who is small c conservative. Combine that with accountability and we would have a far more transparent system, one that would respond far more to members’ concerns – and that would empower.

  • Neil Sandison 14th Jul '19 - 3:03pm

    Looks like a very interesting conference with some interesting topics for debate .How can we make it more interactive like Jo Swinson has suggested with a good on -line presence
    and e debate from members who cannot for either financial or personal commitments attend .

  • I’m baffled by Ian’s comments: “As was demonstrated with painful regularity during the coalition, LibDems are very good on the detail of policy but poor at seeing, let alone selling,the political big picture.”

    I can think of several policy motions and debates in which the detail was pretty poor and badly constructed. I can think of one policy paper recently which was so devoid of any detail beyond a shallow mantra that it’s laughable.

    “Conference debates should be about painting a big political offer for people outside the conference hall, not deciding the minutiae of policy detail that we’ll likely never get the chance to implement.”

    But when we suddenly find ourselves in government or in coalition but with empty policies with insufficient detail actually to translate into meaningful legislation, then what do we do?

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