Autumn Conference is cancelled

This afternoon, Federal Board met to discuss a recommendation from Federal Conference Committee that our  Autumn Conference should be cancelled. It was due to take place in Brighton from 17-20 September. The sad death of the Queen, and her funeral on 19th September, on the penultimate day, meant that  FCC had to think about what to do. They spent a lot of time looking at all sorts of options, working with party staff.

Both Federal Board and Federal Conference Committee are made up of people who love going to Conference. It’s one of the great loves of my life. There is nothing like the joy of being amongst the Lib Dem family. It’s not something I would take away from anyone lightly. And that is exactly the same for everyone else involved in the decision.

At the heart of our discussions was the impact on members, emotional and financial and the Conference Access Fund will be pressed into operation to help those with unrefundable costs. The more donations it gets, the more people it can help. Had I been going, I’d have been going out for dinner and drinking in the bar, so I will certainly be donating some of that money that I would have spent anyway to help others.

Nick Da Costa, the Chair of FCC, sent this email to members registered for Conference earlier. The text is below.

Our autumn conference is the high point of my year. I’ve missed it deeply over the past three years and have been looking forward to it for months.

It’s a chance to see so many friends and colleagues, debate ideas, and feel excited about the future. It’s also a really important part of our party’s democratic process – I’m proud to belong to a party where members decide our policy.

As Chair of our Federal Conference Committee, I’ve seen first hand the thousands of hours that our members, volunteers and staff team have already given towards making it a success.

The sad news of the last few days has touched our nation deeply. And we now know that the Queen’s funeral will take place on the Monday of our Conference.

After very careful consideration – and taking soundings from as many people as we can – the Conference Committee and Federal Board have together regretfully decided to cancel our autumn conference and postpone major debates until Spring.

I know that this is hugely disappointing for many of us, and so I wanted to explain carefully how we came to this decision, what options we considered, and what we are going to do to help you practically with hotels and other bookings.

Continuing with our planned Conference

s a major political party, we want and need to show our respect to the Queen and the period of national mourning. There is no way we would hold an event during the Funeral. This is in line with the conclusion other major organisations have made about their scheduled events.

Our Conference was originally scheduled to end Tuesday 20th, the day after the Queen’s Funeral. We looked at keeping the final day unchanged. But asking members to travel to Brighton for one day was not feasible, and would have left little room for either debate or the important social aspects of Conference.

This would have run our Conference from Tuesday to Thursday. While this would have given us more time together, we were extremely worried about the additional cost for members in extending and rescheduling hotel bookings.

We were also concerned about important debates and decisions being made at the conference with many of our members unable to attend at the last minute.

This would involve postponing our Conference until later in October. This would have placed significant additional costs on our members, in addition to challenges with regards to volunteer and staff resources and additional costs for the party, and challenges with regards to venue and supplier availability.

Moving our Conference online

We looked at this carefully, but can’t realistically make this work in practice with such a short notice period. It also doesn’t give us the thing we’ve been missing so much since the pandemic: a chance to spend time with each other.

Cancelling our Conference and postponing debates until Spring

With a heavy heart, we think this is the least bad option. It means that most of our members can recoup at least some of their costs, and does not ask people to spend even more money than they have already.

We are reviewing options around the Spring Conference in order to allow more items on the agenda and ensure that crucial debates can be considered properly and democratically.

Over the past 48 hours I have listened to hundreds of members about their personal situations and views about how to proceed.

The crucial thing for many people has been getting refunds on travel and hotels, with deadlines varying considerably between different accommodation.

We’ve found that many hotels, AirBnB’s and B&Bs are prepared to be more flexible with our members than in their stated terms and conditions, given the period of national mourning.

We are also in discussions with Southern Rail and National Express about refunds for non-refundable tickets, and will let you know as soon as possible whether we’ve been successful in persuading them to make an exception on refunds given the period of national mourning.

More widely, if you have contacted your accommodation provider and are having trouble getting a refund, then please contact us here and we will do our very best to help.

In terms of registrations, we are of course happy to offer a full refund, or count these as a credit towards a future conference and we will be contacting all those registered for the conference with further details shortly.

We have a small access fund for conference delegates experiencing financial hardship. If you would like more detail on that, either to request funds or to donate, then you can do that here.</a

Conference is a major part of our budget and we stand to lose hundreds of thousands of pounds through this cancellation in lost income. (Event insurance policies do not cover the death of a Monarch.)

At this point many of our supplier contracts are unavoidable.

This means that our party will take a substantial financial hit as a result of cancelling the conference. Our finances are already very stretched and so coping with this will not be easy.

I hope this explanation is useful and gives you a sense of how difficult this decision has been to make. There are no good options; we have chosen what I hope is the least bad once taken in the round.

At this point in a cost of living crisis, we felt it would be impossible and undemocratic to ask our members to spend more to attend our Conference.

Please do get in touch if we can help you in conversations with your accommodation or train company.

The Federal Conference Committee will be meeting in the coming weeks to consider what realistic options exist to enable party members to engage with our party’s democratic processes over the coming months, and will let you know about any decisions as soon as we can. And of course our parliamentarians and elected representatives will continue to hold this government to account and fight for a fairer, safer, greener and more prosperous country.

Finally, I want to say a huge thanks to the volunteer and staff conference teams, who have spent the last few days working above and beyond. They put their heart and soul into making our conference a great experience, and this decision to cancel is particularly hard on them.

I know that there are very strong feelings on this on both sides. It’s really important to understand the impact of your words on others and we won’t be publishing comments that are rude and insulting.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in News and Op-eds.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Sep '22 - 12:05am

    A marvellous article, supportive and responsive approach from colleagues, such as Caron, Nick.

    Nothing other than such as this, was acceptable. A Head of State a fraction as popular is still the loss to a nation, deserves respect and mourning. One as regarded and correctly so, as ours, apolitical , as ours was and is and shall be, must surely deserve politics to be set aside.

    Parties like ours, moderate yet progressive, traditional, yet radical, can reveal their character at such moments. The tributes to our much loved monarch from our party, as with the reaction here, set the party well on course for the respect it deserves because of the respect it reveals.

    Those who are very well off financially ought to donate to the alluded funds, to help members worse off with little money, ongoing.

    Another reflection, of character.

  • The right thing to do.

  • I disagree, I can see no disrespect in Democracy.

  • David Warren 11th Sep '22 - 11:07am

    There were some very important debates on the agenda for the conference and it is important that they are not lost.

    I hope the FCC take steps to ensure these take place at the Spring conference in York next year.

  • Good point David.
    Would it be possible to either extend the Spring Conference by one day, or even have a day of online Conference in the week leading up to it.

  • David Garlick 11th Sep '22 - 12:00pm

    Right decision. Queen Elizabeth deserves our respect as does King Charles III.
    Politically the attacks from those who oppose us would have been long, loud and unrelenting. We would have lost a number of potential supporters.

  • Duncan Brack 11th Sep '22 - 12:13pm

    Steve – FCC will be looking at the option of extending the spring conference as soon as possible; we’ve asked HQ staff to liaise with the Barbican Centre in York to explore availability.

  • David Evans 11th Sep '22 - 1:37pm

    I have just sent a message to Nick da Costa. Here it is:-

    Dear Nick,

    I’m very sad to have to tell you but your committee’s choice will just give Elizabeth Truss a free pass for what we could make the most disastrous decision she will ever make – the decision to prefer super profits for Energy companies over long term cost for ordinary consumers. In six months’ time the whole furore will have died down. Labour will have spoken on it, claimed all our ideas as their own and the impression that most people have – that the Liberal Democrats have nothing it say on the big issues that affect them personally – will once again have been reinforced.

    We have to get noticed and to do this we have to think outside the box and not just take the easy decision that the committee has made that they can’t think of a better way to do things. There is good long term Lib Dem solution to funding the Energy Cap we can adopt that will differentiate us from both the big parties and put us on the side of 90% of the British people. But now we won’t have the chance to discuss it. Spring will be way too late.

    Please think again and organise an emergency conference.

    Our party and most importantly our country needs it.

  • Peter Hirst 11th Sep '22 - 2:15pm

    Perhaps we could hold a one day conference somewhere central during the autumn as a means to debate some important issues and meet up.

  • David – please don’t think this was an ‘easy decision’. FCC and Federal Board both debated it, via WhatsApp and in online meetings, for hours on Friday and Saturday. We hate the idea of cancelling the conference as much as you do, but both committees reached the same conclusion – that it was a horrible choice, but all other options available to us were worse.

    If we had gone ahead with the conference on the Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday there is zero chance we would get any coverage for it – indeed, the BBC had already told us they were pulling out their crews to cover the funeral – so no one would have known what we were talking about anyway. HQ staff are discussing options for Ed giving a speech at some point in the autumn to deliver the kind of ideas he would have done at conference.

    Peter – Nick’s email explains that we looked at the idea of holding a shorter conference in the autumn. As he said, ‘This would involve postponing our Conference until later in October. We have been unable to find suitable available venues, and were also worried about the additional costs for both members and the party of additional bookings.’

  • John Lib Dem 11th Sep '22 - 4:00pm

    The most obvious solution would have been to cancel only the Sunday of conference – either in whole or in part. Conference could have been suspended during the funeral, with part of the rest of the day put aside to pay tribute to the Queen. It’s strange that the Federal Conference Committee don’t appear to have considered this option at all.

  • John Lib Dem 11th Sep '22 - 4:04pm

    * Got the day wrong. The Monday rather than the Sunday, obviously.

  • Caron,

    Are you saying that if my hotel will not refund the cost of staying there, that the Conference Access Fund will pay me what I have lost? Is there not normally a cap on how much the Access Fund will pay per night? If so, has this been abolished? Will the fund pay out to those who claim early and nothing to those who claim later is something else going to happen? If something else please can you say what it will be?

  • Duncan Brack 11th Sep '22 - 5:40pm

    John – we did consider that. We felt that carrying on with normal conference business was inappropriate during the last two days before the funeral, during the period of national mourning. And no one would have paid any attention to what we were saying anyway (see my answer to David above). For these reasons the party let people know on Friday, via an email from Mike Dixon, that ‘we will definitely not be holding our Conference before or on the day of the funeral’. We certainly considered holding conference only on the Tuesday; that’s covered in Nick’s email.

  • Steve Trevethan 11th Sep '22 - 6:11pm

    Why do we use traditions to block democracy?
    Might it show more respect for our late Queen, and what she worked for, so energetically, and for so many years, to continue with the democratic activities upon which her and our nation is based and now needs so much?

  • Peter Davies 12th Sep '22 - 7:15am

    Duncan Brack: “no one would have paid any attention to what we were saying anyway”
    I think this slightly maligns the leadership.

  • Observations : The decision was the only possible one given the national mood. The reaction of some who place our own internal processes over wider events suggests self obsession and a lack of broader perspective. What would the Man on the Clapham Omnibus make of all this ?
    If our functioning as a political party is dependent on all meeting up by the seaside, hanging out in bars with this surrogate family we have acquired, then perhaps we need to have a quiet word with ourselves.

  • Does cancellation mean our membership fees will have to be used to cover hotel cancellations etc.
    We are too quick to react in this negative fashion, like the Football Association and look how ridiculous they now appear. I am sure the Queen would not have wanted a total cancellation, it resembles the reaction to COVID 19, not holding a leadership election, until the outcry was so strong that approach had to be changed.

  • Mick Taylor 12th Sep '22 - 9:08am

    Duncan is the second person to tell me that I received an email from Mike Dixon. Despite being a member of 58 years standing and a conference delegate, I have yet to receive any email about the cancellation of the conference from Mike Dixon or anyone else. If my sister had not forwarded an email to me, I would still, officially, be unaware of this decision.
    I profoundly disagree with the decision. It would have been far more appropriate – for those monarchists in the party – to have carried on and had a break for the funeral itself and an opportunity for delegates to pay tributes if they wanted to. Instead, we have no opportunity to meet and debate vital issues of policy and strategy when we have been unable to meet in person for 2 years. Quite apart from anything else, this decision means that money we might have spent on campaigning and the next general election will instead be spent on the huge losses incurred by this cancellation and many people who had booked and paid for trains, planes and hotels will have to stand the loss. Insurance policies don’t cover death of monarch or other acts of God.
    A completely incorrect decision for a political party, which will cost us dearly.

  • Chris Cory hits the nail on the head. Quite right, Mr Cory.

  • Is anyone going regardless? Having booked the hotel, paid the deposit and taken the time off work, it would be nice to have a weekend in Brighton (not necessarily the whole period) for a ‘non-conference’ and meet informally with other Lib Dems?

  • David Bertram 12th Sep '22 - 10:57am

    What Chris Cory said.

  • Neil James Sandison 12th Sep '22 - 12:00pm

    Chris Cory is right as someone who helped organize Platinum Jubilee Events for my Council and community i know the public would not understand our holding a conference in a period of national mourning . extending the spring conference or on -line debates is an option we should consider for later in the year or the spring .

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Sep '22 - 1:46pm

    As with David Raw, another thumbs up, Chris Cory.

    And it is obvious that a political party, any, is of no interest during such occasions.

    I applaud the diligence of the due process here by those who decided this.

  • Jason Connor 12th Sep '22 - 3:36pm

    Well said Chris, you encapsulate my thoughts exactly and this is totally the right decision by the Party. Media commentators have also been supporting the party for making a selfless decision. The reaction to Covid 19 was the right one and most of us who took precautions including vaccines did not suffer the symptoms. I am appalled at the disparaging divisive comment above pitting people who support constitutional monarchy against those who don’t.

  • As a Yorkshireman who has lived in Scotland now for twenty years, who first joined and was employed by the Liberal Party over sixty years ago, who is neither a monarchist or a nationalist, but who does plead guilty to having rather lefty radical democratic Liberal tendencies, I simply wish to say this :

    ‘Well done Scotland, a great example of good manners and good judgement yesterday and today’.

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