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?

Faced with 3 to 5 things I should do in a single slot, I fantasize about a conference-goer having a clutch of avatars, which could attend all the favoured activities and report back the most relevant things about each….   Not yet, but it makes me think that the conference experience offers a training experience outside the training programme. Councillors and others who serve the public are all too often called to conflicting events. Prioritising where they go and how events they can’t go to are covered is an essential skill.

Conference makes policy, is a place to learn things and meet people and to be inspired.  A really worthwhile experience.

 

* Ian joined the Liberal Democrats (then the SLD) in 1989 and has campaigned and attended conferences since 1994. He was Liberal Democrat candidate for Romford in 2015 and 2017 and for Havering and Redbridge in 2016.

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