Caron’s guide to the craziness of Conference – updated for Bournemouth 2017

Federal Conference is probably the best fun that you will ever have in your life. You will thoroughly enjoy every exhausting moment. If you’re new, it can be a bit overwhelming until you get used to the sensory overload. I had a long break from going to them and when I returned, in 2011, I spent the first day wandering round in a state of wide-eyed amazement,  like a child in a toy shop.

So, with that in mind, I thought I’d throw together a fairly random list of tips and hints for getting the best out of the annual cornucopia of Liberal Democracy. If you have any other Conference survival tips, let me know.

1. Plan your days

The Conference day starts with breakfast fringes as early as 7 and goes on until the small hours. There’s a comprehensive training programme alongside the debates in the hall. There are spokespeople Q & As. There are competing fringe choices to be made, even though the overall selection has reduced in recent years.  You can guarantee that you will never be bored and that several things you want to see will be on at the same time. If you want to go to the big fringe events with Vince or other VIPs, then you need to get there early.

Be aware as well that you can eat quite well for free by choosing the right fringe meetings – look for the refreshments symbol in the directory. I might add, because I wouldn’t be doing my job as editor properly if I didn’t shamelessly plug our own events, that you will get some lovely grub at the Lib Dem Voice meetings. There’s one on Saturday night on adult education with Vince, chaired by our Mary Reid at 8:15 in the Purbeck Suite at the Marriott. On Sunday lunchtime, the Alliance Party’s David Ford and others in Bayview 2 at the BIC at 1pm to discuss the effects of Brexit on Ireland and Gibraltar.

Believe me, it’s much easier if you sort out your diary in advance. The best laid plans will always be subject to a better offer or meeting someone you haven’t seen for years randomly in a corridor, but it’s best to at least try to get some order into the proceedings. The Conference App is a real help for this. You can download it from whichever App store you use (search for Lib Dem Conf) on your phone. It allows you to add events to your schedule and is pretty flexible. 

2. Make time to do the Exhibition properly

Organisations pay the party a small fortune to have a stall in the exhibition. It’s therefore only polite for us all to take time to visit their stalls. But it’s not just about manners. They are actually really interesting. You have a mix of companies trying to sell you things, voluntary organisations wanting to tell you things and book stalls that are just far too tempting. It’s a good opportunity to sign up for some of the many Party groups – the Humanists and Secularists, or ALDC, or Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform to name but a few. It’s your chance also to sign up for things like Liberator or the Journal of Liberal History.

If you’re going to do it properly, it’ll take you a while, probably a good couple of hours, but it’s really worth it. You learn loads, meet lovely people and pick up some good freebies.

4. To Glee or not to Glee?

You either love or hate The Glee Club, the raucous end of Conference singathon. I’m firmly in the love it camp. Singing the traditional, funny or downright rude songs that make up the Liberator Song Book is a great way to end Conference on a high. There are regular guest appearances by various parliamentarians. It’s a tradition that new MPs do a turn and there are four of them this year. The day after the event a couple of years ago, there was a very funny interview with Alistair Carmichael on the World at One where Martha Kearney played a recording of us singing “The 12 days of Coalition. He talked his way out of it admirably. I thoroughly recommend that you give this madness a go. It is unique and nobody laughs at ourselves like we do.

Spare a thought for poor Jennie Rigg, though. She has been co-presenting the event for the last two Conferences and does an amazing job. However, she is also a member of the Federal Conference Committee and has been put on chairing duty at 9am the following morning.

5. Don’t assume you’ll bump into your friends by accident

There have been conferences where some of my best friends were there and I never saw them. Conference is a big place. If you want to make sure you catch up with people, organise in advance.

If you’re there on your own for the first time, we are a pretty friendly bunch, so don’t be shy. Speak to the person next to you in the coffee queue whether it’s a parliamentarian or another activist.

6. Try and get out and see some of Bournemouth

I had never actually been to Bournemouth until two years ago and it quickly became my favourite Conference venue. I just fell in love with the place. We had some gorgeous weather.  I skived off a policy session to go to the beach and eat ice cream with my friends two years ago and suffered zero guilt.

I had also been worried when people talked about this massive hill from the Conference Centre to the Conference Hotel. Utter nonsense. It’s barely a slope. I was 7 stone heavier then and managed it easily.

By far the best place to hang out in Bournemouth for me is the Goat and Tricycle pub. A wide variety of fabulous beer, delicious food and a lovely courtyard make it a great place to relax. This article from Olive magazine last April has some great restaurant suggestions. I fancy the fish and chip place.



7. Come and say hello

Mary Reid, Joe Otten, Chris White and I will be there. Come and have a chat and tell us what you’d like to see on the site.

I also intend to make use of Facebook Live to chat to people about their impressions of Conference so if you want to take part in that, email me at [email protected]

Have a fantastic conference and enjoy your stay in Bournemouth.

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

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  • Yeah, I’m considering the radical solution of Not Drinking at Glee.

    I know, I know, that won’t stop me losing my voice.

    But still, people who would usually buy me a drink might want to consider buying one for S Brown, J Bridges or J Hemming instead.

  • “Federal Conference is probably the best fun that you will ever have in your life. ”
    I weep for those for whom this is true.

    “Organisations pay the party a small fortune to have a stall in the exhibition.”
    Commercial organisations used to. In those now much-reviled days when we exercised some power (Clegg is steadily becoming the next Blair to the true beLIBers) . l certainly hope the Party voluntary groups that now comprise the Exhibition are not charged a small fortune.

    “By far the best place to hang out in Bournemouth is the Goat and Tricycle pub.”

  • “Federal Conference is probably the best fun that you will ever have in your life”.

    Blimey, some people certainly know how to live.

  • Bernard Aris 14th Sep '17 - 11:19am

    The Liberals and LibDems should be d*** proud of their Glee Club tradition; no Dutch political parties have them. But then again, most Spring and Autumn Conferences of Dutch parties take place on one day, most often a Saturday, from 10 to around 18 o’clock. When we have two-day conferences, it often is Friday night and Saturday, with a disco or pub session late on Friday.
    Another thing is something to be proud of as well: the ability to laugh at yourselves, and to poke good-humoured fun at your leading members. Socialist and Left-wing parties ar awfull at having good-humoured fun (there is often a big sting somewhere to knive a prominent or dissident fellow member); right wing parties take their leaders and governments much to seriously to allow any fun-poking; and parties like Geert Wilders’ PVV have only one member (Wilders), and ex-colleagues from his VVD days (up to 2004) say he is an awful bad singer, so he better keeps quiet…
    We at D66 also are famous among political journalists for our sense of humour and poking-fun-at-ourselves; but I think the LibDems are unique in the world in showing it off so loudly and regularly as happens at the Glee Club.

    And there are still technology-akward seniors like me (61) who have trouble installing apps on their mobile Phone (which also is a blessing; you’re not continually glued to the access screen to see if you’ve missed something).
    If that isn’t poking fun at youselve, what is…

  • OnceALibDem 14th Sep '17 - 4:03pm

    “Federal Conference is probably the best fun that you will ever have in your life.”

    Weird – and slightly cult like 🙂 Having been to many conferences I wouldn’t even rank it as the most fun I had in the Lib Dems!

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 14th Sep '17 - 7:50pm

    My word, Jennie. Is that not the sledgehammer to crack a nut option?

    I always said that one alcohol free night at Conference was a good idea. Something I’ve aspired to but never quite managed. Apart from when I was pregnant.

  • Caron: I’ve put on about 3 stone of Mary’s amazing home cooking over the last few days so laying off the booze is probably sensible for waistline too.

    David (not Raw): save your tears, lad. Just because it’s not your idea of fun doesn’t mean that those who enjoy it are somehow missing out. We’re all for freedom from conformity in this party, right?

  • Jennie, I do enjoy it. But the most fun you’ll ever have? Not so much.

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