Caron’s guide to the Craziness of Conference – updated for Bournemouth 2023

In less than 5 days, after a gruelling 6:40 am flight, I hope to be in beautiful Bournemouth, my favourite Autumn Conference venue. We last met there in 2019. It was fantastic to see my friends in York in March, but Autumn Conference has the length and girth to satisfy even the most ardent activist.

I have revamped my Guide to the Craziness of Conference for this year. Enjoy. And if you have any questions, ask away in the comments.

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.

If you have any questions, there are lots of places to get answers. There’s Federal Conference Committee helpdesk in the Bournemouth International Centre. And if they can’t help, ask someone on one of the party organisation stalls in the exhibition – if they don’t know the answer, they’ll probably be able to point you in the right direction.

1. Plan your days

The Conference day has a huge variety of things to do. As well as the debates in the hall,  there’s a comprehensive training programme and a massive fringe.  There are spokespeople Q & As. There are competing fringe choices to be made.  You can guarantee that you will never be bored and that several things you want to see will be on at the same time.  Spend some time now poring over the Agenda and Directory to work out what you don’t want to miss.

Some events aren’t in there because they aren’t official conference meetings.  Layla Moran is being interviewed by Iain Dale and Jacqui Smith for their hilarious For the Many podcast. Who knows, they might even say something nice about the Lib Dems! If you want to join us, buy your ticket here.

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.

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 on your phone (search for Lib Dem Conf). Fully updated now for Bournemouth, it allows you to add events to your schedule and has all the papers loaded on to it.

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 Lib Dem Disability Association, the Young Liberals, or ALDC, or the Lib Dem Campaign for Racial Equality  or LGBT+ Lib Dems or Lib Dem Women 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. Get it right, and you won’t need to buy a pen again all year. I bought a Young Liberals trans rights t-shirt in York this year and am particularly grateful to them for stocking them in a wide range of sizes.

Also check out the Lib Dem Image stall for generic party branded merchandise and books.

I find that I’m not used to carrying cash these days. While some stalls will have card readers, it’s worth making sure you have some cash with you.

3. 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. The day after the event one day during the Coalition years, 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. You will need to buy your songbook from the Liberator stall. They do sometimes have some on the door of the event, but it’s not guaranteed.

4. 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. I have met some long-standing friends that way.

5. LDV at Conference

We don’t have a fringe this time but Charley Hasted, Paul Walter and I will be around. Come and say hello!  And do email us with any Conference stories on [email protected].

6. Fancy speaking?

The Agenda has details of everything that’s going on and the text of the motions.  Conference Extra  (which will be published later this week) has last minute changes, amendments and questions to Committees. You need to submit a speaker’s card which you can do here. Be sure to include a summary of what you are going to say, all your contact details and any reasons why you should be called. The latter can make the difference to a session chair if they are going through loads of cards and see one where the person has loads of relevant expertise.

If you are wanting to speak, I’d suggest preparing in advance if possible, before you get there. You think you can write your speech on the fly, but finding time in a busy conference is challenging. I’ve only ever completely winged it once, when I was enraged by something someone had said in an under-subscribed debate and hastily completed and handed in a speakers’ card.

There are some debates, like the pre-manifesto one, which are likely to be very popular. Lots of cards will be submitted and there won’t be enough space for everyone as selected candidates want to be seen to be speaking on something of interest to their local papers. So you might want to choose one of the quieter debates to have more chance of getting called.

7. Try and get out and see some of Bournemouth

One of my happiest Bournemouth moments came in 2015 when I skived off a policy session to go to the beach and eat ice cream with my friends. It was such a gorgeous, hot day and well worth it.

The beach is gorgeous, but the weather may not be our friend this time round.

The Dorset Travel Guide has some suggestions of things to do in and around Bournemouth. I think, assuming my flight isn’t delayed for ages, I might do the sightseeing bus tour on Friday.

8. Places to eat

My favourite place to eat in Bournemouth is The Real Greek which is, from memory about a 10 minute walk from the Bournemouth International Centre.  The Tien Thai restaurant on West Cliff Road is handy for the Marriott but quite expensive. You’ll not go wrong with pub grub at the Goat and Tricycle.

I intend to spend a lot of time in that pub, which has a super atmosphere, along with a lovely courtyard. I had my 50th birthday drinks there a few years ago and it’s where the leader crashed Not the Leader’s Speech back in 2017. Not the Leader’s Speech is a tradition started back in the coalition years where the Awkward Squad would gather in a local hostelry, watch the speech on Twitter and debate when they would have walked out had they been in the hall. It’s all very good humoured, especially when Vince turned up to do an unrelated post speech photocall in 2017.  He has many talents, but pulling a pint definitely isn’t one of them.

9. Join online?

If you can’t get to Bournemouth, you can still watch the proceedings online here. Party members can pay £20 for an online pass so that they can vote on motions.

10. Say thank you to FCC

The Federal Conference Committee is responsible for setting the agenda at Conference. They spend so much time giving drafting advice for motions and amendments and then spend hours, as they did yesterday, deciding which to put up for debate.

It’s not an easy job, and they are accountable to the membership for it.

During Conference they manage the debates and deal with changes to the agenda and sort out things like the emergency motion ballots.

They take a lot of flack from people who don’t like that their motion or amendment wasn’t picked, or who didn’t get to speak in a debate. Sometimes I’ll agree with their decisions, sometimes I won’t, but I recognise the many hours of preparation and hard work that they put in.

So, be nice to them. Particularly to the FCC Chair Nick Da Costa. I think that he probably takes as much flack as the Party President does and has to deal with all the tricky situations that an event with several thousand argumentative Liberal Democrats at it can throw up.

The word FCC members hear least often is “thank you.” Let’s make this the Conference we change that.

11. The other c-word

This Conference is going to be very different for me. Long Covid means that the usual whirlwind from breakfast fringes to late night drinking is just not possible for me any more. In York I usually managed to be at Conference in the morning, slept all afternoon and then went out for dinner before an early night. I’m treating it as more of a holiday with a bit of Conference thrown in. I will need to rest a lot and pace myself very carefully and curb my instincts to just push through because I am having fun because I will definitely pay for it later.

Given the the havoc that this virus has wreaked within my body, I am in no rush to come into contact with it again or to expose my family to it, especially with this latest variant ensuring my Facebook timeline is filled with angry looking positive lateral flow tests.  I am still wearing masks in supermarkets and crowded spaces to try and minimise my exposure.

In York, I wore a mask in the hall, and when I was sitting anywhere else for a long time and not eating or drinking. But, entirely inconsistently, I found it impossible to resist in the moment when friends offered a hug. That balance between living life the way you want to and protecting yourself is tricky and everyone needs to make their own decisions about what is ok for them.

I’m taking lateral flow tests with me and will test every day before I go out to make sure I am not a risk to others.

Have a fantastic conference and enjoy your stay in Bournemouth if you are there.

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

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  • Ruth Bright 17th Sep '23 - 1:14pm

    Inspirational Caron – do you moonlight for Bournemouth Tourist info? x

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 17th Sep '23 - 2:33pm

    I do love the place, much more than Brighton, though it has its charms.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 18th Sep '23 - 9:10am

    Carons post makes me feel nostalgic and sad as after going for 40 years I can’t make that journey anymore. Although I have beautifully booked and planned seats from Darlington (hubby does that for me), I inevitability get thrown off a Birmingham and chaos, running fir trains and standing are beyond me. Add to that the hill to the hotels and huge difficulty of now finding gluten free food whilst there means I’ll be tuning in remotely.
    So enjoy while you can!
    To add to Caron’s tips (now where did I meet her!!!j I’d say do feel free to ask just about anyone, anything. Sit with others you don’t know in the cafe, your b an b, hotel lobbies etc. where your badge when out makes it easier. I’ve made lovely friends over the decades this way, and nowadays so much easier to keep up with them.
    Buy fruit when you get there, take an apple with you every day, and a banana when you get back at night, healthy options are few!
    Don’t forget to go to the Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary!
    Enjoy, and if anyone reading this can’t make it either, I may well be hosting some on line zoom bars in the evenings.

  • Diana Simpson 18th Sep '23 - 11:44am

    Some very good conference advice, but what a pity for our ‘green’ credentials that Caron has to fly there rather than take the train. I suspect the train is much more expensive!

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 18th Sep '23 - 3:20pm

    Diana, yes, flying was much cheaper – though far from cheap. It is also quicker which, given my energy levels at the moment, is sadly a factor.

    I did think about doing what I did in 2015, taking the sleeper to London and the train from Waterloo but that was mega bucks.

    I do have major guilt about it but it is on this occasion the only doable option.

  • Many years ago, Age Concern had a stall in the exhibition. The stall next to it was for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society! Tee Hee!

  • Jenny Barnes 19th Sep '23 - 11:03am

    pedant alert:
    a ” Flack” is a publicity agent/ PR person.
    Flak is anti – aircraft fire. (from the german: flugzeug abwher kanone)
    you’re welcome.

  • Excellent advice, as always, Caron. Looking forward to seeing you, hopefully!

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