Caron’s guide to the craziness of Conference – updated for Brighton 2018

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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 puppy not knowing whether to play with the squeaky toys or eat all the biscuits.

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 events ie anything involving Vince, then get there early.

I wouldn’t, of course, be shamelessly abusing my position as editor properly if I didn’t plug the LDV fringes. First of all, on Saturday between 1 and 2 pm in the Sandringham Room in the Hilton Hotel, we’re trying to inject some kindness and light into the toxic environment facing transgender people at the moment. Every time you open the Times, or the Mail, or, most annoyingly, the Guardian, there’s some article suggesting that women’s spaces are somehow at risk if transgender women are allowed in them. Actually, it’s been the law since 2010 and it’s been fine, but a new government consultation on making the process of getting a new birth certificate easier for trans people has been used as a vehicle for the most appalling scaremongering. In Scotland, feminist and trans equality organisations have worked well together on these issues, and we’ll have representatives from Engender and the Scottish Transgender Alliance along with the wonderful Sarah Brown (fresh from her by-election campaign in Cambridge) and Party President Sal Brinton showing that when women work together, all women prosper.

We’ve also co-sponsored a fringe with the Young Liberals on Fake News, with a fantastic panel – Marie Le Conte, freelance journalist, Daniel Pryor from the Adam Smith Institute MP for Edinburgh West and former Journalist, Christine Jardine and our wonderful Paul Walter. That’s in the Edinburgh Suite of the Metropole from 8:15-9:30.

Also in the Edinburgh Suite of the Metropole from 6:15-7:15 on Sunday, we’re co-hosting a fringe with Lib Dems 4 Seekers of Sanctuary asking How should the UK change its family reunification policies for refugees. There will be refreshments….

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 Conference). It allows you to add events to your schedule and is pretty flexible. It also has all the Conference papers on it – but to be honest, I find it way too fiddly for that. I like to have my proper agenda and the paper conference bulletin. 

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 magazine 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. 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.

The event is presented by regular LDV commenter, Federal Conference Committee member and ace blogger Jennie Rigg and the other fantastic Sarah Brown from Manchester.

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 Brighton

I used to diligently stay in the Conference centre from dawn till dusk. Then, in 2015, 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 even though I felt naughtier than a Prime Minister running through a field of wheat. I still haven’t managed to explore much of Brighton, though.

I am hesitant about mentioning anywhere nice to eat and drink because when I do, they seem to close down. I was distraught two years ago to discover that Peter Andre’s coffee shop (you know I’m trashy, right?) had closed down. Then in 2016, I discovered the amazing Blackbird Tea Rooms and that seems to have suffered the same fate.

And the wonderful Greek place next to the Metropole is no more either. So what are we to do?

I’ll be very surprised if Dr Pack can keep himself away from Choccywoccydoodah.

Fancy a curry? Have a look at this site which reviews local Indian restaurants.

These are apparently the best 20 restaurants in Brighton. 

I quite fancy Smokey’s or the Regency restaurant which you get to by turning right out of the Metropole.

The Lanes have some lovely shops and restaurants and there’s always the beach. If you like history, try to get to the Pavilion.

There’s not much on at the theatre – but you could take a tour.

7. Come and say hello

Mary Reid, Paul Walter, Tahir Maher, Kirsten Johnson,  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 Brighton

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

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  • Mark Smulian 11th Sep '18 - 12:25pm

    The Greek place Caron mentions is where I once saw on the menu an announcement that “all our wine is subject to special vilification”.

  • Not your job, Caron, but can somebody sort out the Conference App? I put it on my android phone, but found the screen too small and removed it. Google Playstore says it’s not available for Lenovo or Galaxy tablets (even though I had previous conferences on the Galaxy I had then). When I tried to reinstall it on my phone, Playstore couldn’t find it.

  • Jim: I’ll pass that on to the relevant people.

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