Conference Countdown 2016: Caron’s guide to the craziness of Conference – updated for Brighton 2016



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 events like the Matt Forde interview with Tim Farron or the fringe meeting on the book advocating a progressive alliance with Caroline Lucas and Lisa Nandy or the Guardian’s chat with Nick Clegg, you are best advised to get there early because they fill up quickly.

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. 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 the likes of  Tim Farron and Paddy Ashdown. I’m not sure Tim will be allowed to go now he’s leader, but there are always guest appearances. 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.

There is an extra frisson of excitement this year because one of the regular presenters of the event has only gone and got a proper grown up job and isn’t allowed to o it any more. Who will take his place?

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

Last year, 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. Our last Autumn conference in Brighton, in 2012, was plagued with high winds and horrendous rain so if the sun shines, I’ll be out in it.

Sad news for those of of us of a trashy persuasion, though. Last time we were there, I made a point of heading to Peter Andre’s coffee shop. They did brilliant chocolate milk shakes. Unfortunately, it closed last year. However, and this is hot off the press as it’s being updated on Friday night, John Grout from Reading tells me that this place, the Blackbird Tea Rooms, which is only 5 minutes from the Brighton Centre, is marvellous. The menu looks amazing.

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.

Handily, the Telegraph recently had a look at the best eateries in Brighton.

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

Liberal Democrat Voice isn’t doing a fringe this year, but 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 Brighton

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

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Conference and Op-eds.


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

    Much as I enjoy Conference, I *sincerely* hope this is not true. If it is, Conference has to become a lot more fun than many things I have already done!

  • The third rule of conference is, obviously, that no-one talks about the third rule of conference…

  • What, not even the Conference Arrangements Committee?

  • suzanne fletcher 13th Sep '16 - 7:36pm

    just to add – sit next to someone else in your b and b if they have a conference badge or are reading our stuff. Same if you are eating on your own. ALways ask “mind if I join you” of course, but most people happy to do so.
    less fringes do food now, and they are not necessarily the most interesting – and really annoying if no food left anyway. buy a sandwich or something to take with you to what sounds interesting, and have a bottle you fill up each morning with water – you do get dehydrated and it is a lot lot cheaper than anything you buy.
    I go to where staying in a taxi from the station so stock up on enought fruit to take with me each day at the station shop (nearly always and M and S now) and keep at b and b.
    Most of all relax and enjoy, your opponents on the council / mum and dad/ kids cannot see you 🙂
    PS do go to the Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary stall and fringes too – always good !!

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Nonconformistradical
    @John Marriott 16th Jun '21 - 4:51pm It would be better if you were comparing like with like. As it is, it seems to me you are muddying the waters. Israel ...
  • Peter Watson
    If the Conservatives lose this by-election - or even come close to losing it - what will they learn? That they need to change tack because the country (or at l...
  • theakes
    Perhaps of more interest is the SUN news story suggesting Cons HQ think they may lose....
  • Barry Lofty
    As I have said before the chances of a Lib Dem win in Chesham and Amersham are likely remote but would It not be superb to give this abysmal government the kick...
  • Brad Barrows
    I hope the Liberal Democrats can take this seat off the Tories and keep it for a generation. However, this will be entirely pointless if the Liberal Democrats r...