How to get your Conference amendment selected for debate

The full Agenda or Spring Conference 2022 (11-13 March) is now out. There are full range of motions on a diversity of topics and, as such, probably at least one instance (if not many) whereby something has been proposed in relation to a particular issue which you may yourself disagree with.

That is where amendments come in. Both business motions (concerning how the party operates internally) and policy motions (concerning our position on and policy proposals for a particular external issue) are subject to amendment. The deadline for amendments is Monday, 28 February 2022.

The Federal Conference Committee (FCC) runs a drafting advice service so that anyone thinking of submitting an amendment (or an emergency motion for that matter) can get advice on how best to draft this, to maximise your chances of getting the amendment selected for debate. The deadline for requesting drafting advice is Monday, 14th February 2022 and you can access the service here.

The Conference Communications Group (CCG) thought it would be good to provide some general tips on drafting good amendments.

  1. Amendments shouldn’t reverse or otherwise seek to undo the intent of a motion. If that’s what you want to do, it’s far better to submit a Speaker’s Card and speak against the whole motion.
  2. Amendments shouldn’t just delete lines. If you think the substantive motion is fine but for a couple of specific lines, rather than submitting an amendment to delete those lines it’s best to submit a request for a separate vote on those lines and, again, submit a Speaker’s Card to argue against adopting those particular provisions of the motion.
  3. Amendments should clarify a motion. They should change language that may be ambiguous or that, as initially proposed, might inappropriately either include or exclude instances of the problem.
  4. Amendments can widen or narrow the scope of a motion – either the motion as a whole or a specific provision within it. Is the language used overly restrictive – do you think replacing a few words or lines might helpfully apply the solutions proposed to larger set of problems? Alternatively, is the problem described or the solutions proposed too general? Could narrowing their focus help make better policy?
  5. Amendments can add to the policy solutions. Has the motion missed something which might add to solving the problem its seeking to address? Could an addition to the “Conference calls for…” section be helpful in making better policy?
  6. Amendments can strengthen a motion. Is there something missing from description of the problem? Are the policy solutions properly balanced? Could a change in language rebalance and make for a stronger motion? (You do have to be very careful not to fall into the trap outlined in Point 1 above, as strengthening a motion is fine but seeking to reverse it or undo entirely the effects of the policy solutions proposed is definitely not a legitimate use of amendments.)
  7. Amendments can improve drafting– fixing typos or removing any errors in the substantive motion. These “drafting amendments” are usually accepted by the movers without debate and generally lead to a better motion going before Conference.

With all that in mind then, how to make sure your amendment has a good chance of being selected for debate. All amendments should follow these basic rules:

  1. Be specific. You should state precisely which words or lines are to be removed and which words or lines are to be added, and precisely where they are to be added.
  2. Only change what needs changing. Unless there is a specific reason to change something under reasons 2-6 outlined above, don’t change things unnecessarily. Complicated amendments with changes all over the place are extremely difficult to follow and so may not be selected (or even if selected, may not then receive much support) just because FCC or voting members at Conference don’t understand them.
  3. Be mindful of the finished product. The motion as amended has to be cogent. If you remove lines including essential definitions or explanations relied upon elsewhere, you need to replace these somewhere else. Similarly with punctuation and triple check that your amendment, if passed, would leave an error-free and fully understandable motion.

With all that in mind, please do take a look at the Agenda for Spring Conference and submit any amendments you feel appropriate (amendments supported by 10+ party members or any party body authorised to propose motions to Conference can be submitted online here.

Matt McLaren writes here as a member of the Conference Communications Group (the subcommittee of FCC responsible for its communications with members and others attending Federal Conference).

* Matt McLaren is an elected member of the English Party Executive and the English Party’s representative on the Federal Conference Committee. In London Region, he is Vice-Chair of Enfield Liberal Democrats, a member of its Local Parties Committee and one of its elected representatives on the English Council. Matt is also currently a Liberal Democrat candidate for Enfield Council, standing in his home ward of Winchmore Hill.

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