Interview with the new Chair of Federal Conference Committee – Geoff Payne – Part 1 of 3

Members at a conference
Congratulations on being elected the new FCC Chair

Thank you! It is a really exciting job to have; one of the very best in the party.


What changes do you think that Andrew Wiseman brought to the FCC as Chair?

Andrew was a great chair.  He steered us through the immediate pre-coalition period, though the years we were in government and then the period of re-building afterwards.  He oversaw increases in attendance, vast increases in commercial revenue from 2010 and more recently the attendance of huge numbers of new members at conference.  One of the most significant changes that he successfully navigated us through was the abolition of conference representatives and the move to one member, one vote.  He will be a very hard act to follow.


What attracted you to put yourself forward to be Chair of FCC as compared to another representative body of the LD?

The simple answer is that I love party conference.  We are unique in having a conference that actually makes the policy of the party.

Any member, from a person who joined just a few weeks ago, to the Leader can submit a motion to the conference and make a case for it being passed. All votes are equal.  Success depends on the power of argument and the strength of the idea.  The same goes for individual motions on particular issues, wide-ranging policy papers and indeed election manifestos.

The FCC plays an incredibly important role in refereeing conference, ensuring debates are fair and selecting an agenda that is interesting, varied and which contains things that members actually want to talk about.

We have a great committee comprised of members elected from across the party.  It is a real privilege to be its chair


Obvious question – although it can be considered a little harsh – what do you bring to FCC as Chair;

I hope I bring experience of how the conference works – having attended pretty much solidly since 2001 and having been Vice-Chair of the FCC since 2010.  I have been a regular at the Access Forum and I have also chaired some of the more difficult debates in recent times (Israel/Palestine, All Women Shortlists, the new disciplinary processes – including one where a reference back was carried on a counted vote by just one solitary vote…).

I also understand how different parts of the Party work having joined in 1994 and campaigned in many seats since then.  I was chair of Liberal Youth, and I have been a Parliamentary candidate, Parliamentary Researcher, member of English Council Executive and long-standing member of Federal Policy Committee.


What is your vision for FCC:-

a) Spring Conference (as it is not making too much money)

b) Autumn Conference

You are right to identify that there are challenges around Spring Conference.  I have no plans to spearhead an FCC campaign to abolish it though.  I think that it is very important that party members have the opportunity to debate policy and hold party officers and committees to account and once a year is not enough for that.  It is also no secret however that we must make every penny of party money count. In recent years, the subsidy provided to Spring Conference by Autumn Conference has reduced such that excluding staff and office costs, it is has been in the black of late.  However, there is more to be done and it is more important than ever that we go the extra mile to attract commercial exhibitors, sponsors and every party member we can to attend.

Autumn Conference is our flagship event and offers our shop window to the world; showing people not only what our policies are but how we go about deciding them.  My vision for Autumn Conference is to ensure that we have radical, interesting and engaging agendas that people want to talk about and that we make it a really rewarding experience for members.

In our feedback, the overwhelming majority of attendees (over 95% usually) say that conference makes them proud to be a Liberal Democrat and more enthused to campaign for the party.  I want to continue achieving feedback like that!  Joking aside, it does demonstrate that conference is an investment in party members just as much as it is an investment in the image we project to the outside world.


* Tahir Maher is the Wednesday editor and a member of the LDV editorial team

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This entry was posted in Interviews and Op-eds.

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