LDV post-conference members’ survey (3): what you thought of the Lib Dem conference

Over the last week, Lib Dem Voice has invited the members of our private forum (open to all Lib Dem members) inviting them to take part in a survey, conducted via Liberty Research, asking a number of questions about the party and the current state of British politics. Many thanks to the 200+ of you who completed it; we’ve been publishing the results on LDV over the past few days. You can catch up on the results of all our exclusive LDV members’ surveys by clicking here.

First up, we asked how many of you had actually attended conference. LDV forum members are more likely than most, of course, to be party activists – so it was little surprise that 49% of those responding to the survey were in Bournemouth last week (compared with a little under 10% of party members nationally).

Of those who didn’t attend, we asked what the main reason was for not going to conference. Here’s what you told us (with 2008’s figures in brackets):

It is too expensive – 21% (20%)
It was too far away – 16% (12%)
I couldn’t take time off work – 25% (31%)
I don’t feel the need to be actively involved in national party policy-making – 11% (8%)
I think party conferences are pointless – 2% (1%)
Other – 28% (28%)

Of those who selected ‘Other’ the reasons were many and varied: illness, holidays, family/work/council commitments, expense, disillusion with conferences’ ability to influence policy, etc.

Of those who did attend, we asked what your main motivation for going to Bournemouth was.
Here’s what you told us (with 2008’s figures in brackets):

To participate and vote in the party’s policy debates – 24% (34%)
To attend fringe events – 17%
To attend training events – 19% (in 2008, training and fringe events were combined as an option: 26% gave attending them as their main reason)
To meet up socially with other party members – 20% (16%)
Other – 17% (24%)

Those who selected ‘Other’ were, on the whole, stressing the importance of two or more of these options in motivating them to attend conference. There were others who answered their main reason for attending was that they worked for the party, or were a corporate delegate, or were running a stall, or involved in stewarding at conference. Incidentally, I liked the refreshing/depressing (according to taste) comment from one member, who said:

It’s a nice reunion by the sea. The debates and fringes are just window dressing.

We then asked the same question to both groups, those who attended and those who didn’t: From all that you have watched and read over the past week, how successful do you think the Lib Dem conference was in terms of showing the party in a positive light?

Here’s what those who didn’t attend, and so were more reliant on media reporting, said (with 2008’s figures in brackets):

Very successful – 4% (19%)
Quite successful – 42% (44%)
Neither successful nor unsuccessful – 26% (24%)
Quite unsuccessful – 23% (11%)
Very unsuccessful – 7% (3%)

And here’s what those who did attend, and so witnessed conference for themselves, thought (with 2008’s figures in brackets):

Very successful – 10% (30%)
Quite successful – 57% (55%)
Neither successful nor unsuccessful – 12% (12%)
Quite unsuccessful – 17% (3%)
Very unsuccessful – 1% (0%)

The difference is significant: 67% (85% in 2008) of those who attended thought the conference was successful or very successful at showing the Lib Dems in a positive light, compared with just 46% (63%) of those who didn’t attend. Some might argue this shows the danger of conferences in promoting a distorted group-think. More positively, we can see it as fairly convincing evidence of the morale-boosting fillip which surrounding yourself with thousands of other like-minded souls has on party activists.

What is most noticeable about these figures, though, is how both those who were attendees/non-attendees thought this year’s conference was much less successful than last year’s in conveying a positive message to the public at large. In 2008, just 3% of LDV-reading conference delegates thought the party conference was unsuccessful; this year that figure was 18%. The figures are just as stark among those who weren’t in Bournemouth: in 2008, 14% thought the party conference was unsuccessful; this year that figure almost doubled to 30%.

Finally, for today, we asked: Which of the following 15 Lib Dem MPs do you think had a good party conference, emerging with their profile/reputation enhanced?

Here’s what you told us:

Chris Huhne – 41%
Tim Farron – 40%
Evan Harris – 31%
Sarah Teather – 30%
Vince Cable – 27%
Lynne Featherstone – 26%
Steve Webb – 25%
Norman Lamb – 20%
David Laws – 20%
David Howarth – 19%
Norman Baker – 14%
Danny Alexander – 13%
Julia Goldsworthy – 13%
Edward Davey – 12%
None of them – 5%
Alistair Carmichael – 4%

Chris Huhne has been a conference darling for the Lib Dems ever since his audacious, if failed, attempt to win the leadership in 2006. Tim Farron’s star is clearly on the rise, and is rapidly emerging as a genuine talent of whom we shall doubtless hear much more once he’s seen off the Tory challenge in Westmorland and Lonsdale at the next general election. Evan Harris has always been more of a favourite with conference delegates than the leadership, not least thanks to his invariably passionate, cheeky and witty interventions against the leadership’s position on tax and spend each and every conference. Sarah Teather did herself no harm with party members with a decidedly off-message warm-up routine for Nick’s rally speech; though what her Parliamentary colleagues thought is not recorded.

Vince’s relatively low placing can clearly be ascribed to the mis-presentation of his ‘mansion tax’ (even if it is the policy which gained most, generally approving, notice among the wider public). Ed Davey’s lowly position might reflect on his jarring ‘tea with the Taleban’ soundbite, while Alistair Carmichael clearly did not impact on LDV-reading party members much at Bournemouth.

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