Opinion: Attending Lib Dem Conference on a Shoestring

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In an ideal democratic world, all Lib Dem members should be able to attend Lib Dem conference and have equal opportunity to participate in the running and the policies of the party without personal finance being a hindrance.

In reality of course conferences are expensive, and it is mostly the well-off members of the party who attend. For that reason it is likely that conference attendees are not representative of the party as a whole.

We do not live in an ideal world for a very simple reason; the national party has limited funds and lots of spending commitments some of which have a higher priority.

So what can we do at grassroots level to try and make things fairer?

I have been thinking about we can do a lot as my local party tries hard every year to get some of our members to go along to conference that can’t afford it. I have found I can sometimes get help simply by asking on the internet, particularly if there is a conference Facebook event. And then I thought why not go one better and create a Facebook group specifically for this purpose?

Which I duly did. And the applications to join flooded in. And in no time the group was fizzing with ideas about how to attend conference on a shoestring.

There are 5 main expenses to attending conference:

    1) Registration
    2) Accommodation
    3) Travel
    4) Daily living expenses, mostly food, drink and local travel.
    5) Optional extras, from the Liberator song book to additional memberships and subscriptions.

Points 1 – 3 should be done in advance, and the more in advance you action these points, the easier and cheaper they will be. So if you are going to the York conference, action 1 – 2 now and 3 in the new year!

1) Registration. The party has opened registration for conference, and if your register now (up until 31st December) you get the best value for money; £52 for the spring conference in York on March 7–9th, plus an option to pay just £39 registration for the autumn conference in Glasgow on October 4-8th.

This is a fantastic deal, but it is not a shoestring deal. The ultimate shoestring deal is to volunteer to be a steward, see here for details.

2) Your biggest expense is likely to be accommodation. You may find you can approach the local party where the conference is being held and stay at someone’s house. Or you can try cheap accommodation. For example in York the YHA is well placed for conference, see here. Cheaper options than hotels include Bed and Breakfast (in York check out Fulford Road), sharing a flat – maybe organise with your local party or region, and even sharing a mobile home. It can also be cheaper if you book a place at some distance from the venue, maybe a nearby town or outer suburb, although add to that the extra travel costs. And remember; important to plan and book well in advance.

3) Travel. Your shoestring options are car (driving or lifting) and coaches. Trains are expensive but you can get good deals if you book early. It is possible your local region may organise a coach to conference. The Green Democrats currently are looking into offering their members to take a coach to conference. It is always worth looking on the main Lib Dem website for special travel deals. Currently National Express are offering 50% off their fares for conference.

4/ Daily expenses. The fringe meeting guide will indicate which fringe meetings serve free food by showing a cup and saucer. However there is an art in working out whether you will get a decent meal. Sometimes if you make a quick exit from one fringe meeting you can find another with a better choice. Usually the best food comes from business lobby groups, and sometimes trade unions. Be grateful to them by all means but bear in mind why they are doing it, it is not out of a desire to feed the hungry! Fringe meetings often start in the morning with breakfast, so you should be able to get food throughout the day. Look out for any special offers for local travel cards.

5) Optional extras. This is where you have to say no, although there are some organisations such as Ethnic Minority Lib Dems (EMLD) who you do not have to pay anything to join! Sometimes if you put on the charm, or you win their sympathy by telling them how poor you are, someone else might pay your membership for you (so I am told). If you are hoping to go on a shoestring, or can offer help with lifts and accommodation, you are welcome to join the Facebook group here. It is a closed group, but if you can show you are a Lib Dem member you will be let in.

* Geoff Payne is the events organiser for Hackney Liberal Democrats

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13 Comments

  • Jonathan Brown 23rd Dec '13 - 5:54pm

    “However there is an art in working out whether you will get a decent meal.” Indeed; sometimes the cup symbol just means that tea, coffee and water are being served, so watch out.

    The morning fringes often have a pretty good selection of food I’ve found (combine that with the fact that few people bother to get up early means that there’s often quite a bit there too).

    Some organisations / businesses / SAOs host multiple fringe events, and if you find one that’s got good food, it’s often the case that all of the events organised them will do something similar. Beware however that some of the really popular fringes can not only fill up very quickly, but can run out of food very quickly.

    All of that said, if you’re going to make the effort to go to a conference, I would really try if you can to go to the fringes you want to go to. If you’re a conference veteran, and you’ve seen it all and heard it all before, then by all means go to the events with the best food. But if you haven’t been before, then why sit through something that doesn’t interest you for the sake of a sandwich? Fringe events can be really excellent, so you should really try to go to ones that interest you.

    There’s nothing stopping you buying food off site and bringing it into the venue either.

    In my experience, which may not be very typical, we could send up to 7 or 8 conference reps, but rarely to more than 2 or 3 people go. If someone from our party wanted to go, and wanted help with paying for it, I’m sure our local party would help out. I don’t doubt that some parties are much more strapped for cash than we are, but it’s always worth asking for help. Particularly if done in advance, so there’s time to plan, save (and get the early bird discount). In an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to ask, but Geoff covered that already. One way round it could be to suggest that the local party create a fund to help _anyone_ interested in going rather than yourself specifically, even if you have yourself in mind when you suggest it.

  • A C McGregor 23rd Dec '13 - 6:22pm

    Another thing on the fringe grazing plan is to avoid the most popular ones, where there will inevitably be a lot of attendees – ones with high profile ministers (especially Vince & Lynne) tend to draw more people than there is space or food for.

    Do pay attention to the fringe events though; most fringes are very interesting, and often a fringe you just randomly attend for the food can turn into the most interesting thing you see all conference.

    Oh, and a last tip: For some reason the Co-Op fringes are usually the only ones serving Champagne.

  • Mick Taylor 23rd Dec '13 - 7:01pm

    AC McGregor

    The Coop will probably be cutting back due to their cock up over their banking arm. Not much to celebrate there at the moment!

  • I booked for spring conference online, but saw no option for Glasgow in the autumn. Was I being dense or is this not obvious?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 23rd Dec '13 - 11:36pm

    Jones, Glasgow isn’t open yet.

  • John Roffey 24th Dec '13 - 7:05am

    Since we do live in the age of the internet and 650 is not too many to be accommodated on an internet forum – why can’t the final decision making process be conducted through a L/D national forum – with each constituency nominating an individual as its candidate [who consults with their branch members before voting]?

    If democracy is to survive – this clearly is the future. It would be a ‘feather in the Party’s cap’ if it were to be the first to adopt this approach.

    Conference would still be the venue for motions to be proposed – with the proposals videoed and available on line. Following internet discussions – a vote is taken.

    In truth this is a necessary process since policies, if adopted, usually come with a cost. Should those approved cost more than can be afforded by the Exchequer – a second round of voting would be required to decide which were to be dropped.

    This approach would also ensure that those voting did so with a cool head – without the possibility of being ‘caught up in the moment’ by an impassioned speech.

  • A C McGregor 24th Dec '13 - 7:42am

    @John Roffey:

    “why can’t the final decision making process be conducted through a L/D national forum – with each constituency nominating an individual as its candidate [who consults with their branch members before voting]?”

    Because the Liberal Democrats elect *representatives*, not delegates. Representatives are elected by STV and therefore expected to be a broad representation of the spectrum of party thought from their local party.

    It constitutionally forbidden to pass motions which seek to control how someone else may vote, IIRC. You elect individuals, and those individuals vote.

    Another reason for not having one vote per constituency is that it would be unfair to constituencies with high membership to dilute their voice compared to small parties.

  • John Roffey 24th Dec '13 - 8:41am

    @ A C MacGregor

    “Another reason for not having one vote per constituency is that it would be unfair to constituencies with high membership to dilute their voice compared to small parties.”

    Reading the OP – the present system seems anything but democratic – if, primarily, only the wealthy attend.

    What I proposed could easily be adapted to accommodate the points you raise by allowing every member to participate in the final vote – even though it was only the ‘representatives’ who engaged in the internet forum debate. This would go a long way to meet the writer’s expressed ‘ideal’.

  • A C McGregor 24th Dec '13 - 12:06pm

    @Gareth Epps: “I found Glasgow particularly poor on the refreshments front although I know others who didn’t.”

    The ones in the main conference venue were not great. The ones at the Campanille across the way were much better – the Transport Hub ones regularly serving sizeable portions of really good *hot* food.

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