+++Plans for Lib Dem autumn conference on hold – online options to be explored instead

The chair of the Federal Conference committee, Geoff Payne, has posted the following text in the Lib Democrat Federal Conference Facebook group:

In the light of the coronavirus epidemic, the Federal Board has decided to put on hold plans for the preparation of a traditional party conference in the autumn and will make a final decision on whether to cancel the event in May.

In the meantime, the Federal Conference Committee will consider the feasibility of an online event, which might include some elements of a formal conference. Part of that will be the way in which the key elements of party accountability might operate online if a traditional party conference did not go ahead.

A final decision will be made in May once those plans have been developed, taking into account both what is practical to organise online and the latest state of public health advice about large groups gathering together. In the meantime, party members, supporters and other attendees are advised against booking any travel or accommodation for autumn conference.

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  • A sound move, however, I suspect it won’t be possible to make a final decision ie. fully commit one way or the other in May, so I would recommend including the option for a smaller face-to-face conference but with a (potentially) much larger online conference.

    From having reviewed several of the various conferencing platforms, which today are more focused on presenting to a large audience, I suspect we will see much innovation as they scramble to enhance their support for the style of gatherings and ad-hoc interactions common at conventions and conferences. So in looking at potential online platforms, I would also recommend having early discussions where possible with the original developers to better understand where they see their platform going and to influence what may be incorporated in the next release. Yes this does carry risks, but often the original developer will provide direct support – because they will want the customer case study.

  • lloyd harris 31st Mar '20 - 9:43am

    Sad times we are in that we might have to go a whole year without conference.

    Online is fine for speeches, training etc. where there is a few people talking and lots listening. But I don’t know of a system that will allow 2000 people to speak and vote on policy discussions, so that bit is going to be hard to replicate.

  • Laurence Cox 31st Mar '20 - 12:28pm

    @lloyd Harris

    If you are going to have a video version of Party Conference, it’s not just going to be 2000 members but, potentially, a large proportion of the Party membership of over 100,000 members. That said, if you look at the number of people who can speak on any given day it is not more than about 100 so you could do it using Zoom conferencing, which the Party already uses for meetings like the Federal Board. So, if you could then stream that to the rest of the membership as we already do using the Party’s YouTube channel, you have one half of the equation. If you can arrange online voting for Conference, as we already do for Party Committees, then you can have a complete conference online.

    My principal concern about it is what do we do for those members who are not comfortable online; we don’t want to exclude them from the debate..

  • I predict that in years to come we will look back on the custom of party conferences with bemusement. Lloyd, all very nice for the 2000 who get to speak and vote, which leaves 118,000 members (give or take) who are voiceless and powerless.
    The last party conference I attended was the SDP conference of 1987. As a teacher it’s pretty hard to disappear for a couple of days at the start of the school year. For a party which prides it’s self on being democratic, it’s really not good enough.

  • Sadly unavoidable, I suspect.

    Yet if the events of last year proved anything, it’s the party’s system of decision-making committees that isn’t fit for purpose.

  • Nigel Jones 31st Mar '20 - 2:49pm

    Let’s think outside the box; is there an opportunity here to involve more members, spread knowledge and thinking more widely and help members spread the word more actively in their local areas ? My question is prompted by Chris Cory, who suggests we need a new way of working.
    I am looking for leadership from all our MPs, who are a small enough team to work together on this. Together with our HQ staff, they could lead online discussions on various important issues over a long period of time. Put forward the information and arguments around each issue, invite all members to contribute as they wish and so prepare the ground thoroughly for a conclusion as to where we as a party stand on various issues. As this national conversation takes place, people can also be given the information they need to engage locally with the public as well as with their fellow members, a vital part of how we can be a party that means something to the majority of citizens. Our MPs should also be in communication with people outside Parliament.
    We will have more time to think things through; I have occasionally worried that in conference, decisions have been voted on where few people have read the policy paper and some have given it little thought except when sitting in the conference chamber and of course very many are not there to participate. For example, after we had the debate about changes to the Health Service during the coalition, I heard some people say they had thought about it further and would subsequently have voted differently.

  • @ Nigel Jones ” I have occasionally worried that in conference, decisions have been voted on where few people have read the policy paper and some have given it little thought except when sitting in the conference chamber”…….

    Some of the motions are longer than ‘War and Peace’ and twice as forgettable, Nigel. It would help, just for starters, if all members of the parliamentary party actually read the UN Alston Report on Poverty in the UK. I know for fact that some of them haven’t.

  • @Ian Sanderson – while the Party has had audio and video available online, it always does a poor job of advertising the fact, and it’s hard to track down (I speak as someone who doesn’t physically attend Conference but does try to follow some of the debates online).

    A well organised, well advertised online Conference has the potential to greatly increase participation above the ~5% who attend and decide all our policies at the moment.

  • William Wallace 1st Apr '20 - 12:45pm

    Party conferences are important for publicity, for contacts with media and others we wish t o influence. So we need to ensure that we go ahead if other parties are doing this: otherwise we are opting out of the political debate. Yes, motions are far too long, and a lot of people can’t go – but nevertheless, it’s a great opportunity for many in different parts of the country to meet, argue, exchange ideas and campaigning skills – and so help to hold our party together.

  • Laurence Cox 1st Apr '20 - 1:00pm

    @Nick Baird, Nigel Jones, Chris Cary

    We don’t have to start with the next Autumn Conference and we don’t have to change all the conferences at once. For example, Spring Federal Conference gets virtually no coverage unless one of the MPs says something really contentious (when we might get a soundbite), AFAIK none of the regional conferences get covered by the media (I don’t know how much coverage the Scottish and Welsh State Party conferences get). So let’s start from the bottom (a good Liberal principle) by moving regional party conferences online and then look at Spring Federal Conference and the State Party conferences. That will give us experience of online conferencing before we look at how we deal with Autumn Federal Conference.

    It had occurred to me after my earlier post that a smartphone app might be the answer to online voting. This would make use of the Party’s database of members’ mobile phone numbers to link the member to the vote. The next question would be, how many of the Party’s 100,000+ members don’t have a smartphone.

  • What would be the situation if there were to be some sort of national unity government which would require ratification by conference. That would almost certainly be in circumstances where such a gathering would be prohibited. There is a very small bit of wiggle room as the constitution says “earliest practicable opportunity “

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