So that is why the fringe meetings were so jam packed

Every fringe meeting I went to or participated in at Conference was absolutely packed.

On Monday, I chaired a fringe for Shelter on the need for a massive investment in social housing.

The room was packed ten minutes before it was due to start to the extent that Shelter’s own Policy Director Chris Wood couldn’t get in.

Later that day, at another meeting, for the Smith Institute and the Affordable Housing Commission, there was, again, standing room only.

I had been a bit worried, to be honest, when we booked a huge room for our fringe meeting “What would you sacrifice to save the planet?” Paul Walter and I spent that one standing at the back because there were no seats left.

And unless you were there well in advance, you had no chance of getting into anything with our new MPs in them.

It turns out that we had our highest number of members ever at a Lib Dem Conference. 3234 of us made our way there and once you added in journalists, staff, observers and exhibitors, there were around 5000 people there.

Jo Swinson said of this marathon attendance:

The Liberal Democrats are on the up and tens of thousands of people are joining our party, and I am delighted that this conference has the most members of any Liberal Democrat conference ever, including many first time attendees.

The Liberal Democrats are proving themselves to be the rallying point for people who want to stay in the EU and fight for liberal values.

Of course, there are 120,000 members of the Lib Dems and we are constantly looking at ways for all of them to be able to participate in Conference. So far, investigations of remote voting in debates, for example, has been prohibitively expensive.

It certainly vindicates the idea of giving every member a vote at Conference and reflects the current level of engagement and enthusiasm in the party at the moment.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • The practical reason fringes were rammed is that the rooms were too small and there were no larger alternatives. Glee especially was inaccessible to many of us due to overcrowding and ridiculously high temperatures. I doubt very much if these overcrowded rooms met health and safety or fire regulations.
    If the party continues to grow in this way, then larger conference venues with more and larger rooms will need to be sought.

  • It’s great that so many people were there and the buzz was incredible. But spare a thought too for those trying to get in either with a wheelchair or with hearing or sight loss where being at the front ( in the complete absence of hearing loops for example) was essential. Arriving 15 minutes early is a bit tricky.

  • David Becket 19th Sep '19 - 11:45am

    Overcrowded fringes have been a growing problem over the last two years, it gets worse every year. As I get older I become less mobile and need a seat. It is not worth tearing across town to find the venue packed. It is better staying in a bar or having a leisurely meal.

  • Laurence Cox 19th Sep '19 - 2:10pm

    Of course, there are 120,000 members of the Lib Dems and we are constantly looking at ways for all of them to be able to participate in Conference. So far, investigations of remote voting in debates, for example, has been prohibitively expensive.

    Perhaps this is something that could be trialled at one of the State conferences, such as the forthcoming Scottish Conference in the Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline. If you simply hired a hall at a number of other venues, say in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, with a video link to the main hall and counters in each hall, just as for counted votes at present, you could give attendees there a similar experience to being in the main hall. If you make the video link two-way you could even have speakers in the other halls as we already have electronic speakers’ cards at Conference.

    This would also have the merit of making Conference greener by reducing distances attendees would have to travel to participate.

  • I attended the Shelter meeting and arrived 20 minutes early. For my next fringe meeting I only arrived five minutes early and so couldn’t get into the room. However, I had a free glass of wine as that was set up outside the room.

    FCC look for an auditorium for 2000-2500 people for autumn conference. I don’t know how many people attended the Shelter fringe meeting but I would be surprised if there was seating for 200 people, which I feel is the minimum required for a conference of 2000.

    Unlike Caron I see the getting rid of voting representatives as the problem. Are there any venues which hold more than 3000 and can provide all of our other requirements?

  • An excellent idea from Laurence Cox. We do need to work out the cost in terms of the environment. We should be working to minimise our carbon footprint. The environmental cost of huge numbers of people travelling to one place should be easy to estimate.
    Why don’t we ask our members for ideas? As we seem to be good at asking for money, how about asking to use their expertise?
    I am assuming that there would be good feedback to them of course.

  • I am, along with a number of other Lib Dems, an aficionado of Science Fiction conventions. Like the Lib Dems, World SciFi conventions have become much much bigger in recent years. The result is conventions that take place in places like Excel in London or the conference centres in Birmingham or Manchester.
    I know this isn’t by the seaside, but I know the most I saw of the beach and the sea in Bournemouth was the view from the road to the Marriott Hotel from the BIC.
    If we want to have conferences where any member can come there are several things we need to do:
    1. Get a larger venue with large fringe meeting halls
    2. Try and reduce the cost and have a larger access fund for those who can’t easily afford to come. (One way to do this is to follow the example of other conventions and block book hotels and/or arrange big reductions by filling hotels)
    3. Debate more issues and not shy away from controversy or radical solutions. (For example actually allow discussion on unilateral nuclear disarmament the next time we discuss Trident)
    If we really are on the way to becoming a much bigger party, then we have to start acting like it!

  • Suzanne Fletcher 20th Sep '19 - 12:37pm

    many fringes were indeed packed with people standing in corridors trying to hear, especially anything to do with Brexit or a new MP.
    However on the opposite side we had our least packed LD4SOS fringe ever, which was a huge pity as we had 2 outside speakers who had traveled down the night before to be sure of being there ( they had enjoyed the break!).
    We were in the Highcliffe Marriott on the Sunday lunch time, and the Brexit debate over ran. At 1.00 pm we had just 4 people in the audience, by 1.30 it was 16.
    One fit looking man ran up the hill and got there at 1.20! Being a crowded session in the hall it took a long time to get out, and start the hill. Just not worth it when the first half missed. the only time ever we have not had a full room.
    Next day we had a lot of people calling at the stall to say how sorry they were to miss it, but just could not make it physically.
    When doing the conference feedback we will be saying that we shouldn’t be having a big popular debate immediately before lunch time!

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