So what’s happening at Conference? Part 1 The Debates

Jo Swinson Opening Glasgow ConferenceIn just 9 days’ time, Liberal Democrats will gather in York for Spring Conference.

If you haven’t been to Conference before, Spring Conference is smaller and shorter than the main event in Autumn, but it’s no less intense and interesting.

I thought I’d take a wee look around what will be happening next weekend in terms of debates, fringe and training.

But let’s get one thing out of the way first. When the agenda first came out, I had a bit of a wail on Twitter. If there is one thing I don’t want to see in my Conference agenda, it’s a great big enormous picture of Nigel Farage. Please never do this to us again, Conference Team. Thanks.

Unusually for a conference two months before an election, there are some interesting and possibly controversial debates on the agenda.

The debates kick off on Saturday morning with a motion on the large companies which dominate the pub market in this country. Even if you don’t like beer, it’s worth going to see if proposer Greg Mulholland dresses as the Casked Crusader. Andy Boddington wrote here last year about the effect of Pubcos’ behaviour on local communities and tenants. This is a good old liberal attack on the abuse of power and something that’s relevant in every area.

Then comes the Big One. The debate on migration is potentially the biggest controversy of the weekend. Julian Huppert argued on here last week that the paper on which it is based is balanced, strong and compassionate. For me, though, it doesn’t go far enough. It tinkers at the edges and fudges on the issue of British citizens rights to bring their spouses into this country. One of the worst things that the Coalition has done has been to introduce a minimum income level, only allowing the British citizen’s income to count, not savings nor the earnings potential of the spouse. This is particularly discriminatory to women who are more likely to be taking time out to bring up their children. Don’t get me wrong, there’s good stuff in this paper, like exit checks, ending indefinite detention for immigration purposes and talking up the positives of immigration but the whole immigration system is so devoid of humanity, such a source of shame for this country that it needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. This paper is way too timid for me. I also don’t like some of the language – the requiring of asylum seekers to seek work, for example. They’d love to. It’s not like they’ve been sitting around doing nothing. They’ve been desperate to work. Enabling would have been a much better word to have used in that context.  I suspect that there will be amendments and this will be a serious and passionate debate.

Saturday morning ends with a debate on planning reform. It sounds boring, but planning is so relevant to all of our lives. It affects how many houses there are to live in, what our communities look like and it’s really important that power is appropriately balanced between all concerned.

In the afternoon, we get the F word out. It’s slightly disappointing that Federalism raises its head tucked away in a wide-ranging policy on political reform rather than being debated with flourish on its own, especially with the referendum on its way. It’s a huge issue and it’s good to see that the Federal Party is likely to strengthen its view and set out a roadmap to a Federal UK. It’s quite a long road, but we have to start somewhere. The paper also covers introducing the Single Transferable Vote for MPs and local councils. This is hardly new policy. There will likely be some controversy over job-share MPs. I think the idea is a good one. My only worry is that both job-sharers would be sucked in to working more hours than they intended by local party pressure, for example. I don’t think that should stop us adopting it, though.

The motion on food poverty has already been covered on here by its proposer Kelly-Marie Blundell and our own Nick Thornsby who had different perspectives. It sounds as if there will be amendments which will make for an interesting debate. My view is that you can’t treat this as a head v heart issue. Situations like this are what your heart is for. Yes, you have to combine it with your head to work out what to do to stop it, but it should be acceptable to nobody that people are going hungry in this country.

There’s also a constitutional amendment to massively increase the number of conference representatives a local party has. I should also mention that there’s a consultation session on internal democratic reform at the lunchtime which looks at giving everyone a vote for electing party committees. There are concerns that this would mean that only the Great and the Good will get elected, concentrating power in the party hands of a few.  I’m sure that sort of thinking must have been used against extension of the electoral franchise way back in the 19th century. I’d be up for giving all party members a vote at Conference too like we have in Scotland.

Sunday is less controversial. A very positive motion on the EU, followed by Julian Huppert’s and Tim Farron’s Digital Bill of Rights. Not much to disagree with.

Over the weekend, we have keynote speeches from Nick Clegg, Jenny Willott, Danny Alexander and Nick does his traditional Q and A session.

All the papers for the weekend are here and if you think that some of the motions could be better, you can submit an amendment, as long as you do it by next Tuesday. You could avoid the need to collect lots of signatures from voting reps in support of it by pitching your idea to Calderdale Liberal Democrats. If they like it, they may well agree to submit it for you.

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

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  • Job share MPs seems difficult to me. What if they disagree? Do they get half a vote each in crucial Commons debates, or fight to see which one attends? What if one dies? Do you have half a by-election?

  • Thanks for a helpful article, though, Caron!

  • ” … one thing I don’t want to see in my Conference agenda, it’s a great big enormous picture of Nigel Farage …”

    Scary! That photo is a bit like “big brother is watching you”.

  • Sadly, I can not be there but the discussion around the “Power to the People” paper and constitutional reform is the highlight. PLEASE SCOTLAND, vote to stay with us … we will be scuppered without you, there is a slightly less past participle i could have inserted there!

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