Fascinating stuff at York!

It’s not too late to register for the York Spring conference, which is happening on the weekend of March 13-15th. You can register here.

We’ve already covered the main policy motions which will be debated in the main hall.

But there will be oodles of other stuff going on – both in the main hall and in rooms around and about the conference venues of the York Barbican, the Novotel York Center and the Hilton York.

The conference agenda and directory is available online and gives you details of the whole panoply of activities which would exhaust even the most hyper-active of Tigger-like party members.

Here a few highlights from that very agenda and directory document:

-What next after the shambles (of the 2019 general election)? – a fringe meeting featuring our avuncular and witty chief whip, Alistair Carmichael.

-A very full and exciting series of training sessions.

-A lively and informative exhibition hall where you can find out all sorts of things and sign up for more causes and organisations than the average person can shake a stick at.

-A consultative session in the main hall on Liberal Democrat principles and values.

-For members only, a consultative session on the general election review.

(By the way “what on earth is a consultative session?” – asks a new member from Penge. Answer: great fun! They are rather informal and formless, so everybody has a chance to sling in their fourpenneth worth on the subject at hand. They tend to be a forerunner of a formal conference debate, where a policy-forming body can get a good feel of the opinions of party members, before starting to put together a formal a paper on a subject.)

-A members’ rally on Friday evening.

-A speech by Ed Davey, in his capacity as acting co-leader after of the party, on Sunday.

-A speech by Jo Swinson, as is traditional for former leaders who have just stood down. This should be very interesting indeed!

-A consultative session giving feedback on the manifesto for the 2019 general election.

-An emergency/topical debate on Sunday morning. Members will be able to nominate and vote on the subject for this debate.

That’s just what I have spotted. If you have a root through the agenda and directory you will, no doubt, be able to find lots more interesting stuff. Do feel free to tell us what catches your attention (in the comments field below).

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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This entry was posted in Party policy and internal matters.


  • Brian Edmonds 19th Feb '20 - 6:04pm

    If there’s anything even remotely fascinating about the York agenda it has escaped me. When I re-joined the party last year, my primary impetus was to support the remain cause, but I also hoped that as a party we could at least advance some serious thinking on major issues of national concern. I recall lamenting on this forum the lack of substantive motions in any direction other than the revoke debate – sadly our spring schedule is even more dire.
    The motions are all worthy, and the proposers are no doubt luxuriating in a warm bath of self-righteous virtue, but as a supposedly national party, the dearth of ideas on issues as important as the economy, adult social care and social housing is dispiriting to the point of despair. A policy is not a few lines of vacuous wishful thinking in a manifesto, it’s a clear identification of a problem, with some well thought out proposals for solving it. I’ve already signed up for York, but my expectations are low. We are in deep trouble, and unless some serious hard work is done in key areas, we will lose all traction in the national political debate.

  • Brian – As I always ask when people criticise the conference agenda, did you submit any motions yourself? Because that is how this party works. It’s a member-led party, so every one of us shares the responsibility of what is (and is not) discussed at conference. You don’t think the right policies are on the agenda at York? Fine. Roll up your sleeves and submit a great motion to autumn conference.

  • My heart sinks.
    One former leader, Jo Swinson, of debatable success and decision-making prowess is extolled while her cheerleaders, highland heffers and other Robespierre-like characters currently busy themselves with moral indignation over historical wrong decisions, free from the social context and political pressures of the 1970s, for expulsion from the party another former leader- one far more significant, inspirational, and great parliamentarian of notable achievement, and a cornerstone of the new party growing to a major national force -David Steel.

  • Peter Watson 20th Feb '20 - 8:42am

    RossMcL “that is how this party works. It’s a member-led party, so every one of us shares the responsibility of what is (and is not) discussed at conference.”
    From the outside I’ve often wondered what counts as a Lib Dem policy.
    Back in Autumn 2016 the conference voted to call on Government “abandon the selection by ability and social separation of young people, into different schools”.
    Then in Spring 2017 the conference voted to ensure “selection in admissions on the basis of religion or belief to state-funded schools is phased out over up to six years”.
    Neither of these have made it into two General Election manifestos since those conference votes (and details of Conference votes now seem to be hidden behind a members’ area log-in page on the party website).
    So are scrapping academic and religious selection policies for this “member-led party”? If so, then how would I know if I didn’t follow discussions here or dig more deeply (maybe there are others I’ve not been interested enough to notice) and why are they not in a manifesto. And if they are not policies, then what is the point of voting on something at Conference? Perhaps it is just a glacially slow process between Conference and Policy, but things like “Revoke” seem to become published policy instantly.

  • David Becket 20th Feb '20 - 9:49am

    Nothing in this bureaucrat conference programme, which has not changed for years can remotely described as fascinating.
    This country is at a very dangerous cross roads. As a party we appear to have few answers and little leadership. Rather than cumbersome motions we should have open debate on the main issues of the day, from which we can find the way forward. Rather than keynote speech from an ex leader we should give the opportunity for all 11 MPs to give their view of the way forward. It is from that group that our leader is likely to come, we need to get to know them.
    Political anoraks might find the conference exciting, but the general public will ignore us. Just as they ignore our terrible web site and are likely to ignore our not very exciting video.
    Throwing out David Steele, now there is a bit of fun.

  • @Ross McL: “…that is how this party works. It’s a member-led party…” Leaving aside the patronizing tone, this reply speaks volumes. One thing is clear, we’re evidently not a Leader-led party – if anything I feel the dead hand of the procedural wonks and self-righteous committee warriors leading us to irrelevance and oblivion.
    Look, for example, at the list of motions rejected for York: Business and Trade; Communities (More Homes); Crime (Youth Violence); Energy and Environment; Europe – all issues of vital and pressing importance to the whole country. If they were rejected for technical reasons, then change the rules or work with the proposers to make them acceptable. Perhaps most tellingly, we are supposed to have spokespeople for all these matters – if anyone should be rolling up their sleeves and doing some work, maybe we should start there.
    @David Becket: Spot on…….

  • I was on the Federal Conference Committee until recently. I have not seen the text of the motions that were rejected, but I do know how the process for selection works.
    There are several reasons why a motion might be rejected. 1. It could be badly written. 2. It could be well-written but on a topic conference has debated recently. 3. It may overlap with the subject of a current policy working group. 4. It could cover similar ground to another motion. 5. There may be more well-written motions than can be fitted in to the agenda.

  • @Peter Watson:
    “Neither of these have made it into two General Election manifestos since those conference votes…So are scrapping academic and religious selection policies for this “member-led party”? If so, then how would I know if I didn’t follow discussions here or dig more deeply (maybe there are others I’ve not been interested enough to notice) and why are they not in a manifesto. And if they are not policies, then what is the point of voting on something at Conference?… ”

    I share your frustration and disappointment; I put a lot of effort into getting before conference the policies to end blatant government-directed religious discrimination in state-funded schools.
    However, we do have much more in the way of policy than could realistically be squeezed into a manifesto, and decisions have to be made.
    It doesn’t help that this particular policy was and still is vigorously resisted by some very senior party members; as is assisted dying, which also tends to get crowded out of our General Election manifestos.
    However, Confererence does include a consultative session specifically for feedback on the General Election manifesto and its shortcomings (F9, 2.50pm Sat 14th March).
    We have also just elected a fresh Federal Policy Committee, which ultimately decides what gets into future Manifestos.
    So we are not entirely locked out of the process.

  • Brian Edmonds 20th Feb '20 - 1:13pm

    @Mary Reid: I’m sorry Mary, but you seem to believe that quoting the rule book as though it were sacrosanct is an adequate response. This may be how it has functioned for decades, but look where it’s got us; a fascination with virtue-rich niche concerns, and a void where the major issues should be. For me it only confirms the malaise, and it’s the ‘process’ that needs to change if we are to develop policies relevant to the nation at large.

  • Toby Keynes 20th Feb '20 - 2:30pm

    @Brian Edmonds: Federal Conference Committee doesn’t have to follow a “rule book” on what motions to accept, as far as I’m aware; it exercises discretion.
    There’s very little point in accepting motions going yet again over territory that has been covered fairly recently by other motions, unless it’s a major policy area where changing is happening fast.
    There is a place for reasserting existing policy during Conference – most obviously when we debate what should go in a forthcoming General Election.
    However, a key role of Conference is to establish fresh policy and develop or displace outdated policies – even when those fresh policies may be in areas that you or I may consider trivial or irrelevant.
    We can’t do that if we’re busy debating your (or my) favourite policy for the nth time.

  • None of the conference critics have explained why they haven’t submitted their own motions. That’s the bottom line here. If you don’t like the conference agenda, you have the power to make it better next time.
    Or of course you can stand on the sidelines with your arms folded and sneer at those who have bothered to make the effort. But it’s not a good look guys.

  • @Ross when it would appear that various motions on the major issues concerning most voters have been rejected for debate, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that you are simply attempting to close down any criticism of the conference agenda by trying to score cheap points off its critics.

  • I share the tone of defeated weariness in most of what’s been said. I also sympathise with those who have worked faithfully through the machinery to get us to this unhappy point. Many of them,surely, must themselves have felt something was wrong, for good LDs to toil so worthily, and come up with so little. We shall never get anywhere, if we don’t keep constantly in mind that to get anywhere with our good ideas, we have to engage the interest of the kingdom’s floating voters. That means having ideas that look, and sound, good, and energetic, and radical: radical whether big or small, but radical first.

    ‘Floating voters’: who are they? They are the young, untired by voting failure. They are the flood of reluctant New Blues, refugees from the crumbled Red Wall. At the next General Election many of them , disenchanted, will be considering a crestfallen return to the ruined Wall — should we not aim to offer them our better home, to vote for and to settle in?

    How can our Conferences improve in such a way as to captivate these hopeful migrants? Well, I think the party machine ought to do more to involve the lower rankers like me, the Territorials rather than the Regular career Liberals. (I’m not being as rude as this sounds, just trying to be brief, truly.)

    So, jumping forward, let us have a two-stage Conference Development Process. The second stage would resemble what it is now, perhaps. But the First Stage would involve a poll of all paid-up Members, in which each first contributed his or her own suggestion of the five most important subjects for Conference to debate (not more than five words?). Probably online only, for swift processing. From this perhaps the twenty most numerously chosen would be published, in no discernible order. A poll on that list would be an instruction to HQ to prepare detailed proposals for, say, seven Conference debates.

    Obviously, this sketch needs licking into shape; but might it not generate more ideas than the same old same old? Again, I don’t mean to sound so rude and stroppy. I regret it. But I do believe we must do more to engage the young, with radical ideas, fresh ideals, and all their lives ahead. . . .

  • Richard Underhill 26th Feb '20 - 3:34pm

    Brian Edmonds 19th Feb ’20 – 6:04pm
    We should welcome the election of another MP from the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. The first was their leader Naomi Long, not then an MEP. He has given his maiden speech in the Commons, commendably polite about his predecessor and full of good sense about the province, which regrettably he calls a ‘nation’. Democratic, peaceful, nationalists are in the SDLP, one of who was elected for Belfast South and has given her maiden speech in the Commons.

  • Richard Underhill 26th Feb '20 - 4:06pm

    “We must now take the long view to reach our D-day”
    This is obviously some-ones favourite speech. It is not over-long. It does contain one-letter words. Try comparing it with Donald Trump’s speech on arrival in India recently, while noting that he is not a Democrat and probably considers the word ‘Liberal’ as a term of abuse.
    Some questions are impossible to answer, for instance when the British Group of the Liberal International had a trip to India, including an MP (now a peer) we were asked “If you are Liberals, why do you not support Mrs Thatcher? She was not, one of us, although she might have been comfortable with the LDP in Japan.

  • Can the Conference.

    It doesn’t seem sensible to go ahead with this conference in COVID-19 times. Putting hundreds of our most committed activists, from all corners of the country, in one place at one time is high-risk. These are people we can ill-afford to lose.

  • @ Ken Munn, I agree…. and it could send out a responsible message from the party to the general public….. and might there be a bit of Lord Sainsbury’s £ 8 million left over to pay the bills ?

    @ Richard Underhill Sorry, Richard, but I do ask you….please don’t use the term ‘D Day’ as a slogan for a political party. The real meaning, and what it involved, still has painful resonances for some of us who had relatives who either died or were badly scarred on that day seventy five years ago. Please, try to think of something more appropriate.

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