Tag Archives: spring conference 2018

Thinking the unthinkable is fun and might just lead us somewhere interesting

Have you ever wondered if there’s a policy the Lib Dems could be promoting that simply isn’t part of the political landscape? One that doesn’t fall under economics, health, education, environment or any of the traditional categories of modern-day politics?

This question was raised during the ‘Radical Liberalism’ fringe meeting held in Southport last weekend, which was part of the Social Liberal Forum’s fringe programme and which I chaired. The meeting itself was very unlike most fringe meetings which focus on a speaker or two from the top table – this was more of a brainstorming session, and I threw in a number of questions at various intervals to guide the debate. The result was that most of the 80 or so people who packed out the room contributed to the discussion.

About half-way through, I asked whether there were any policies that people might like to throw into the mix which weren’t currently on the political map, even if they may seem a bit off-the-wall. I said they might well not be viable, but sometimes thinking the unthinkable leads to ideas that might not otherwise emerge.

The first suggestion was that we might advocate moving the capital from London to somewhere more central. The person suggesting it wasn’t just arguing for geographical fairness, but saying it doesn’t help us to have the country’s administrative and democratic centre in the primary financial hub, and that London should be allowed to become like Frankfurt, Amsterdam or Zürich which are major cities but don’t host national parliaments and governments.

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What did you think of Southport?

I’ve just completed my Conference feedback survey with more than my usual irritation that it didn’t give me the chance to give the feedback I wanted.

If you attended Conference, you will have a link to the survey in your email.

I had a marvellous time in Southport. I had an amazing b and b, The Leicester, which was very cheap but spotless, comfortable, well decorated and there was even a doggie for me to pet.

It was the first time that I’d been there in 20 years and I regretted not having the …

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A day in the life of…a newly elected member of Federal Conference Committee

As a newly elected member of the Federal Conference Committee (FCC) I was keen to get involved. I left home at 10:00 am in the morning to get to Southport and my first FCC meeting at 2:30 pm. Unfortunately, due to the traffic, I didn’t get to the conference until 3:00 pm and I got to the meeting half an hour late. A few heads were raised as I walked in – I think I made an impression!!

A discussion was in progress on the amendments and emergency motions, I thought it was quite detailed and well thought through. A very good article written by Zoe O’Connell for LDV  details the discussions.

After the meeting, the members of FCC were taken on a tour of the main Auditorium to familiarise themselves with the setup. I met one of the Stewards who was clearly exhausted. He informed me that he has been there since Thursday helping to set things up.

After the tour, there was a meeting to go through the rather complex conference standing orders. I thought the training and discussion on standing orders were very good and it reassured me that different scenarios that arise when motions are discussed can be managed consistently and fairly. On Saturday morning, and I arrived on time, there was another meeting to discuss the arrangements and motions for Sunday. 

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17 days to shape Lib Dem policy on immigration

The first events of the Southport Conference last Friday afternoon were three policy consultation sessions. These sessions are the intermediate stage of the policy development process. The first is the establishment of a policy working group which looks at the key issues and takes evidence and then produces a consultation paper to be discussed at Conference and which is also accessible online for members to comment on.

The three papers discussed at Spring will be finalised in light of the consultation and then put to Conference for a final decision.

I went to the session on Immigration. I  should have read the consultation paper weeks ago when it first came out, not on the way down on the train. However, when I did read it, I pretty much spontaneously combusted. I am pretty much a “people should be able to live wherever they want” sort of person. I am not daft enough to think that that is going to fly in the current political environment but I do think our policy should reflect the fact that people are falling in love with life partners from all over the world and we should do all we can to keep them together. 

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Vince talks to Voice Part 3: A message of hope that Brexit can be stopped

As you know, I managed to grab 10 minutes with Vince, his wife Rachel and some delicious sandwiches just after his speech on Sunday.  You can also read Parts 1,  and 2

I asked him what he wanted to have accomplished by the time we gather in Brighton for Conference in September.

Well I think there are some very specific areas where good work has been initiated – learning accounts, medical technologies, taxation. that will be some meaty stuff to talk about.

But Brexit is going to be the big thing….

We will have a greater understanding by September of exactly where we are in the Brexit cycle. Hopefully the message of hope that this can be stopped will be clearer but even if it isn’t totally clear we will then have one month to stop it and October may be the crucial month so people need to be prepared that this is the time for the big push and to back up what’s happening in the party and at conference with stuff on the streets. That’s crucial.

We are the only party that is mobilising people to argue back with street campaigns. We need to build up the tempo on that working with other campaigning groups. We’ve already started that. It doesn’t stop at the local elections. It needs to keep going over the Summer as the key decisions will be made in the Autumn. I hope that people’s confidence that this is doable is fortified by some victories in the Spring. If we can get the Government defeated on the customs union, that’ll be a start. It’s not the end but it’s certainly the start.

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What can we expect from Vince today?

Vince has a couple of jobs in his keynote speech today. First of all, he has to continue to stake our claim to be the Party that wants to stop Brexit. The Party is stepping up its anti-Brexit rhetoric. Tom Brake explicitly told Conference yesterday that Brexit was such a disaster for the Country that we would be doing all we could to ensure that people got a say on the final deal. Catherine Bearder MEP said that “the Emperor is stark naked.”

But that is only half the story. This Conference has made some key proposals on other issues that voters care about – dealing with the housing crisis by giving local authorities radical new powers to build more houses, reforming schools by replacing OFSTED and abolishing SATS to reduce stress to pupils and teachers. Today we’ll have some serious proposals to give the NHS the investment it needs. This is part of building a programme of policy that looks to tackle inequality and poverty in this country. Expect Vince to talk about that.

We can also expect him to really have a go at Labour. We’ve seen a it of that already at the Conference. Yesterday, Simon Hughes highlighted Labour’s huge failures on housing which let a whole generation of young people down. He’ll also highlight Corbyn’s complicity with the Tories on Brexit. 

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Conference tells Federal Board to think again on new disciplinary processes

There was shock late yesterday afternoon when Conference referred back the new disciplinary proposals brought forward by the Federal Board as a result of the Macdonald Review.

The new process had been developed by Ken Macdonald, a former Director of Public Prosecutions and was designed to be independent of the state parties. The current system is clearly not fit for purpose, at least at English Party level. Complainants tell of long delays- one woman described a 13 month to have her complaints sexual harassment dealt with – and unsatisfactory results.

Conference decided by just two votes to refer the matter back to the Federal Board after speakers expressed concerns about the proposals. While the English Party Chair, Liz Leffman, was fully behind the new system, other senior members of the English Party spoke against the proposals citing practical difficulties and opposition to measures designed to give limited powers to key figures in the Party. They objected to a measure that would give the Party President a right to appeal against any decision on behalf of the Party – a vital safeguard, I would have thought, if a decision was made that clearly went against the weight of the evidence. Another move, to give the Federal Chief Executive emergency power to suspend a member for a very short period of time. Best practice in voluntary organisations and workplaces gives an immediate power of suspension in cases of gross misconduct. Under the new system, the ordinary process of suspending someone could take up to 14 days. If you have someone convicted of some sort of offence involving harassment or assault on the eve of a Conference, that presents immediate safeguarding issues and quicker action may be needed.

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Vince: Lib Dems are going forward

Vince has been talking to the Evening Standard ahead of Spring Conference. He emphasised our unique position on Brexit and how we are going for the votes of EU Nationals in the local elections in May.

“We are going forwards, the question is how fast,” he said. Brexit might  provide their way back. “I think the Government is making a terrible pig’s ear of it. It’s proving to be far more complicated, far more difficult than people were led to believe. Theresa May’s biggest mistake was probably hubris, making these commitments to red lines on the single market and the customs union that she is now having to slither out of.” His first test will be the local elections on May 3, when the party will bring out videos and social media campaign material in 21  European languages in a bid to harness the votes of a million EU citizens in Britain. Lib Dem campaigners have already contacted 300,000 more than three times each, he revealed. “Our main appeal is to British voters but the  European nationals are people having things done to them. They didn’t have a vote in the referendum, they didn’t have a vote in the general election, but they do have a vote in local elections.”

I suspect we’ll see the hardline Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn together a lot in the coming months:

He remains committed to stopping Brexit altogether. “I don’t think the soft Brexit is obtainable any more,” he said. “Maybe with good organisation and a bit more courage from the Tory backbenches they will stop her leaving the customs union… but that’s not enough in itself to get to a soft Brexit.” He branded Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn “a fairly hardline Brexiteer” who had held open the door for the UK exit and opposed a second referendum.

He also talked about his commitment to make the Lib Dems more diverse and have a BAME candidate in London:

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Ed Davey to call for more investment in community policing

In Scotland, the Liberal Democrats have become the go-to party on Police issues because of our long record of opposing the disastrous merger of Scotland’s Police Force.

Willie Rennie, Justice Spokesperson Liam McArthur and his predecessor Alison McInnes have criticised the Police over things like inappropriate use of stop and search or routine patrolling with firearms but they have also highlighted the stress that frontline officers are facing and raised the flaws in the new management.

He will say:

Effective, well-resourced policing is fundamental to protecting our freedoms and helping the most vulnerable in society.

Liberal Democrats’ commitment to civil liberties and

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WATCH: The Conference Rally

I always go to the Conference rally. Except for last night. I had my “fields of wheat” moment and sloped off to the pub to celebrate my friends’ special birthdays.  Thankfully, those nice people who sort out the live streaming have put it up on You Tube for us all to enjoy.

I am particularly looking forward to seeing Zoe O’Connell talk about same sex marriage.

 

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Federal Conference Committee Report: Amendments and emergency motions selected

Federal Conference Committee (FCC) has now selected the amendments and emergency motions for spring conference. The full text of selected amendments and emergency motions will appear in Conference Extra and Conference Daily, which may well have been published by the time you read this.

Emergency motions that are in order (I.e. genuine emergencies) are selected by all-member ballot on Saturday morning, via the ballot box at the front of the auditorium. Full details on the process and content will appear in Saturday’s Conference Daily.

Some authors of amendments have included titles, but this is not mandatory so a number are my own …

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Got any awkward questions to ask the party committees?

One of the most important aspects of our party’s accountability is the ability to question its powerful people.

Every Conference, there are sessions where members can put their questions to the committees who run the party and to our parliamentarians. These are usually poorly attended, with just a few of the Usual Suspects turning up to ask awkward questions. Actually, the more people who turn up and the more awkward questions asked, the better the party will be.

Everybody who holds power within an organisation should expect to be rigorously held to account. In our party, the main committees are:

The Federal Board …

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Radical, distinctive and quite possibly the start of something big

How do we get off 8%? We’ve been at or around that figure in the polls since well before the 2015 election, and despite our very clear and principled stance on Brexit, we’re still stuck.

Maybe we just need some ‘events, dear boy’. We’ve had precious few parliamentary by-elections, which were the lifeblood of the party’s momentum in the 1960s, 70s and 90s, and we haven’t had the kind of Iraq War issue that puts us on the right side of public opinion and leaves the Conservatives and Labour on the wrong side. But do we just wait for such an event to arise?

No, we have to grasp the nettle and do something, and if you’re going to be in Southport for the Lib Dem conference, please come to a fringe meeting that involves doing just that. It’s only for an hour, and at 6.15pm on the Saturday night before the alcohol starts flowing. But it’s aimed at starting the ball rolling towards the party finding a handful of policies that can define us as a caring, distinctive and radical social force in British politics.

Entitled ‘Radical Liberalism – defining what we stand for’, it builds on a paper Paul Pettinger and I wrote in the autumn, and which was the subject of a piece we jointly wrote on LDV on 27 October. Many of the responses from LDV readers were very helpful, and have helped shape the meeting we’re organising in Southport in association with Social Liberal Forum and Compass.

The two central thrusts of that paper – which are also the two thrusts of our meeting – are that we need to be defined in policy terms, not in relation to other parties, and we need to frame our policies so others who support what we stand for in elections where we can win (and their preferred party can’t) feel able to vote Lib Dem. There is also an implied willingness to work with people of other parties who have a similar mindset to ours, be it pre- or post-election, public or behind-the-scenes. As elections get closer, the media will try to present a Lib Dem vote as a closet vote for another party; we will find it easier to rebut such coverage if we can say ‘We’re clear what we stand for – if you agree with it, just vote for us!’

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The holistic Need for the Ask an Expert Stand at Conference

At our last two conferences, the Ask an Expert stand has gradually been expanded and developed. Many people have asked me why we need this facility? My answer would always be that sometimes a one to one conversation can be a really good way to solve a nagging question or issue.

On the stands previously, we’ve had experts in compliance, Connect, communications, campaigning, Diversity & Inclusion to name but a few, and all have had detailed conversations – sometimes quite private and confidential – to overcome those issues which wouldn’t necessarily have been possible to explain or detail in a general training session.

The stand is a great addition to the programme of training that goes on at conference. For those that perhaps find large training sessions intimidating, or suffer from difficulties in learning, or feel awkward asking questions that they feel they probably ought to know, then the volunteers on the Ask an Expert stand offer support on a one-to-one basis. This means they can help in a far more intimate way to explain, cajole, reason and support our members and activists. If the activists learn more skills on the ground, then they can spend more time using the new skills they’ve been shown, or the ways they’ve learned to support critical issues in their local party, region, Council group, SAO (Specified Associated Organisation) or AO (Associated Organisation). 

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Why you should think about submitting an amendment to a Conference motion

Liberal Democrat Spring Conference takes place in Southport in just two and a half weeks’ time. Party members will be discussing policy motions on the NHS at 70, party strategy, housing, Brexit, education and rural communities.

You might want to take note  that the deadline for submitting amendments is 1pm on Tuesday 6th March so you have a whole 13 days to put your amendment together, find 9 people to agree with you and submit it to the Federal Conference Committee.

I bet virtually everyone who has been to Conference has been in the hall and realised that the motion under debate would have been so much better if it had made an additional point or said something slightly differently.  Failure to read your conference papers ahead of time could have you kicking yourself that you didn’t take the opportunity to make a motion better or to spark a lively debate.

Amending a motion can make for a very interesting debate. If a motion submitted by members is deemed a bit too radical by the leadership, they’ll often submit an amendment to make it a bit more on message. They don’t always win the day in these debates either.

Sometimes members feel that a motion submitted by the party’s Powers that Be is not sufficiently radical for their liking so they will submit an amendment that beefs it up a bit.

We Liberal Democrats are pretty good at having high quality, passionate debates on controversial topics. Twice recently we’ve debated nuclear weapons and the tension in the hall has ensured some really high quality speeches. Similarly, one of the high points of the Bournemouth Conference last Autumn was the debate on Brexit strategy. There was all the high drama of suspending standing orders to change the agenda to have a proper debate rather than a consultative session and then a challenging and passionate debate on the substantive issue.

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Southport and strategy

This is my personal view about the Southport Conference Strategy motion – what’s good and what can be improved.

There are four big ideas:

  1. A dual approach to politics. We are an insurgent party In our hearts and minds – we want to use political power for change and reform through government and by working with people to help them to take and use power over the forces that affect their lives. It means practical campaigns for our values, fighting the forces that diminish people’s lives and making modern liberalism into a political and social movement.  We should win campaigns NOW on local, national and international issues, working with people in other parties and outside conventional politics.  Our members should be on the streets, into social media and telephoning to win campaigns not just votes. Votes will follow successful campaigns; if they appear to be our main or only purpose, we’ll fail to win hearts and mind for liberalism, fail to win a mandate for radical change and fail to win big elections.
  1. A re-statement of the big ideas that define our core campaign themes: the open society, tolerant, pluralist and internationalist; a fair economy which challenges inequality; and helping people to take back control. We want a strong society, a fair economy, and communities where people find themselves as confident, powerful individuals.

These campaigns resonate with communities throughout the UK . We are not defined by Brexit, although we have important things to say to people on both sides. We have strong messages for people “left-behind” by globalisation and for everyone who wants more control over their lives. We are an inclusive Party, hearing and responding to the pain of many who feel that the EU doesn’t help them, and explaining why open, tolerant, internationalist society works best.

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Towards a party strategy

Optimists and pessimists alike can find plenty to feed on about the current state of the Liberal Democrats. Dramatic council by-election gains. Stuck in single figures in the opinion polls almost constantly for over seven years, with our best monthly average only 11%. A massive growth in party membership taking us to all-time record levels. A local council base that has been shrinking steadily since the peak of 22.3% of councillors being Lib Dem in 1996. A distinctive position on the big policy issue of our times, providing plenty of political space for the party.

The list could go on. What even this short sample shows is that the Liberal Democrats have huge potential, the need for us to successfully argue the liberal and democratic position has never been greater and yet we’ve not yet found a way to turn that into sustained success.

It’s a challenge to us all to work out how we can raise our game, be smarter in what we do, raise more money and involve more people.

Which is where the strategy motion coming up at Southport conference comes in. Any party member who can make it to conference has the chance to debate and vote on it. It’s not a strategy from on high, but one based on widespread consultation with members last year, including two all-member surveys and on which members get the final say.

It is also, quite deliberately, a strategy. It is not a manifesto, a vision statement or an HQ business plan. It is not the one magic document that contains all the solutions for what the party needs to do. We will also need, for example, great manifestos for future devolved and Westminster general elections. So don’t expect to find the answers to everything in the strategy motion – it is (just) our propose strategy.

It is also, as any good strategy should be, a deliberate choice of priorities. There are plenty of things that could be in it which aren’t. That is because to prioritise everything is to prioritise nothing. You will, I suspect, have some things you’d love to see in the list of organisational priorities which aren’t there. I can certainly think of some I’m tempted to add. But even in an organisation overflowing with money, staff and volunteers, let alone in the reality of the Liberal Democrats, you need to prioritise to make meaningful progress.

So what the proposed strategy does instead is to set out a clear political approach for us – one which combines the mutually supporting aims of electoral success with the broader challenge of making our society and political system more liberal – and then sets out what sort of organisation we need to achieve that and how to get there.

If we get that right, we can rise to the challenge that the news brings us almost daily and turn far more of what we believe should happen into political change that makes our country more liberal, more green and more successful.

The text of the motion is below:

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarJenny Barnes 21st Jul - 2:00pm
    The economist has run the voting figures under 3 different voting schemes FPTP - Remain wins AV Hard Brexit wins Condorcet (2 out of 3...
  • User AvatarJohn Marriott 21st Jul - 1:42pm
    Sir Vince and I were contemporaries at Cambridge, although I have only met him once when, as a Coalition government minister, he came up to...
  • User AvatarJohn King 21st Jul - 1:40pm
    The yougov poll showed Remain at 50% first choices, using a 3-way vote. That's only slightly down. But during the run-up campaign, the two Leave...
  • User AvatarPeter Martin 21st Jul - 12:29pm
    @P.J. Whether or not it's a mistake depends on your P.O.V. It's actually quite a good socialist tax. But it isn't a good tax from...
  • User AvatarP.J. 21st Jul - 12:19pm
    @David Raw 'but in the real world……' Believe me. I work in this real world on a daily basis. I cannot say that I am...
  • User AvatarPaul Reynolds 21st Jul - 12:13pm
    Peter, William, David and Sandra. You are certainly right and your words of wisdom should be heeded. There is a tendency for misplaced self-congratulation, no...