The Lib Dem Conference Roll of Honour

I was at a loss to understand why I was so absolutely knackered at the end of Conference last night. It’s not as if I had had to drag my sorry, Glee-Club hungover backside the length of the country as I would have been if I’d been at an in-person conference. It’s not as if I had had about 15 hours’ sleep over the past 5 nights of “networking.”

Certainly, sitting in front of a screen for 12 hours a day is pretty exhausting. So, I guess, is the emotional energy used up wishing I was actually with my friends in the Goat and Tricycle in Bournemouth or Smokeys in Brighton.

But that was pretty much all I was doing. For those organising Conference, it was much harder. Spinning the plates over the four days of the virtual Conference is pretty intense for Federal Conference Committee. They have to deal with all the speakers’ cards, manage the debates, deal with unexpected tech problems, make decisions about what separate vote requests, requests for references back etc to take.

So, Federal Conference Committee, take a bow. You did a superb job. Those based in the Docklands HQ  that I remember seeing over the weekend included Jennie Rigg, Jon Ball, Bex Scott, Chris Adams, Cara Jenkinson, Chris Maines and Joe Otten. This does not mean I agreed with every single one of their decisions, because that would be weird, but I do want to pay tribute to their hard work.

One person I want to single out was also there. It was new Committee Chair Nick Da Costa’s first Conference in charge and by all accounts he did a great job. My spies tell me that he was the most supportive and appreciative manager and he was also quick to respond to queries from Conference attendees on social media.

One of the great features of the online Conference is the chat function. When you are in person, you can tell the mood of the hall. No chat function will ever replicate that electricity when there’s drama going on but you can get an idea of what people are thinking. For it to function well, it needs to be well moderated. Jennie Rigg’s team of moderators were so quick to answer questions. A really thoughtful touch was to have a pinned post of support organisations during the debate on ending violence against women and girls. They kept the discussion on track, made sure the rules weren’t broken and did their jobs perfectly.

A company called Vivid was responsible for the technical support during Conference. If you were called to speak in a debate, you were put in a Zoom or Skype holding pen while you were waiting. That came after a brief test call in which they made sure your audio and video was working properly.  They were really efficient about how they did their jobs – and not only that, they were actually really lovely with it. At the end of the violence against women debate, the person looking after us in the holding pen said we should all be proud of ourselves for our speeches. After an emotional hour, it helped to get that kind of feedback.

And then of course there’s all the organisations that put together the fringe programme. It can be pretty nerve wracking when speakers pull out at the last minute and you have to find someone else to fill in and you also have to think of a subject that’s going to interest people. I didn’t manage to get to many fringe meetings because I was on the Federal Board booth a lot of the time but I really enjoyed two run by the Lib Dem Campaign for Race Equality. One was with Jo Swinson and Rabina Khan which I wrote about here and the other was with Rabina, Roderick Lynch and Dorothy Thornhill about reaching out to ethnic minority communities. All in all, they and other organisations like the Social Liberal Forum, LGBT Plus Lib Dems, Lib Dem Women, Lib Dems for Seekers of Sanctuary and the Young Liberals put together a highly illuminating programme.

On Sunday night there was a late night comedy show organised by the Lib Dem creative network. I was a bit annoyed at first that all the performers were men. That was immediately raised in the chat and they said they couldn’t get anyone. I wonder if they even asked Emma Kennedy? If not, they should. However, they soon won me over by being funny.

Party staff put a phenomenal amount of work into arranging the commercial and organisational aide of Conference. It’s an enormous effort  to manage the registrations, sell exhibition and fringe space, put together the papers, make sure everything is up to date on the website, report back about what has happened, keep track of which motions and amendments pass and generally work incredibly long hours. This includes the press team who go above and beyond to get us coverage.

And, finally, thanks to everyone who attended and took part. There were some phenomenally good speeches over the weekend, some of which we have put on here.

All in all it was a good weekend and we should all be grateful to anyone who had a hand in putting it together.

What was your highlight?

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

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4 Comments

  • I hope everyone who participated got something positive from the event, but I prefer the real experience to the digital alternative. Yes, the technology out there allows us to work from home, but I have better things to do with my weekends than stare at a computer screen (which I do Mondays to Fridays for a living). Covid forced us into this Digitocracy, but if anyone says that this is the “way of the future”, how party business should be done permanently, I say: sorry, that’s crap, I would rather see people in real life. Covid permitting, let’s meet for a party conference (and a real party!) next year.

  • Maureen Rigg 22nd Sep '21 - 9:21am

    I agree completely with Caron’s congratulations to those who made it all happen – an amazing feat and one that should be recognised and applauded.
    It is true that there’s a huge gulf between an in person conference and a digital one, but can I put in a plea that we don’t see them as totally mutually exclusive. There are members who will never be able to attend a conference in person but who can participate in a digital one. Can we as a party show a commitment to inclusivity by looking for ways of making it possible to participate from a distance as well as from the conference centre? It won’t be possible to do it for every aspect of conference, but for the major debates and even some of the fringes surely it could be? Step by step, little by little, towards being a truly fully inclusive one member one vote conference? Please?

  • Laurence Cox 22nd Sep '21 - 1:24pm

    I totally agree with Maureen, we need to be as inclusive as possible when creating the arrangements for our future conferences. One small advantage of digital conferences though, I could cook meals while listening to the conference feed and eat them in front of my laptop without having to worry about anyone seeing me. It is certainly an improvement on rushing to get to fringe meetings early to ensure one gets the free food and a chair to sit upon!

  • Suzanne Fletcher 22nd Sep '21 - 4:25pm

    Yes thanks to Caron for putting the thanks together. I have my grumbles but will look for some constructive answers, and yes we must be inclusive now that many have had a taste of conference that could not get there in person. Although clearly more work needs to go into making it more accessible on line to some.
    I thought Nick Da Costa had reached the heights of conference success last time but one that we were in Bournemouth, when he bravely rescued my suitcase on Bournemouth Station and got it returned to me at home. But he has even more talent we now know!

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