There’s going to be a row at Federal Conference after all…

One of the things that has been noticeably absent from this year’s Conference agenda is much in the way of potential for a scrap. There are a few contentious points in some of the motions but nothing that is really going to generate much in the way of heat.

All that may be about to change.

Last month, I reported that Federal Conference would be given the chance to debate the revocation of Article 50.   

This, I felt, was a very sensible move as, let’s face it, taking a clear position on the biggest issue of the day is always preferable to sticking your finger up getting a vague feel for what the party is feeling. We suffered at the election because of our equivocal position and we need something more robust.

Originally, only a consultation session on the direction of our Brexit strategy was planned. I was glad when I saw that the Federal Conference Committee had relented and decided to offer Conference the chance to debate a motion that would call for the revocation of Article 50, legitimised by an election. Since then, the leadership has put in an amendment which  ramps up the Exit from Brexit language and offers a referendum on the deal.

The movers of the motion, I understand, thought that Federal Conference Committee would remain neutral on this. However, the Committee decided at its most recent meeting to oppose it. This has been seen as a bit of a breach of trust by the movers of the motion. They actually had enough signatures to call a special conference on the issue, tacked on to this one. They were persuaded not to submit their request on the basis that they would have the chance to get their motion debated. This was a very sensible thing to do as the procedural Conference within a Conference thing would have been an optical nightmare for people to understand and would not have given a good impression of us at all.

Now, my very strong advice to the movers of the motion is to forget about picking a fight with FCC. Nothing has changed. That vote is still taking place tomorrow morning. What they need to do tonight is work the bars and make sure that enough people turn out to vote for the suspension of standing orders to get their motion on the agenda. If they start to talk about fighting with FCC, people’s eyes will glaze over. If they talk about the very clear merits of their proposal, then they can enthuse and engage people into getting out of bed and into the hall for 9:05 tomorrow morning.

Oh yes, I didn’t mention. It’s first thing on the agenda, so you need to be up with the lark,

So, see you very early tomorrow.

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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Simon McGrath 15th Sep '17 - 4:11pm

    We should not allow a few people threatening the expense of a special conference to over rule the elected FCC. Blackmail is not a very liberal thing to do

  • Simon – If the FCC make commitments and then renege on them, then people are entitled to act accordingly. Nothing that is being suggested here is outwith the rules. I think most members would like to see a proper debate on the biggest issue of the day.
    I’m not at Bournemouth but I hope very much that people there will turn up early tomorrow and vote to ensure a proper debate.

  • Neil Sandison 15th Sep '17 - 4:33pm

    In a party that has proper debates and not just set piece ministerial platforms its good to see members can still influence and challenge what goes onto the agenda.

  • The electorate of the whole of the UK will no doubt be awaiting the outcome with bated breath, whilst Jeremy C. and St Teresa’s knobbly knees will be knocking. It’s very exciting.

    Sensible Lib Dem, however) might be advised to avoid the bars (Dens of Inquity) and try to get one of the few remaining tickets for tonight’s Premier League match, Bournemouth v Brighton & Hove Albion – or better still watch it on Telly (in a bar, woops ?).

  • paul holmes 15th Sep '17 - 4:39pm

    Caron you have stated a number of times that ‘we lost out in the General election because of our equivocal position on Brexit’.

    Can you share with us the evidence that this view is based upon?

    In the canvassing I did it was very clear that we were viewed as an irrelevant ‘one trick pony’ who banged on incessantly throughout June 2016-June 2017 about opposing Brexit and the outcome of the 2016 Referendum. This was a clear cut stance which lost us votes even from previously long standing supporters and indeed Members.

    The Party that equivocated over Brexit with some, such as the Party Leader being pro Brexit and others against, was Labour.

    Remind me which way the votes went?

  • Have to agree with Paul Holmes. Let the powers that be in govt bugger it all up. People know where we stand on this issue . Could we now spend a little time telling them where we stand on other issues as well please?

  • @david

    Yes! Let the EUfanatics have their day in the sun and then can we move on …


  • Sarah Noble 15th Sep '17 - 6:18pm


    I think by a few people, you mean “a significant proportion of the average Conference delegation”. If you feel that 200 signatures is too few, feel free to propose a constitutional amendment to the next Conference.

    It would make little this difference in this case, as I believe the Special Conference petition had enough signatures several times over.

    With that considered, it was actually rather generous for the proposers to accept a motion for the suspension of standing orders, on the understanding that FCC would not stand in their way.

    If FCC are to backtrack on this assurance and successfully prevent the debate, then the proposers would be completely justified in restarting the Special Conference petition.

  • Richard Church 15th Sep '17 - 7:08pm

    This is dancing over the heads of pins at its worst.

    We are against Brexit, people know that. Some people though view every deviation from the purist of pure anti-Brexitism (such as suggesting that some democratic legitimacy might be required to stop Brexit) as treachery. If they are really serious about stopping Brexit they need to realise that with only 12 MP’s we need to offer some way out for people in other parties to stop this calamitous process in this parliament.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Sep '17 - 8:18pm

    As I’ve said in the past: if you stop brexit without a referendum then you can start it again without one. Giving so much power to MPs risks turning Britain into an indecisive joke.

    If we can stop brexit without a referendum then why can’t Nicola Sturgeon take Scotland out of the UK without one?

    I’m making plans to move to France in January, so I’m no little Englander, I like the EU, but soft-brexit is the best way out of this mess and then we can campaign to get back in it. An in-out referendum on the deal is also fine.

  • paul holmes 15th Sep '17 - 8:37pm

    Andy, we entered the GE on 11% and finished on 7.4% which was even worse than our abysmal result in 2015. Plus we had an even higher number of lost deposits than in our previous ‘worst ever in history’ in 2015. Given that the only policy we were known for and the only policy we had gone on and on and on and on about for the previous year was being anti the Referendum result do you not think there was some link?

    The idea that many of the 48% of Remain voters were going to abandon traditional Party loyalties and vote for us because of our stance was without any foundation. However correct our prognosis of the ultimate results of Brexit may or may not be there is no evidence whatsoever that it is a vote winner. It may be when the Brexit outcome becomes apparent in a couple of years -and it may not be, we don’t know.

    What is clear is that we were perceived as an irrelevant single issue lobby group in this years General Election. Worse still that single issue may well have strongly motivated some Leavers to vote Conservative but for most Remain voters the issue is on a back burner. Progressive voters voted for the message of ‘hope’ (remember Obama in 2008?) that Labour offered on areas of domestic policy that we had said next to nothing about for the previous year.

  • Ian Patterson 15th Sep '17 - 8:57pm

    Given the events of this last week, nuclear incineration by North Korea and/or a larger terrorist attack in UK might possibly be of slightly more importance for Conference to consider. And please don’t cite EU as a bulwark against either, it’s not.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Sep '17 - 11:38pm

    Paul Holmes

    Once upon a time I used to disagree on certain issues with you , considering you to be to the left of me on certain issues and wanting the status quo on public services and such.

    Now you seem to be the voice of common sense .

    I think what you say thus above to be in the same vein but with bells on !

  • Can we stop this navel-gazing and consider how we communicate our stance to a wider public. Put simply, the GE2017 second referendum proposal didn’t sell. We need a message that will. General motherhood/apple pie stuff won’t differentiate us in the public’s eyes. A strong Remain stance will. Then, they might even vote for us.

  • paul holmes 16th Sep '17 - 9:21am

    Ken, as far as the voters were concerned we had a firm Remain stance – and nothing else. It drove even long standing supporters away from us in June.

  • Peter Brand 16th Sep '17 - 4:14pm

    Could someone who managed to get here in time please report what happened?

  • paul holmes 16th Sep '17 - 4:56pm

    Martin, There were some rather nebulous musings to scrap existing Student Debt. I do though seem to recall that Labour’s proposals on scrapping Tuition Fees, Nationalising various industries such as the Railways and providing more money for the NHS/Education etc were all pretty firm stances. Like their firm proposal to fund it all by reversing the Coalitions £18Billion Corporation Tax cut, these proved pretty popular with voters who were rather less obsessed with Brexit than some imagine.

  • Denis Loretto 16th Sep '17 - 11:17pm

    The suspension of standing orders was not opposed by the FCC and was overwhelmingly passed. The motion for debate tomorrow, if an amendment is passed, makes it clear that a referendum on the outcome of negotiations is the only feasible instrument whereby “exit from brexit” could be achieved.

  • Martin Walker 17th Sep '17 - 7:49pm

    Paul – I’m not at all sure it is that simple. I’d certainly accept that the general public would be aware that we were opposed to Brexit. However, I do think that the policy of having another referendum felt too vague and downright irritating that it diluted our overall position – and I also suspect that this was one of the contributory factors in so many Remainers drifting towards the Labour Party. I think we would have been, and still would be, better served with a simple policy that if elected we would seek to reverse Brexit. There is no issue of democratic legitimacy when that has been put before voters at the ballot box, and it would be a stronger, more radical, more distinctive, more internationalist, position.

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