Updated for York 2017: Caron’s guide to the craziness of Conference

Federal Conference is probably the best fun that you will ever have in your life. You will thoroughly enjoy every exhausting moment. If you’re new, it can be a bit overwhelming until you get used to the sensory overload. I had a long break from going to them and when I returned, in 2011, I spent the first day wandering round in a state of wide-eyed amazement,  like a child in a toy shop. Spring Conference is smaller than Autumn, but a look at the agenda tells me that there are at least two things going on that I want to go to at all times.

So, with that in mind, I thought I’d throw together a fairly random list of tips and hints for getting the best out of the annual cornucopia of Liberal Democracy. If you have any other Conference survival tips, let me know.

1. Plan your days

The Conference day has a huge variety of things to do. As well as the debates in the hall,  there’s a comprehensive training programme.  There are spokespeople Q & As. There are competing fringe choices to be made, even though the overall selection has reduced in recent years.  You can guarantee that you will never be bored and that several things you want to see will be on at the same time.

Be aware as well that you can eat quite well for free by choosing the right fringe meetings – look for the refreshments symbol in the directory.

Believe me, it’s much easier if you sort out your diary in advance. The best laid plans will always be subject to a better offer or meeting someone you haven’t seen for years randomly in a corridor, but it’s best to at least try to get some order into the proceedings. The Conference App is a real help for this. You can download it from whichever App store you use on your phone (search for Lib Dem Conf). It allows you to add events to your schedule and is pretty flexible. 

2. Make time to do the Exhibition properly

Organisations pay the party a small fortune to have a stall in the exhibition. It’s therefore only polite for us all to take time to visit their stalls. But it’s not just about manners. They are actually really interesting. You have a mix of companies trying to sell you things, voluntary organisations wanting to tell you things and book stalls that are just far too tempting. It’s a good opportunity to sign up for some of the many Party groups – the Humanists and Secularists, or ALDC, or Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform to name but a few. It’s your chance also to sign up for things like Liberator or the Journal of Liberal History.

If you’re going to do it properly, it’ll take you a while, probably a good couple of hours, but it’s really worth it. You learn loads, meet lovely people and pick up some good freebies.

4. To Glee or not to Glee?

You either love or hate The Glee Club, the raucous end of Conference singathon. I’m firmly in the love it camp. Singing the traditional, funny or downright rude songs that make up the Liberator Song Book is a great way to end Conference on a high. The day after the event a couple of years ago, there was a very funny interview with Alistair Carmichael on the World at One where Martha Kearney played a recording of us singing “The 12 days of Coalition. He talked his way out of it admirably. I thoroughly recommend that you give this madness a go. It is unique and nobody laughs at ourselves like we do.

5. Don’t assume you’ll bump into your friends by accident

There have been conferences where some of my best friends were there and I never saw them. Conference is a big place. If you want to make sure you catch up with people, organise in advance.

If you’re there on your own for the first time, we are a pretty friendly bunch, so don’t be shy. Speak to the person next to you in the coffee queue whether it’s a parliamentarian or another activist. I have met some long-standing friends, not least our wonderful, plain-speaking, funny candidate for Manchester Gorton, Jackie Pearcey.

6. LDV on the Fringe

For the first time, we have a fringe meeting at Spring Conference, held jointly with Irish Liberal Democrats. At 8:15 on Friday night, in Meeting Room 5 in the Novotel, we’ll be discussing Irish/UK relations post Brexit with Lib Dem Northern Ireland spokesperson Alison Suttie. Alliance leader Naomi Long had planned to be there but she is a bit busy at the moment, as I’m sure you can imagine after the Northern Ireland elections and won’t be able to make it.

Afterwards, everyone’s invited to the York Irish Association St Patrick’s Day Festival.

7. The key debates

There’s some real controversy this Conference. There are three big debates on highly sensitive subjects. On Saturday morning, we discuss sex work and ways in which to keep those who carry it out and the communities around them safe. On Saturday afternoon, after decades of fudge, we have to make our minds up about nuclear weapons and on Sunday morning, the issue of faith schools is to be discussed. On Saturday just before lunch, we’ll also be discussing Brexit and future relations with the EU.

8. Try and get out and see some of York

In Bournemouth in 2015, I skived off a policy session to go to the beach and eat ice cream with my friends. It was such a gorgeous, hot day and well worth it. I have yet to see much of York, despite spending two weekends there at Conferences in the last 3 years. I am determined to change that this time.


9. LDV at Conference

Mary Reid, Joe Otten, Chris White and I will be around. Come and have a chat and tell us what you’d like to see on the site.

I also intend to make use of Facebook Live to chat to people about their impressions of Conference so if you want to take part in that, email me at [email protected].

Have a fantastic conference and enjoy your stay in York.

* 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.

One Comment

  • Oh the hopefulness inherent in saying we will finally make up our minds about Trident this time. You KNOW the biennial Trident debate is enshrined in the constitution now, just like “someone from Calderdale must speak in every debate” is 😉

    *sotto voice singing We Believe In A Part Time Submarine*

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