Virtual Conference

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The date was 17 September 2008. I was on holiday with friends in Verwood and over the moon following what I had felt had been a successful telephone interview (conducted on a fire escape at the Fleet Air Arm Museum) for my dream summer internship.

Serendipitously, my grandparents were on a coach holiday that week in Bournemouth, so while my friends saw relatives elsewhere in the county, I arranged to see my grandparents by the seaside. We met outside their hotel, took a wander down to the park to grab a bite to eat and then walked back along the sea-front.

At the tender age of 18, I had not quite started university. I certainly did not, as now, possess a mobile phone with a camera, so you will have to take my word for it when I say we stopped outside an imposing hotel proudly flying yellow flags, watched a strange collection of photographers grouped outside the entrance as though hoping for an A-list celebrity to emerge half-cut, and then stood as passive observers to Nick and Miriam emerging from that hotel and being carried away along the sea-front by a wave of paparazzi.

Now at the tender age of 30, that is still the closest I have ever been to a party conference. Sure, I have only been a member of the Liberal Democrats for a little over three years, but despite having first joined a political party at the age of 15, a combination of work commitments and financial pressures have always meant that the next-closest I have ever been to a conference has been watching them on BBC Parliament.

Until now. Because this year I will at last be attending a party conference for the first time.

While COVID-19 has been absolutely devastating on our economy, killed tens of thousands and impacted hundreds of thousands more, the technological race to keep the wheels of business, politics and the voluntary sector moving in these unprecedented times has set welcome precedents which must remain in the “new normal”.

As a local party treasurer, our executive may have been prevented from meeting in person, but our work continued through virtual meetings – and there have been suggestions of continuing to allow virtual access indefinitely, even when those meetings are in person once again.

And while COVID-19 may have scuppered the party conference in the way it has been traditionally enjoyed by many, moving it online opens the doors to members like myself who cannot normally afford the time or expense to attend in person.

Our MPs led the charge in insisting that the virtual parliament remain, allowing members to speak and vote remotely, and our party must lead by example. While remote access to speak and vote at conference means others may be disenfranchised this year, when the coronavirus dust has settled, the Liberal Democrats should explore a hybrid physical/virtual conference to ensure maximum participation in future years.

* Alan Collins Rosell is a blogger and treasurer of the Medway local party.

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6 Comments

  • I look forward to welcoming you and many other first time attenders to our conference in September, Alan.

    As you say, the circumstances which have forced such changes on us are absolutely not the way we’d have wanted change to happen. They do though provide us with an opportunity to get many more people involved in the party in news ways. If we get it right, this will provide an important and sustained boost to our political chances.

  • Geoff Payne 31st Jul '20 - 7:35am

    Thanks for this article, Alan, and I look forward to seeing you (virtually) at our conference! We will certainly be looking at ways to integrate virtual and physical conferences in the future.

  • Laurence Cox 31st Jul '20 - 10:58am

    Well said Alan. I would add to David Warren’s point that carers are also prevented from attending Conference physically. I look forward to being able to contribute from my living room.

  • David Garlick 4th Aug '20 - 2:50pm

    I dislike video conferencing of all descriptions.

  • Alan Collins Rosell 12th Aug '20 - 1:53pm

    Thank you everyone for your comments!

    My main argument for integrating virtual participation into future conferences was based on cost alone, but Laurence makes a valid point that carers would equally benefit.

    David Garlick – I suspect you are not alone, and I would never advocate permanently replacing physical conferences. But introducing a virtual element would widen participation and allow those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to speak and vote to do so together with those in the room.

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