Zoe O’Connell’s Federal Conference Committee report

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Federal Conference Committee met at Liberal Democrat HQ on Saturday 14th November for a meeting that had, despite press reports suggesting it was called purely to discuss special conference, been in the diary for some time.

Many topics were discussed, as the November meeting is one of the few where members get to kick about ideas and discuss new developments rather than focusing on motion and amendment selection. Even after a relatively short time on the committee, these feel to me as if they are standing agenda items – many FCC members are keen to keep up work on better use of funds to improve conference accessibility and financial inclusion, investigate remote voting, use of new technology, timing of conferences and so on. FCC rarely decides anything concrete at this point, but members are often tasked to go and consult with other groups such as, for example, talking to DEG and LDDA about some aspect of accessibility or funding that has arisen.

I generally refrain from reporting discussions-in-progress on these topics, as I feel it right that groups representing members who have most to gain (or lose) from changes should get the first say. There are three areas that deserve special mention, however:

Special Conference

As most people reading this will likely be aware, FCC had received a request for a special conference late on the Friday night before the meeting. As of the the start of the meeting the request was still being formally checked for validity by the compliance team in HQ, and we had not yet received the exact text of the motion. This meant that there was little for us to discuss on the Saturday morning, except for the chair (Andrew Wiseman) to answer a few questions from the committee on the procedures we were following. The wording was close to agreement on Tuesday, by which point the situation was resolved and the request for a special conference was withdrawn. Conference office had not had enough time to find a venue by the Tuesday, much less book anything – the constitution allows FCC to be fairly flexible on timings, so the main constraint was finding an appropriate venue at short notice.

One Member, One Vote (OMOV)

OMOV was a recurring theme of Saturday’s FCC, as it has  several knock-on effects. The chair of the Federal Appeals Panel has confirmed that OMOV took effect from the close of conference in Bournemouth – the special conference request was submitted under the new rules, only requiring 200 members rather than 200 conference representatives to call it. This would also have meant that the voting at special conference would have been open to all members, and as it would probably have been a constitutional amendment would have required a two thirds majority to pass.

There is a little confusion on OMOV as local parties have been asked to elect conference representatives at their AGMs, but these are only needed because some electoral rules for committees have yet to be updated. Although it is not related to the running of conference, many people are understandably asking members of FCC about needing to elect conference representatives so FCC has asked for an update clarifying the situation to be sent to party chairs.

York, the venue for spring conference in 2016, was also booked before we knew about OMOV or the post-election surge in membership. As those who went to spring conference in 2014 will probably remember, York is one of the smaller venues for spring conferences and we are expecting both higher conference attendance and a higher proportion of people in the hall. FCC is taking a very cautious approach and does not want to be put in the position of disenfranchising a large number of members on the first OMOV conference simply because they can not fit in the hall, so is arranging an overflow area in which delegates will be able to sit, view the debate on a screen and vote. The other option would be to move conference to a larger venue, which is a very unattractive proposition as many members will already have booked non-refundable accommodation and transport and the party would have to pay a hefty cancellation.

The upshot of this is that the exhibition area, where party bodies and external organisations run stalls, is likely to be quite different because the usual amount of space will not be available. The exact details of how it will be different are still being worked out, but hopefully we will be trying out new ideas that have been around for a while that we can either keep if they work well or ditch for Spring 2017 if they are not regarded as positive.

Election of Vice-Chair

Sandra Gidley has, sadly, had to stand down as vice-chair of FCC due to other commitments so a new vice-chair was needed – I’m pleased to be able to say that I was elected to the post. (To avoid confusion, I should mention that there are two Vice-Chairs at any point and the other is currently the very capable Geoff Payne)

* Zoe O'Connell is a Councillor and deputy group leader on Cambridge City Council, sits on the executive of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats and is Vice Chair of Federal Conference Committee.

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8 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 24th Nov '15 - 11:01am

    Zoe OConnell | Tue 24th November 2015 – 10:25 am ” … members are often tasked to go and consult with other groups such as, for example, talking to DEG and LDDA about some aspect of accessibility or funding that has arisen”
    Please spell out once who/what these groups are, to help those of us who do not fully understand the current organisation.

  • Richard: I dunno who DEG are (somebody has organised told me at some point but my brain will only remember acronyms for groups I have actually interacted with) but LDDA is lib dem disability association.

    Zoe: thank you. It looks like FCC are doing interesting things with regard to the membership surge and venue size – I look forward to York with interest

  • Zoe O'connell 24th Nov '15 - 11:48am

    Richard – Good point, thanks for raising it!

    DEG are the Diversity Engagement Group, a group looking at overall issues of Equality and Diversity in the party.
    LDDA are the Liberal Democrat Disability Association, a group of party members. You can read about them on their web site: http://disabilitylibdems.org.uk/en/

    In case anyone asks “What about X group”, that’s not an exhaustive list. I picked those two organisations because this meeting discussed a Conference Access Grant which meant they were fresh in my mind when I wrote the post.

  • Thanks for doing these posts Zoe, really helpful.

  • Zoe O'connell 24th Nov '15 - 9:35pm

    Simon – best approach would be LDDA ([email protected]) collating requests and then sending them to the conference office as a bid for money under the access fund once details are formally announced. Local parties might also be useful to talk to as they’ll know local members, and arranging a minibus would also possibly be of help to those on lower incomes.

    There’s a new option as part of the registration process for people to make a donation into the access fund, and it’s proving quite popular, but we don’t know how much money will be available yet as it’s the first time we’ve done this.

    Jennie/ChrisB – Thanks!

  • suzanne fletcher 28th Nov '15 - 4:35pm

    thank you for the report back, useful and helpful.
    I like the idea of an official overflow area, presumably with the “live performance” relayed. It will be really helpful to some disabilities and those who cannot sit for long and need to get up and move about to have a more informal area as has happened in years gone by.

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