Over at Liberal Democrat Voice, I’ve done a series of guides to this year’s Spring Conference in York which starts tomorrow. Here they are in full in one not very bite sized chunk.
Part 1: The Debates:
In just 9 days’ time, Liberal Democrats will gather in York for Spring Conference.
If you haven’t been to Conference before, Spring Conference is smaller and shorter than the main event in Autumn, but it’s no less intense and interesting.
I thought I’d take a wee look around what will be happening next weekend in terms of debates, fringe and training.
But let’s get one thing out of the way first. When the agenda first came out, I had a bit of a wail on Twitter. If there is one thing I don’t want to see in my Conference agenda, it’s a great big enormous picture of Nigel Farage. Please never do this to us again, Conference Team. Thanks.
Unusually for a conference two months before an election, there are some interesting and possibly controversial debates on the agenda.
The debates kick off on Saturday morning with a motion on the large companies which dominate the pub market in this country. Even if you don’t like beer, it’s worth going to see if proposer Greg Mulholland dresses as the Casked Crusader. Andy Boddington wrote here last year about the effect of Pubcos’ behaviour on local communities and tenants. This is a good old liberal attack on the abuse of power and something that’s relevant in every area.
Then comes the Big One. The debate on migration is potentially the biggest controversy of the weekend. Julian Huppert argued on here last week that the paper on which it is based is balanced, strong and compassionate. For me, though, it doesn’t go far enough. It tinkers at the edges and fudges on the issue of British citizens rights to bring their spouses into this country. One of the worst things that the Coalition has done has been to introduce a minimum income level, only allowing the British citizen’s income to count, not savings nor the earnings potential of the spouse. This is particularly discriminatory to women who are more likely to be taking time out to bring up their children. Don’t get me wrong, there’s good stuff in this paper, like exit checks, ending indefinite detention for immigration purposes and talking up the positives of immigration but the whole immigration system is so devoid of humanity, such a source of shame for this country that it needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. This paper is way too timid for me. I also don’t like some of the language – the requiring of asylum seekers to seek work, for example. They’d love to. It’s not like they’ve been sitting around doing nothing. They’ve been desperate to work. Enabling would have been a much better word to have used in that context. I suspect that there will be amendments and this will be a serious and passionate debate.
Saturday morning ends with a debate on planning reform. It sounds boring, but planning is so relevant to all of our lives. It affects how many houses there are to live in, what our communities look like and it’s really important that power is appropriately balanced between all concerned.
In the afternoon, we get the F word out. It’s slightly disappointing that Federalism raises its head tucked away in a wide-ranging policy on political reform rather than being debated with flourish on its own, especially with the referendum on its way. It’s a huge issue and it’s good to see that the Federal Party is likely to strengthen its view and set out a roadmap to a Federal UK. It’s quite a long road, but we have to start somewhere. The paper also covers introducing the Single Transferable Vote for MPs and local councils. This is hardly new policy. There will likely be some controversy over job-share MPs. I think the idea is a good one. My only worry is that both job-sharers would be sucked in to working more hours than they intended by local party pressure, for example. I don’t think that should stop us adopting it, though.
The motion on food poverty has already been covered on here by its proposer Kelly-Marie Blundell and our own Nick Thornsby who had different perspectives. It sounds as if there will be amendments which will make for an interesting debate. My view is that you can’t treat this as a head v heart issue. Situations like this are what your heart is for. Yes, you have to combine it with your head to work out what to do to stop it, but it should be acceptable to nobody that people are going hungry in this country.
There’s also a constitutional amendment to massively increase the number of conference representatives a local party has. I should also mention that there’s a consultation session on internal democratic reform at the lunchtime which looks at giving everyone a vote for electing party committees. There are concerns that this would mean that only the Great and the Good will get elected, concentrating power in the party hands of a few. I’m sure that sort of thinking must have been used against extension of the electoral franchise way back in the 19th century. I’d be up for giving all party members a vote at Conference too like we have in Scotland.
Sunday is less controversial. A very positive motion on the EU, followed by Julian Huppert’s and Tim Farron’s Digital Bill of Rights. Not much to disagree with.
Over the weekend, we have keynote speeches from Nick Clegg, Jenny Willott, Danny Alexander and Nick does his traditional Q and A session.
All the papers for the weekend are here and if you think that some of the motions could be better, you can submit an amendment, as long as you do it by next Tuesday. You could avoid the need to collect lots of signatures from voting reps in support of it by pitching your idea to Calderdale Liberal Democrats. If they like it, they may well agree to submit it for you.
Part 2: The Training
Part 2 of my quick guide to Conference features the training programme that’s on offer on Saturday. You can read Part 1 on the debates here.
The biggest problem with Conference is that there simply isn’t enough time to do everything you want. There aren’t enough hours in the day, even if you dispense with sleeping to catch up with friends and go to all the debates and fine meetings and training sessions you want. That’s not just because many of the things you want to go to will be on at the same time. Every year I have the same nightmare trying to arrange my Conference schedule, and even when I think I’ve cracked it, even more temptations come along to distract me. Proper, worthy distractions, I mean, not just someone offering gin.
On Saturday, alongside all the interesting debates I mentioned earlier, there is a full training programme. You could be in sessions from 9:15am to 5:30 pm.
There are 3 main training providers. Liberal Democrat Women has courses for women covering all aspects of the selection process.
ALDC can show you everything you need to build your campaign, from sessions on the postal vote, how to run a council campaign and specifically the final 8 weeks. Once you have won, they have sessions on how to be an effective councillor.
LDHQ have various departments running courses on campaigning, political communication, fundraising, building and running an effective campaign team and taking good photos. The geeks are out in force to teach you about the party’s techy stuff, CONNECT, PagePlus and Nationbuilder. One you’ve used them, you’ll never want to be without them. You will probably want to get at least one person from your local party to go to one of the Growing your Membership sessions given that if you do grow your membership, it’s well worth your while financially now. An increase in 10 or more members over 3 months could give you 40% of their subscriptions in your bank account to pay for your campaigns.
Finally, if you’re going to be an election agent this year and want to stay out of jail, the Agents’ and Organisers’ Association have a session which will tell you everything you need to know.
All training is free and is available only to party members.
All the papers and information about Conference are available here on the party website.
Part 3: The Fringes
Here’s the third part of my guide to Spring Conference in York this weekend. Just think, this time tomorrow, we’ll be on our way. Anyway, part 1, the debates, can be found here and part 2, the training, is here. Oh, and don’t forget to download your Conference App. It’s now been further developed and the issues I mentioned the other day are largely sorted.
It will certainly help you manage your schedule, but, as I sad the other day, it can’t make decisions for you when there are 10 things that you want to go to at once. Planning my fringe is where I am most likely to use a lot of very bad language. And the epicentre of profanity for this Conference is the 1-2pm slot on Saturday. Not only is there a consultation on One Member One Vote, but there’s the Seekers of Sanctuary fringe with Sarah Teather and the ActionAid debate for International Women’s Day. I could actually scream. Not to mention the mental health and criminal justice event. And did I say that Stephen Tall was speaking at a meeting on evidence led education. I’m sure there will be some people who with all that on offer, will want to discuss land value taxation. And there’s Farron on social housing too.
Because I am so traumatised by the choice, I have set up a poll so that you can tell me which you think I should go to. Please vote.
You see what I mean? My teeth are gnashing. Heaven knows what I’ll end up doing. Probably going to Betty’s and eating cake.
It’s not always this bad. On Friday evening at 6:30, there’s only really one choice. The rally. Funnily enough it’s about Europe. And it has the Almighty Vince, Farron, Sarah Ludford and Catherine Bearder. And rumours reach my ears of a special guest. That’s all I’m saying. Be there.
There’s then a round of fringes. There’s only three I really really want to be at: the CentreForum et al one on managed migration, the Social Liberal Forum on responsible capitalism and the digital bill of rights Big Brother Watch event. History (social reformers), Education Association AGM and Green Lib Dems on
alternatives to nuclear power (actually, on update, on “Defending the green crap” ) make up the rest.
The later evening is easy. Unless you are lucky enough to have been invited to the Liberal Youth or the Centre Forum reception (and I haven’t), there’s always the Local Government Association/Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors and Campaigners. But I am not bitter and ALDC are wonderful.
There are three rounds of fringes on Saturday evening. In the first session, the constitution is well covered, with Lords reform and STV. You can discuss where new housing can go with the Greens or talk with Heathrow about their vision for the future. I’m guessing you won’t want to go to both of these. You can discuss zero hours contracts with the lawyers or fundraising with the English Party. And how to engage with women from diverse communities with Liberal Democrat Women. If you’re of a green persuasion, though, you might want to discuss policy priorities for 2015 with the Sustainability Network or you can discuss whether we can win seats in the north with IPPR. I’ll just say yes for that one.
The second session has the Orange Bookers vs the Cameroons, but I’m neither so I’ll find something a bit more peace-loving hippy. Hmmm. I’m kind of toiling. The only thing I have is ALDC on housing and the difficulties of those tenants in the private rented sector. Liberal Reform have two meetings out of three in this session which is a bit strange.
Very late night, for me, it has to be Glee. For the uninitiated, it’s a sing-song that gets the endorphins flowing. It’s a bit wild, and you get to see Gareth Epps looking like The Master (c 1973) from Doctor Who. What’s not to love? If, in the unlikely event that you don’t want to be there, or you have a conscience, Lib Dems in Housing have Farron and others suggesting ideas for those who are priced out of the housing market. or the European Azerbaijan Society have a jazz reception.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is that there are a series of ministerial question and answer sessions during the days, alongside the debates and training. When you think about it, it’s quite incredible that any ordinary party member can go and question a cabinet or government minister. They are:
12:30-1:30 Simon Hughes and Norman Baker
1:00-2:00: Stephen Williams on local government
2:30-3:30: Danny Alexander
Sunday: 10:00 – 11:00: Norman Lamb
And finally, Membership Department are offering you tea and cake if you go and phone people and get them to join the party between 6 an 7 on Saturday. Think how fabulous you would feel if you persuaded someone to join the party.
However you spend your conference weekend, have a great time. And please come up and say hello to any of the LDV team who are there. Joe, Stephen, Nick, Helen and I will all be there at various times. And a big thank you to Mary who’s going to be keeping an eye on the site from home. Please be good to her.