miss_s_b: (Politics: Goth Lib Dems)
[personal profile] miss_s_b
You may or may not have already seen the factual reports on Lib Dem Voice provided by Geoff and Zoe; I wanted to write something a bit more... human? Both of those reports contain lots of useful information, but it all seems a bit dry, and the relevance of it to the ordinary member might not be readily apparent1. I'm going to try and inject a bit more colour into things.

The first thing to say is that the committee in general (and individual members of it) were all very welcoming. There was a sense from one or two that they felt like they were handling a grenade with the pin out and they were being extra careful in case I exploded; I suspect that this will diminish when they get a bit more used to me and how generally easy-going and lovable I am *innocent face*. A couple of them gave me the feel I was being networked - like they were being nice to me because I was a young thrusting new member who might become important and they wanted to try to get me onside. But the vast majority of people were just genuinely nice, whether they were people I already knew or didn't2.

Anyway, onto the meat of things:

Four Day Conference for 2017

This was the big headline decision taken on day one of the meeting. Some of the reason for it was budgetary (a four day conference being less financially burdensome than a five) but we were also encouraged by the number of positive responses to the earlier start on Saturday. Frankly, I think that even if/when we go back to five days, the Saturday morning will remain. My personal preference would be to extend it backwards to Friday afternoon/evening rather than forwards to Wednesday - to do with autumn what we do with spring, and have consultative sessions on Friday afternoon, rally Friday night, and start conference proper on Saturday morning... but this is obviously all hypothetical.

It was very much emphasised that this decision only applies to Bournemouth this autumn, and we will revisit it when it comes to deciding on autumn 2018 (which decision will be taken late autumn this year).

Chairs' Training

... was absolutely fascinating. Role-playing trouble-making reps with suspiciously familiar names was fun. There was mingled embarrassment and pride in the fact that most of the worst case scenarios role played were things that I've seen Calderdale people do at conference. Some of them were things I've done... Ooops! Still, I choose to think of Calderdale boundary-pushing as being essential to the robustness of the party. And the training materials are excellent; clear and precise. You can tell they were written by lawyers3.

I'm probably not going to end up chairing any contentious debates for a while; but I'll be hall aide-ing and stage aide-ing a fair bit, and gaining experience, and who knows, maybe one day it'll be me telling the leader to draw his/her/their remarks to a close...

Motion selection

The main focus of the second day was setting the agenda for Spring conference. There's a set amount of hall time available. Once you've taken off the stuff that has to be on there (leader's speech, reports, etc) and the optional stuff you've decided to have (set piece speeches? Consultative sessions? One or two emergency motions? Have we a topical issue that we need to discuss?), that tells you how much time there is for debates. We roughed out the things we had to have, and the things we'd LIKE to have, and then got into the motions. Inevitably, far more motions are submitted by FPC and members for debate than there is time for. So you have to winnow down...

Zoe goes into the process in her report, but actually watching it in action and participating was fascinating. There is nothing in this world like Liberals having a very polite argument. Every last person in that room was prepared to give their view, but also prepared to listen to others, and on more than one occasion there was visible mind-changing going on.

Round one of motion selection is basically "is this motion one which is suitable to put on the agenda for this particular conference?" There are two main reasons why motions drop out in round one: either FPC is already working on it, or the motion as submitted is badly drafted. For the first, there's not really much you can do about it. If FPC is already working on it it's not fair to undercut them. For the second: there's a drafting advice service. Let them tart your motion up. Honestly. Listen to them. I know this will give me more work to do next agenda setting, but some of the motions that got taken down for bad drafting were really good ideas, they just weren't good motions. The other, less common, reasons why things go out at this stage include:
  • we debated that last conference
  • it doesn't actually do anything to change policy, simply restates existing policy
  • it's not actually a federal matter, and ought more properly to be submitted to a regional conference (or even a local party AGM).

Round two is harder. Almost half of the motions got through to round two. That's when you've got to choose between good motions. These are the things I had in my mind:
  • does it balance or unbalance the rest of the agenda?
  • will it make for a good debate, or will it be too motherhood and apple pie?4
  • will it get us press?5
Other committee members may well have had other priorities, but those were mine. So I actually found myself advocating for a motion I wanted to speak against to be put on the agenda at one point, because IMHO it would make a good debate.

I genuinely think that at the end of the process, the best of the member-submitted motions got on. Some of the ones that didn't get on I am very sad about, though, because I liked them too. If I had a free hand I'd have got rid of the bloody biennial Trident debate6, but that was an FPC one, so was never going to go7 :(

The other thing I want to emphasise, for those who submit motions, is that when you get that email saying your motion was rejected for lack of time, you think to yourself "well that's a bit of a cop out", but it absolutely isn't. When you've got x minutes worth of debate time left, and 3 or 4 x length of motions to fit into that time, something's got to give. If you've got that email saying that your motion was rejected for time, you wrote a good motion. It's just that somebody else's motion fit the agenda better.

Deciding on Other Agenda Items

The timing and selection of all the other agenda bits kind of weaves in and out of motion selection. How many set piece speeches will there be? Who should give them? How long will we need for questions to reports? Are we having a Q&A session with the leader? (spoiler: yes) Or anybody else? If we select a motion on this area then that person is proposing it and they don't then need to have a keynote speech. All of these things can bite into or give back debate time for motions.

There were a few things uppermost in the minds of the committee when discussing these bits
  • We took it almost as a given that we'd need to give over an emergency motion/topical area slot to Brexit, but because things are moving so fast on that we didn't want to be too prescriptive about what should be discussed within that topic area.
  • We were aware that some areas had an embarrassment of riches in motions submitted, and some areas weren't covered at all, so we needed to give keynote speeches to people whose areas hadn't been covered.
  • We'd been given a list of 6 people who were willing to do keynote speeches; all 6 of them were never going to be on the agenda, this would massively over speechify the agenda. We had a discussion about priorities and ended up voting yea or nay to each speaker. Two keynote speakers were picked, I think for good reasons8.
In the end, I think we mostly ended up with a pretty good agenda. There's certainly nothing on there where I might look at it and think how the hell did THAT get on there, apart from the biennial Trident motion. I'm sure other people will feel differently, though ;)


I think I've gone long enough. Questions? Comments? Huge bottles of gin? Do feel free to pass them along...

1I was particularly amused in Geoff's report by the sentence A small group was established to consider ways of making FCC members more contactable by and accessible to members. You'll note that this was the only group which Geoff didn't list the members of... Anyway, I'm on it, so if you want to contact an FCC member in the interim of the group coming to some decisions, you can always nudge me.

2Extra specially lovely (although I knew she was lovely already) was Mary Reid, who was kindly putting me up in her (immaculately beautiful) house. I share some geekeries with Mary, and it was nice to chat about Babbage and Doctor Who as well as Lib Demmery.

3No, seriously, linguistic precision is one of the things I really miss from my failed legal career. I know people think lawyers are all about obfuscation, but that's a canard along the lines of all politicians being in it for themselves.

4Some people think that motherhood and apple pie debates are great. They showcase how united we are, and what the liberal viewpoint on an issue is. I detest them. I think they are an absolute total pointless boring waste of time. What's the point in debating something we all agree on, when we can actually have a useful debate and settle something that needs to be settled?

5You'll note I said "press" and not "good press". This is my personal view, and others on the committee felt/feel very differently. IMHO "the daily mail will crucify us if we put that on the agenda" is a positive, not a negative. If I worried about the approval of that bunch of fash apologists I'd be a very different person indeed.

6When I said in the governance consultation that we ought to have it written into the constitution that we would have an biennial showcase debate on trident, at which we'd all fail out and fail to come to agreement, I didn't think they'd take me seriously FFS.

7Honestly, though, it's at least a page too long, and full of... Well, the sort of crap we always get in the biennial trident debate. I confidently predict the vote'll go 48/52% one way or the other, and whichever side "loses" will squeak about unfairness, and neither side will shut up about it, and round we'll go again in two years' time. It's like the lib dem version of EU membership referenda, but more regular.

8I only actually voted for one, myself, but I can accept that the reasons for selecting the other were good reasons.

Date: Wednesday, February 1st, 2017 05:27 pm (UTC)
nickbarlow: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nickbarlow
Points 4 and 5: yes, and on the reasons people give for point 5, I'm not aware of motherhood and apple pie motions ever getting us much publicity, because 'Lib Dems like debating nice things in a nice way' isn't news.

Date: Wednesday, February 1st, 2017 05:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] https://www.complicity.co.uk/blog/
We do get publicity for some motherhood and apple pie motions - Europe being an obvious current topic that I expect will get us on the news!

motions selected

Date: Wednesday, February 1st, 2017 07:41 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I can see why it wasn't selected, but the moving parliament to the north motion would have been fun. It won't happen, but not a bad thing at all for northern papers to report a good row on (London one's wouldn't as it is all happening in York)
From Suzanne Fletcher, only anon as i don't understand about validating !

Date: Wednesday, February 1st, 2017 07:00 pm (UTC)
ext_550458: (Clegg checks the omens)
From: [identity profile] strange-complex.livejournal.com
My personal preference would be to extend it backwards to Friday afternoon/evening rather than forwards to Wednesday

Can I put in a strong vote of support for this on behalf of academics and students? Conference almost always happens at the beginning of freshers' week at Leeds, and indeed at plenty of other HE institutions across the country. That means I can sometimes stay for part of the Monday if I'm lucky and my freshers' week duties are light, but never into the Tuesday, let alone Wednesday - and that's frustrating! Whereas the Friday before is usually fine. We've got a lot of people who study or work in HE in the party, and it would be good to ensure they can attend as much as possible of conference.

Date: Wednesday, February 1st, 2017 09:44 pm (UTC)
po8crg: A cartoon of me, wearing a panama hat (Default)
From: [personal profile] po8crg
Oh look, we're getting the other favourite debate that splits the party in half: church schools. I wonder if FPC's drafting means we might actually get a substantive policy this time?

As for Trident, my view is that if we're going to have nukes, we need to be able to nuke Washington, which means no bloody American missiles.

Date: Wednesday, February 1st, 2017 11:24 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] iain_coleman
If we find we have a pressing need to bribe a major EU member state to help us get back in, buying French nukes might fit the bill.

Date: Saturday, February 4th, 2017 12:01 pm (UTC)
andrewducker: (Default)
From: [personal profile] andrewducker
Thank you, that was fascinating.

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