miss_s_b: (Politics: Liberal)
[personal profile] miss_s_b
The short version of What I Did At Lib Dem Conference is:

Attended lots of FCC meetings and training; co-hosted Glee for the second time; hall-aided my first debate as a member of FCC; "organised" Not The Leader's Speech.

This post is going to be about the meetings and training with a smattering of Glee; the second, later, will cover the debate duties in some detail (I know that's what most of you are really interested in), and cover what Not The Leader's Speech is and the organisation thereof.

Maybe some of you saw my schedule for conference that I put up on twitter? There were comments that it looked a little full... Well, as always, things did not go entirely to plan. Although Friday went pretty much exactly as on the schedule, the FCC meeting on Saturday morning ran short (so I was able to get back into the hall to vote on the sex work motion - nem con WOOOOOOO), and on Saturday afternoon Alisdair and I discussed the Trident motion, realised we were going to vote completely oppositely on both the amendment and the motion and would thus cancel each other out, so we decided to Pair, and go to the pub to watch the England rugby match instead.

So what happened at all those mysterious meetings, then?

Well, the long one on Friday afternoon was to pick amendments and emergency motions. You can see the bare results of that in Zoe's factual report post on Lib Dem Voice; as before, I'm going to go a little more into the mechanics of how things get chosen.

Prior to the meeting we get sent a document (via email, thankfully, for the environment if nothing else) containing all the things that were submitted in time for the deadline. This time it was a mere 40-odd pages. I have been told that for autumn conference they tend to be a little longer. We read through them in preparation for the meeting. In the meeting, we do the amendments first.

Firstly, we go through each amendment in turn, and decide if it is in order (most of the items that fall will fall for some variant of not being meeting the rules); then we go back through the ones that ARE in order and decide:
  1. Does it actually do anything to the motion or is it just a speech point? (you'd possibly be surprised how many "amendments" don't actually amend the motion)
  2. Is it covering the same area as another submitted amendment? If it is then:
    • Which of the two (or more) is better drafted?
    • Which is more substantive?
    • Which will create the most interesting debate?
Things which are NOT considered include:
  • Do we agree/disagree with this amendment?
  • Do we like the person submitting the amendment?
  • How can we skew the debate in favour of what the leadership wants?
I think it's important to mention that those things are not considered because I think lots of people would expect them to be. FCC is scrupulous about doing things exactly by the book. This means that if you want to change how FCC works, you have to change the book (more on which in a bit).

After the amendment selection, we then go on to the Emergency motions. This conference we had two slots for emergency motions or topical issues, but it had been decided in advance that one of them would be on the topic of Europe, so the decision about the first slot was simply picking which of the submitted Europe motions would give us the best debate.

Then we had to decide which of the non-Europe motions would go onto the ballot for the other slot. There are two considerations for if an emergency motion gets onto the ballot:
  1. Is it in order?
  2. Is it an Emergency?
"Is it in order?" involves some judgement, but the rules for what constitutes an emergency motion are pretty reasonable IMHO. "Is it an emergency?" however, came as something of a surprise. The only consideration here is "does it refer to an event that happened after the submission deadline for normal motions?" - emergency being used in the technical sense of an event that has emerged, not in the more usual sense of "this is an injustice which needs correcting quickly".

This meant that (IMHO) some motions which were actually pretty urgent did not get put on the ballot because they referred to an event that had happened before the 18th of January (or, in one case, several events, some of which had occurred before the 18th of January and some after, which meant that this was an ongoing series of events, so even though some of them had happened after the deadline, the motion could have been submitted earlier). On the other hand, a couple of motions which managed to refer entirely to events happening since January, despite talking about things no sane person would call an emergency in the usual sense of the word, did get on to the ballot.

I find it interesting that the motion which most closely aligned with the everyday definition of emergency was the one that eventually won the ballot...

Anyway, that's my little hobby horse there, and also the thing which, if people wish to change it, they will need to explicitly change the rules. My suspicion is that the rules were devised by and interpreted by lawyers (I say this as a person with some legal training).

The final part of the long Friday meeting was to check on the running order for Saturday and make sure everybody knew what they were doing with regard to each part of it, including consideration of any separate vote requests. The Saturday morning meeting was just to do the same for Sunday. This went pretty smoothly because we all knew what we were doing, and consideration of separate vote requests is straightforward. This is why the deadlines for separate vote requests are what they are, though, so we can be sure they are in before the meeting that will consider them.

Training

I got two planks of training: firstly, role-playing chairing a debate; secondly, safeguarding of conference attendees.

The first was huge amounts of fun. It involved playing either a debate chair or a trouble-maker, and used the motions on the agenda for this conference as a backbone for the scenarios, then all of us discussing which rule or rules applied to the scenario and how we would deal with it. This meant that at one point I was role-playing Zoe chairing a debate she actually would be chairing, while another member of FCC brought up a Problem for me to Deal With. This time around (unlike at the long January FCC meeting) it was those of us who were newbies who were playing chairs most of the time, and the experienced hands playing troublemakers.

It was extremely valuable being put on the spot. It struck home to me that even though I thought I knew the standing orders, I could still easily be caught out. I am going to have to learn the standing orders harder! Also, I am reasonably certain that the person who devises the training has the most fun deciding the names of the troublemakers, which are all either terrible puns, or caricatures of a point of view, and which I could not possibly reveal here (FCC must keep some secrets! ;) ). Also also, Liz Lynne's bravura performance as a troublemaker had me in stitches. So, yes, chair's training was lots of fun (and very useful).

Safeguarding training, on the other hand, was much less fun, but extremely useful. This was "what to do if something goes wrong at conference" and was extremely practical. I think a version of it, suitably tweaked, should absolutely be offered (if not mandated) to anyone with a position of responsibility in the party, especially local party officers.

Glee!

I was substantially less nervous about Glee this time than I was last time, as was co-host Sarah. I think it probably showed in the hosting. There were a few cock-ups - such as supplying the words of new songs to the people with the Song Book, but not the music to the pianist, or the inevitable "people trying to sing songs they only know the tune for the chorus of" (it wouldn't be Glee without them, though) - but mostly I think it went OK.

Special mention I think should go to Sarah and Zoe, who brought along a teenager. The teenager then had to listen to her parents singing a very very rude song about David Cameron (because they wrote it). The sight of said teenager shrinking into her chair, face in her hands, utterly mortified while all around her are killing themselves laughing, will stay with me for a while. Second special mention to the wonderful David Grace, who was the mover of the Trident motion amendment I would have voted for and Alisdair would have voted against, who taught conference the meaning of persiflage, and whose valuable assistance made Part Time Submarine a highlight of the show.

One thing that struck home to me this time was just how physically exhausting it is to stand on a stage and sing for 3+ hours. I slept like the dead on Saturday night...

Coming soon: What I Did At Lib Dem Conference part two: structuring an actual debate: this time it's personal PLUS Not The Leader's Speech.
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