miss_s_b: (Politics: Democracy)
[personal profile] miss_s_b
Following on from my previous post on York conference, I thought people might be interested in how we plan the debates and how cards get chosen and things like that.

So, because I am an FCC n00b, I was only slated to be involved in one debate, and my involvement was hall aide rather than chairing. The role of the hall aide is basically to run around finding people if the debate chair needs to get a message to someone who is speaking, and to pass their replies back to the chair. Nine times out of ten it involves just being in the debate (I am told) because often messages do not need to be passed. However, because FCC likes checks and balances, it also involves getting together with the chair and the stage aide prior to the debate in order to go through the speakers' cards thus far submitted and plan how the debate will flow. This means it is not just one person deciding whether or not a speaker gets called, and hopefully avoids accusations of bias.

The debate which I was to be hall aide in was the health and social care debate. The chair (Mary Reid), the stage aide (Chris Maines) and I got together a couple of hours before it was due to start and went through the cards that had been submitted (there were a lot). The first thing to do is work out how many of them you are going to be able to call. This is length of debate, minus the time allowed for proposer and summator (and the proposer and summator of any amendments, if applicable), and also minus a ten minute slot for interventions if there are to be interventions. In the case of this debate we were going to have time to call 8 speakers.

The second thing to do is to pull out the cards of the people who have a right to speak: proposers and summators and so on. You know that these people are almost certain to speak, so you don't need to consider them further. In this debate we had a proposer and a summator for the motion as a whole, and a proposer and summator for one amendment. The summators do not always have to speak (see below), but it's best to plan as if they will and then amend the plan if need be if they waive.

The third thing to do is to sort the remaining cards into piles:
  1. Two piles: for or against the motion as a whole
  2. Two piles per amendment: for or against the amendment(s) if there are amendments.
  3. Two piles: for or against specific lines in the motion.
This means you can count the proportion of people for or against each bit, and make sure you are balancing the debate properly. It would not do to call lots of people against and nobody for if the majority of cards were for. In the health and social care debate we didn't get a single card against either the motion as a whole or the amendment. You might think this would make things easier: in fact, if all the cards are going the same way it makes it much more difficult to pick from them, because there is less to differentiate between them.

The next thing to do is to read the "what I plan to say" segment on the back of each card. This really is the most important bit of your card to get right if you want to be called and you don't get called as of right. Make a point or points that only you can make, and make that point or points well. If the person who submitted the card has not said what they plan to say at all the card immediately goes into a "not going to be called" pile. Of the fifty-odd submitted for the health and social care debate, there were four who had not filled in what they were going to say. This still left us with more than 50, and at this point they were in piles with the "what I am going to say" bit face up.

Then you pick out the ones who are the same as each other - if people are planning to say the same thing, you only need pick one of those people. In the health and social care debate we had thirty-odd discrete points being made, of which the vast majority were in favour of the motion as a whole, and a smattering were for the amendment. The cards at this point were still "what I am going to say" side face up; we hadn't considered the name or attributes of the person speaking at all yet.

Choosing which cards you are actually going to call after all that will then involve consideration of the following:
  • Which of them looks like they will be most interesting? People who will add a point that is not obvious on the face of the motion/amendment/specific lines are more likely to get called.
  • How much expertise do they have on the topic at hand? For example, we had doctors and NHS fund managers, but also people with long term disability and a lot of experience of the health service as an end user in this debate.
  • Are they a first time speaker? This is a plus point: we like first time speakers at conference.
  • Are they an over or under represented group? This is per debate: usually more men put cards in than women, for example, but some debates are woman-heavy. The debate here was pretty evenly balanced gender wise. Obviously also under consideration are race/LGBT+/disability/etc.
  • Is the speaker up for election soon? People who are actively fighting an election are more likely to get called
  • Are they making a techinical point or telling a personal and/or emotional story? Ideally you want a balance of these too - some people respond better to one and some the other.
In this particular debate it was really hard choosing who to call and we spent a lot of time agonising over fine judgements. We could have filled a debate slot two or three times as long easily with cards from people with expertise, from under-represented groups, who were fighting active election campaigns. Several people had technical policy points with personal, emotional stories to back them up. On the one hand, this speaks to the volume of really good people in the party. On the other, it makes choosing speakers really bloody difficult.

Of course, the other (possibly slightly obvious) thing to note is that we can only go by what people put on their cards. I, personally, now have a list of people who have been Noted in my head under a heading of "they put in a card that looked like they would make an interesting and valuable contribution, but what they actually said on the stage bore no resemblance to what they claimed they were going to say on the card". I can't speak for other FCC members, but if you were inaccurate or dishonest about what you were going to say in that particular debate, it has definitely been been Noted and will be Remembered. The main reason for this is that the vast, vast majority of "why didn't you call me?" complaints are from people who say something along the lines of "but you called X and they were really boring/completely irrelevant/repeated someone else's point/etc." I repeat: when selecting people to speak on a motion, we can only go by what they have put on their card. Your card reflecting what you eventually say is therefore a brownie point as far as I am concerned. The card I liked best had a forensic speech structure in bullet points with bits highlighted - that person had clearly planned what they wanted to say and had a good deal of passion.

At the end of the process we had consumed sandwiches and fruit, and selected the requisite number of cards (plus two reserves in case someone didn't turn up or we ran under time). Then came the actual debate.

You can, of course, submit cards during a debate as well as before. So we had our planned structure, but this is always subject to alteration: someone might put in a really good card just prior to or during the debate, at which point the chair and/or stage aide (the hall aide being in the hall and not able to see the cards at this point) has to decide whether or not to substitute the new card for one that is on the plan to be called. And then there are interventions: if there is an intervention slot, the intervention cards literally get put in a pile and selected at random. Usually (but not always) there are far fewer intervention cards than full speaker cards (if you want to get to speak at conference this might be a point to remember - also IME speaking from the intervention mic is less intimidating than being up on the stage at the lectern).

I did actually get a couple of Hall Aide message-passing things to do during the debate - one of the summators waived but wanted to make a quick point as an intervention, which it was decided was only fair to let her have. It was nice after all that prep to not just be sitting there. I'm also glad I took Stage Aide Chris Maines's advice to have a look around the hall and see where various speakers were sitting at the start of the debate. I'm also glad that several of them were people I know on twitter if not in real life (I spotted one of them by checking their twitter avatar to see what they looked like).

I think my main learning point from the experience is/was that just because a debate is essentially motherhood-and-apple-pie-that-no-liberal-could-be-against, that does not mean that lots of people are not going to want to speak in favour, and that when we discuss how long we should allocate for a motion at the agenda-planning meetings it might be a little thing to bear in mind. I still cleave to the view that MH&AP debates are dull and should skew towards a short allocation of time, but that necessitates dealing with a reasonable number of disappointed would-be speakers who feel that their gruntles have been dissed. I'm not suggesting that more time should be allocated to such debates, but that I should bear in mind that if I'm involved in the selection of speakers for one, I'm probably going to have to defend my decisions, and that I should therefore make sure I make my decisions for strong reasons. In this case, I'm pretty sure I did, but it's always useful to guard against complacency.

And then of course, we had Not The Leader's Speech. The tradition of Not The Leader's Speech started when Cleggy was Our Glorious Leader. I went to a couple of his leader's speeches and found them excruciating. In the pub after, a Bad Influence who must perforce remain nameless asked me why I hadn't just walked out and gone to the pub, because that's what he had done. The next conference, I walked out (after 7 minutes, as I recall) and found this same person in the pub. The conference after that... well, we just cut out the middle man and went straight to the pub, downloaded the text of the speech, and worked out at which point we would have walked out had we bothered to go in. At the height of coalition the record occurred: we both agreed we would have walked out in the second sentence of the speech. By that point, though, word had got around somewhat and there were a reasonable number of us in the pub for Not The Leader's Speech.

When Farron was first elected Glorious Leader he was fully aware that this had become a tradition. I made him a personal promise that I'd go to his first leader's speech, but with the proviso that if there was anything I didn't like I would walk out. There wasn't, and I didn't. In fact it was a really really good speech. The thing is, I still don't like leader's speeches (or for that matter, The Rally, which I always feel has a silent Nuremburg in between The and Rally). I don't like sitting there being spoonfed and not participating. I don't like the enforced conformity of the expectation to applaud in the right places (and in some cases standingly ovate). IMHO it's Just Not Liberal. So the only one of Farron's leader's speeches I have been to, and probably ever will go to, remains his first. I no longer feel the need to read the text and work out at which point I would have walked out, because I don't have that sort of fractious relationship with his leadership, but it's still nice to find a good pub, claim a room in it, and have beer and food instead of listening and clapping.

The problem this time was that the group of people going to Not The Leader's Speech has grown to more than 30. And we hadn't booked. Admittedly there were only six of us queueing outside the door waiting for the pub to open, but the rest had DMed or texted me asking for a venue and turned up in short order after. As a former barmaid, I felt really bad about doing this to the pub. I think that next time I will have to at least warn the selected pub in advance... And as Zoe said in the comments to the previous entry, now I am on FCC this is in danger of becoming an officially unofficial event... If it gets any bigger it may have to be in the Fringe guide... You can tell how uncomfortable I am with that idea by the number of ellipsis LOL.

This conference we were biefly joined by a not-Lib-Dem friend and segued off into a discussion about cricket for a while, which was lovely I don't think we terrified her too much.

Anyway, I hope you have enjoyed my officially unofficial reports from conference: next FCC news will probably be from the Shadowy General Purposes And Resources Sub Committee, which I suspect will be quite vague and heavily redacted, so I apologise for that in advance. I will, obviously, explain exactly why I'm having to be vauge and heavily redacted if and when I am.
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