Conference Feedback

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019 10:01 am
miss_s_b: (Mood: Liberal)
Those of you who attended Lib Dem Conference in York over the weekend should have had a feedback survey link emailed to you; if you haven't, let me know and I'll make sure that it is sorted for you.

If there is anything that you feel particularly exercised about that you want me to highlight at the FCC washup meeting next month, please put it in a comment below. So far I have had:
  • The feedback survey is dire, and parts of it make no sense. If I say I didn't use the Conference app, why are the detailed questions about the app still mandatory? (a bit meta, this one)

  • Exhibitors are still not being asked for their feedback (which seems daft given that they are one of the ways conference makes money)

  • Some concerns about signage (or lack thereof) in the Hilton making training events difficult to find: for instance one room should have had "please use other door" on the locked door; people may have missed out on training by trying the locked door and not knowing about the other one.
Anything else?
miss_s_b: Vince Cable's happy face (Politics: Vince - happy face)
So those who are interested will have already seen Zoe's report on which amendments were taken and weren't and I am happy to answer questions about individual ones if people really want me to, but I think there are two things that need to be covered that are merely skirted in Zoe's article:
  1. The Supporter's Scheme, and how the votes on it are going to work

    So, you will see from Zoe's article that we rejected a whole load of separate vote requests. This is not because we are not going to be taking lots of votes. We are going to be taking LOADS of votes. There is a reason Geoff is chairing that debate himself, and that's because he is very very good at running complex vote patterns. If you're invested in what happens with this, you really really need to study pp12-14 of Conference extra, which details exactly how the voting will be run, however, in precis, there will be seven votes as follows:
    1. Yes if you want registered supporters to be on Policy Working groups, No if you don't (simple majority)
    2. Yes if you want to exclude members of other political parties from the Supporters' Scheme, no if you want members of other parties to be able to be registered supporters of ours (simple majority)
    3. Yes for overall support for the supporter's scheme (2/3rds majority)
    4. (Only if 3 passes) Yes if supporters should be able to vote for Leader (2/3rds majority)
    5. Yes for non-MPs being able to be leader (2/3rds majority)
    6. Yes to scrap the 12-month rule for Approved PPCs (2/3rds majority)
    7. Will depend entirely on the results of previous votes.

    I'm expecting most of those to be counted, TBQH. I'll be very surprised if not. But regardless, if you plan to vote in the Supporter's Scheme debate, study conference extra so you know exactly what you are voting for and listen carefully to the debate chair. You do not want to do a Chris Grayling and end up in the wrong lobby.

    In terms of how I plan to vote? I think this is ridiculous cargo cultism, won't solve any of the problems the leadership think it will, and will create a whole bunch of new ones on the basis of expecting staff who have just had half their colleagues made redundant and are already doing far more work than can reasonably expected to suddenly run a two tier membership scheme with no extra resources. It's madness. I shall be voting no, yes, no, hell no, no, no but I don't much care, and almost certainly no.

  2. The Europe Motion

    You'll find this on p9 of Conference Extra, and if you want to amend it (which I am sure, having read it, some of you will) you have until noon on Friday to submit amendments. Hopefully by that point we will know at least a bit of what is going on and it won't all just be chaos... hahahahahahaha only kidding, of course it will be chaos, but you can submit amendments anyway.
Any questions?
miss_s_b: (Politics: Liberal)
It would really help in structuring debates if you could submit speakers' cards as early as possible. To this end, you can now submit cards electronically here.

Thanks all!
miss_s_b: (Politics: Democracy)
Zoe's post on motion selection is now live, so I'm going to follow up my initial post with my thoughts on some (not all) of the actual motions. If I haven't put any comments down on a motion it's just because I would have been pretty happy to see it go on the agenda but did not have any particular passions roused by it. Other committee member's passions are different from mine, and that's as it should be. These are my views, not the views of the committee, and any issues you have with them are with me.
  • Access to Justice for All** is one that did rouse my passions, and I am very glad it made it onto the agenda. I don't think it counts as MHAP because I can see Liberal Reform types arguing against it - as, indeed, a couple of them did at FCC - so I think the debate will be interesting, and I hope this will ultimately pass.

  • Broadcasting Standards for Video Websites came from my own local party, and... would also have caused an interesting debate, if in not quite the same way. But it was probably fair that it fell. I think it would have been difficult to implement, had it passed, which is not necessarily a reason to shy away from a motion (see UBI, below), but...

  • Boycott the world cup was just far too late. Should have come four or five years ago, whenever it was the venue selection happened.

  • Sign the UN Treaty on Nukes. * sigh * Where to start on this one? This is a motion we have seen several times before in various iterations. The submitters of it have been given lots of advice as to how to make it acceptable. They have not taken any of that advice. I'm a passionate unilateralist when it comes to nuclear weapons, and I despair that this motion is the one that keeps getting put before us. It's cloaking its unilateralism behind a smokescreen of multilateralism because it thinks it's clever and it really, really isn't. Please can somebody write something on nuclear non-proliferation I'd be happy to put before conference for next time? Please? We might lose (we probably will - conference splits four ways on nukes) but at least we'd lose honestly.

  • Leaving London: Moving Parliament. While there were some issues with the drafting of this, I loved the sentiment. Sadly, FCC, which meets in London, tends to have a London-heavy membership. Props to the one member of London region who piped up about them having to move parliament anyway because of the refurb, so why not debate this. You're a good egg.

  • Demanding Better Transport for the English Regions. This split almost entirely on London/not-London lines as well***, with predictable results. I'm actually a little annoyed by that. The place we are holding conference is served by the two worst performing rail companies in the country, and it would have been nice to at least acknowledge that on the agenda. Still, Democracy.

  • Towards income security for all. I am very sorry that this motion did not make it onto the agenda, and I voted for it to do so. We were told that UBI will be considered by FPC in their fairer share consultation****, but my suspicion is that they will consider it in the same way they considered it last time - how can we get rid of this troublesome suggestion?***** - rather than actually considering it.
    I do think that at some point we need to get beyond the mentality of having a fully costed programme for government in the pretence that we are going to win a majority at the next election, because that is always used to stop us from considering big questions of principle, and I think that this is a big question of principle that at least merits "should this be an aim to work towards" consideration, rather than being shot down for not being capable of being immediately implemented.

  • Alleviating Poverty in Britain and Restoring British Values. This was an odd fish. It didn't call for anything to be changed in party policy, only for the party to campaign more vigorously on existing policy. Which... lobby FCEC******, don't put it in a conference motion.

  • Completing One Member One Vote. This was called out of order for some drafting issues, but I really liked the sentiment of it, and what it was trying to do - basically that only directly elected members of federal committees would get voting rights, so all the various reps from other committees and HQ appointees would only be able to sit on committees in an advise and observe capacity rather than (as in some cases they do at the moment) forming a majority of the voting members of a committee. I'd like to see a redrafted version of this come back to us.
And now I have lit the blue touchpaper, I am going to retire to a safe distance. I hear New Zealand is nice this time of year...

* legit the bit of this that took longest was deciding the title. The Nightmare Returns? This Time It's Personal? Obvs couldn't be Tokyo Drift because that's for a far later sequel than part 2...
** what I have been thinking of as The Metallica Motion because of this. If anyone wants access to it, I have it on vinyl, but Spotify is a thing too.
*** Even the LR types split regionally on this one
**** there will be a consultation on this at York, to be followed by a paper in the autumn
***** Members of FPC and policy unit may disagree with that characterisation
****** Federal Campaigns and Elections Committee, who steer campaign priorities. You might discover, upon doing a quick google, that this committee is not massively public-facing, and does not have an easy method of contact. A mischievous person might suggest that a question to the federal board report might be in order about that.
miss_s_b: Mindy St Clare from The Good Place, hiding her nakedness behind very large sunflowers and looking shocked (Default)
I'm sure Zoe's post on LDV will be up soon detailing what got selected and what didn't, once all the submitters of motions have been informed. When that goes up I'll have a couple of comments about which motions I liked and didn't like. But right now I'm here to give you the scuttlebutt about the rest of the meeting.

Firstly, conference office was not immune to the recent upheavals in staffing that HQ has suffered, and we are going to be saying goodbye to a much-loved and very long-standing member of staff. Conference office staff do a huge amount of work, and I don't think the party in general necessarily appreciates that, because much of it is invisible work. With conference people only notice when things don't run smoothly, rather than when they do. I hope the restructure doesn't have too much of a negative effect on York conference: that said, I'm sure you lot will all let me know if it does.

A decision has been taken as to where the 2020 conferences will be, but I can't tell you what it is yet (sorry). After York this spring some work will be undertaken to look at a bunch of alternate venues to the ones we have used in the last few years, some of them suggested by members, and we are going to find a way of communicating to members why certain venues do and do not make the list (and why). Inevitably all venues elicit both positive and negative comments in some measure, and doubtless there will be a lot of robust comment on this whatever happens.

We discussed also encouraging members not only to put forward motions, but to put forward motions on particular topics: it was felt that sometimes it would be timely to have a motion on a particular topic, and that might also encourage submissions in general. Prompts work for fanfic, so they should work for conference motions too. I can't promise you that it'll actually come in the form of a prompts grid, but who knows?

The other notable thing that happened was that I found myself in unexpected agreement with Simon McGrath 3 times. It's really disappointing when the right wing bogeyman turns out to actually be a reasonable and affable human being... ;)
miss_s_b: (Mood: Liberal)
Motions have landed in my inbox for Spring conference, and I am composing my emails to the spokes I need to contact on the topic I have been designated, but I'm reading all the others too, and...

I actually really like the name blind submissions.

We get "10 or more members" or "SAO" or "local party" or "federal committee" under who the motion was submitted by, and honestly? I think even that is too specific. But FPC/FB would probably moan if we got rid of the differentiation completely... I'd really like to see their motions assessed on their merits... But it's very nice to not even have the possibility of an accusation of unconscious bias against a particular submitter.

Anyway, those of you who have sent things round saying "the more signatures we get the more persuasive it is!!" - sorry. Doesn't work like that. Just thought I should publicise that.
miss_s_b: (Politics: FU)
This is going to be quick and dirty, as the meeting has only just finished, and a lot of this was confidential, but of the bits that weren't:
  • Victories for autistics! Anyone wanting to do an amplified concert in the exhibition area will now have to seek permission; also the prayer and meditation room (which was apparently available for anyone whether religious or not anyway) will be rebranded a quiet room to make it clear that anyone can use it as a quiet room.

  • We're looking into a way of having a non-visual signal for people who are visually impaired or red/green colourblind instead of just speaker's lights, but there's some argument about the best way of doing this (auditory signals would interrupt speakers; tactile signals might be difficult to implement).

  • To avoid the problem of summators spiking amendments we will ask proposers of motions to indicate whether or not they are in favour of proposed amendments in advance, so it can be put in conference daily and the position is clear to all before the debate starts.

  • We're going to do an official FCC hints and tips for conference goers, how to fill in speaker's cards and that sort of thing. Some content for that may be pulled from this blog (possibly edited for seriousness)...

  • We're trying to work out a solution for exhibitors who are also members to be able to speak/vote without it being an administrative ballache that we can't (for obvious reasons) extend that to non-member exhibitors
Right. I'm off to go have my tea.
miss_s_b: (Blogging: Internet forever!!)
... are landing in inboxes right now.

If you went to LDconf please fill it in and be as honest as you can be. I promise you that I, personally, read all your responses and try to get them acted upon.
miss_s_b: (Mood: Liberal)
1, The Abortion debate

I'm genuinely pleased that for the first time ever we have a party policy on abortion. I wish I'd been more prepared to say so, but I hadn't planned to speak in the debate; one of the joys of being on FCC is that if a debate is running low on speakers you quite often get asked to put a card in, and this was one of those times. That speech was therefore scrawled hurriedly on the back of an official FCC debate planner. This might explain why it's a bit short and I'm shaking like a grain of rice on top of a washing machine.

2, The Mental Health debate

Here I am moving a separate vote to remove the words "to themselves or" from the phrase "prevent harm to themselves or to others". I'd like to thank John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor for providing over a third of my speech ;) Do please show this one to anyone who claims Lib Dems don't talk about fundamental principles any more.

3, An Intervention on the Immigration Motion.

Microphone cut me off with three words to go, but if you can lipread you can tell what they were. When I say at the beginning "I bet you're sick of the sight of me" that's because it was only the third item of the day, and I'd chaired the first and spoken in the second... I especially love the flattering preview image on this one.

ETA:Thanks to the lovely Zoe O'Connell for technical assistance in retrieving the videos, and to Jon Ball without whose laptop the videos wouldn't have happened in the first place.
miss_s_b: (Mood: Facepalm)
I'm sure the rest of FCC will not mind me divulging the Top Sekrit discussion that went on between Senior Lib Dems yesterday on the FCC discussion group. I shall paraphrase slightly:

"Have any of you lot heard anything about this thing about Vince resigning and a special conference being called?"
"Not me."
"Nor I."

So, like Nick Barlow, I am reasonably certain that this story, on the back of the previous story which touted the supporter scheme and which told us it was going to be introduced at autumn conference, comes from one person who has a friendship with a journo at Business Insider and who doesn't know how the party in general and conference in particular works.

I suspect that after the last story appeared and was laughed out of town for the simple reason that it could not possibly be true that this new scheme would be introduced at Autumn Conference because the agenda had been published and this was not on it, the journo went back to his Senior Lib Dem pal and the Senior Lib Dem pal said "well, we could always call a special conference to ratify it". Which, you know, technically is true. But if there were any prospect of a special conference on a named date on the near horizon, someone on federal conference committee would have heard about it because we'd be the ones having to organise the thing.

Also, even if someone somehow had managed to arrange a special conference without involving any of FCC, it probably wouldn't do them much good. The required rule change would still need a 2/3 majority, and there's a huge number in the party who remain to be convinced that having a supporters scheme is the panacea it is being touted as - in fact, I've heard it described more than once by more than one person as "Cargo Cult politics". There's also the fact that we Lib Dems are recalcitrant buggers, and I think there's more than a few of us would make the journey to a completely unnecessary and expensive special conference just to vote firmly against something that some nebulous Senior Lib Dem is clearly trying to bounce us into with no proper scrutiny or oversight. From what I hear FPDC and FB are both extremely sceptical about this idea; clearly, then, the person or persons behind this have decided to fight an air war on it. IMHO this is a supremely stupid thing to do if they actually want it to be accepted by the party at large.

Yes, the party is currently lower in the polls than we think we should be.
Yes, something probably needs to be done.
Yes, the supporters scheme certainly is something.

But, you see, the thing is, we've been battering on about evidence bases for things forever. We've been battering on about how policies and procedures need to be robust since before the party even existed in its current form. We're not going to fall for the old "something must be done - this is something - lets do that then" trick now.

Whoever it is who is leaking this stuff to Business Insider would do better to try convincing people within the party than putting this stuff in the press. At the moment, the effect of these stories is to simply put people off the supporters scheme in principle. Show us some evidence for how this will actually help, and we might actually go for it. Continue whining on about Macron and Trudeau (who both are in very different circumstances and electoral systems to us) and not showing us any actual evidence and you'll get nowhere. It's that simple.

PS: I'm not addressing the "Vince is quitting!!!" angle because, for the purposes of determining the rules by which the party is governed, it really doesn't matter if Vince is quitting, or not. A leader standing down (or staying in post) cannot unilaterally change the rules of the party. That's not how it works.
miss_s_b: Vince Cable's happy face (Politics: Vince - happy face)
(in which I nail my colours to the mast on the Immigration Motion and Paper before conference next month)

I want to say right at the start of this: there are definitely good bits in the motion, and the paper which it endorses. There are also bits which, while not exactly good, are still an improvement on 1, the Lib Dems's current godawful pre-compromised coalition-era shitfest of an immigration policy and 2, the immigration policy of the current government.

This does not mean the motion as a whole is good, or liberal, or worth passing
  • The paper which the motion endorses was still being amended after FCC accepted the motion for debate. In my view this is not acceptable.

  • The paper which the motion endorses contains a line which is questionable with regard to the party constitution. In my view this is not acceptable.

  • LGBT+LDs were never consulted at all, despite many of the most horrific deportation problems being those of LGBT+ people. Lib Dem Immigrants and Lib Dems for Seekers of Sanctuary weren;t consulted either, but had to make protests after seeing a draft of the paper. In my view this is not acceptable.

  • The proposers of the motion are going round telling people that they accepted the majority of proposed amendments from interest groups within the party which they should have been consulting from the beginning but weren't: which assertion Lib Dem Immigrants, for one, would politely disagree with.
All of those are what might be termed procedural irregularities. All of them would be enough for me to reject the motion without even going into the actual problems with the motion and paper, which include establishing a UK equivalent to ICE (yes, THAT ICE), telling us we mustn't call out racism in case racists get upset, and much more besides.

You might well ask, if the motion is so bad, why did FCC put it forward for debate? Because it's an FPC motion, and the majority of FCC take the view that we are not there to be a check or balance on such things, because that would be interfering with the running of another committee. I can see the argument, even if I disagree with it. If FPC want to put a shit sandwich before conference and tell them to vote for it, it's FPC that look like idiots, not us. However, the problem is going to be if conference believes the soft, soothing words of the proposers of the motion. If they vote in favour of this motion because it's not perfect, but it's a tiny, incremental improvement. If they swallow the shit sandwich...

There are amendments being put forward to this. I've seen four, so far. One of them runs to 3 pages. While the amendments might (not to stretch a metaphor too far) polish the turd a bit, it'll still be shiny shit in a shit sandwich. There are just too many problems with this motion for them to be effectively solved by amendments, of which FCC can only take one or two for debate, and they are unlikely to take any that address more than one or two points in a succinct manner.

My preferred course of action would be to refer it back. There ARE good bits in there. It's not uniformly awful. The bread is quite nice. Referring it back would mean that the good bits could be retained, but we could get rid of the many many bad and try again.

We do have an actually Liberal immigration motion before conference, in the shape of the Windrush motion. I would like to see that motion voted in, the FPC Immigration motion referred back, and the working group who will be convened to deal with the reference back to take the principles of the Windrush motion as their starting point for Immigration policy in general.

I'd like to see that. I wonder if I will...
miss_s_b: (Politics: Democracy)
This post is going to cover both the timing of conference, and the timings within conference. I'm not going to be using technical definitions of things here - for example technically, the fringe is not part of conference1, but I'm just going to refer to the entire event as "conference" - in hopes of being understandable and not descending into jargon. As always I welcome questions in the comments.

The Timing of Conferences

Spring Conference is usually half way through March, normally the second but sometimes the third weekend in the month. It lasts for a weekend, normally having a soft start on Friday afternoon with consultative sessions and the Rally, with the official opening of conference being at 9am on Saturday morning. It usually ends with the Leader's Speech on Sunday afternoon.

Autumn Conference is usually half way through September, and lasts a little longer than Spring, in reent years running from 9am Saturday morning to Tuesday or Wednesday lunchtime. All the deadlines for submissions of motions etc. flow back from the date of the start of each conference - ranging from 8 weeks to one hour2 - and are published on the party website specific to each conference3.

Timings Within Spring Conference

Spring conference usually starts with consultative sessions at 3ish on the Friday afternoon, and then the Rally at 5.30/6ish. There will be evening fringe sessions on the Friday night, often social events, and there is normally a newbies' reception at which your friendly neighbourhood FCC members will be wandering round trying to look interesting4 and speaking to folks at random.

The official opening of conference is at 9am on Saturday morning, and is always done by the president of the party. There will then be various policy debates, set piece speeches, Q&A sessions, etc., until lunchtime, at which point there are fringes. Some of these may have food, although that has been scarcer since we are no longer in government, and don't have corporations pelting us with freebies in the hope of influencing us5.

The afternoon session is more policy debates, set piece speeches, Q&A sessions, etc. until roughly 6pm, at which point there are more fringes, leading up to Glee, which always starts at 10pm on the final night of Conference and goes on till we all fall over.

Sunday morning starts at 9am with a traditional quip from the chair about survivors of Glee club, and goes on until lunchtime fringes. The leader's speech/Not The Leader's Speech6 is usually after lunch.

Party training sessions are run in parallel with the main agenda, and are usually pretty continuous throughout, so if you want to get trained you will almost certainly miss something else you want to do (although it’s worth checking if the same session is being run more than once, they often are). They are worth going to, though, if you have a particular aspect of libdemmery you want to find out more about.

Timings Within Autumn Conference

This is a little more changeable. It used to be that autumn conference had the same soft start as Spring, but on the Saturday. So you'd get consultation sessions at 3pm Saturday, Rally Saturday evening, official opening of conference Sunday morning, and then conference went on till Wednesday lunchtime. The last couple of years we've been buggering about with this a bit, partly for time efficiency reasons for attendees, but also partly to save money7. So now it goes like this:
  • 9am Saturday: opening of conference. Then policy debates, set piece speeches, Q&A sessions, etc. until lunchtime, then fringes, then policy debates, set piece speeches, Q&A sessions, etc. until teatime, THEN the rally, then evening fringes including newbies' reception, etc. etc.
  • Sunday the same pattern.
  • Monday the same pattern, finishing with Glee at 10.
  • Tuesday the same pattern up until lunch, and then the leader's speech/Not The Leader's Speech after lunch.

When should I, personally, rock up to Conference?

If it's your first one, I would recommend coming before lunchtime on the Friday (Spring) or about teatime on the Friday (autumn), getting settled in to your hotel, familiarising yourself with where your hotel is in relation to the venue and the conference hotel, finding a nice pub/cafe/whatever that you think you'll be comfortable in, and then you will be ready for actual conference. It is possible if you’re pushed for time to do it all in a hurry first thing on Saturday (most hotels will be happy to look after your bags until check-in time), but be prepared for it to take longer than you hoped to get sorted and find your first event.

Go to the consultative sessions and the rally (Spring) and/or be there for the official opening (Autumn). Try some policy debates, but also some training and some fringes. Wander round the exhibition and talk to the stallholders - some of them might not even try to part you from your cash! If you have any questions, find a steward8 or a member of FCC9 or ask at the information desk: I promise we won't bite. See what bits of conference work for you. Meet up with people off the internet or from your local party. Have fun!

Once you've been to a couple, you'll know which bits you like and which bits you don't. I, personally, cannot stand the Rally, considering it to have a silent "Nuremberg" in there, and will make almost any excuse to avoid attending10. But others really love it. On the other hand, I love Glee so much I've ended up co-presenting it, whereas others find it by turns embarrassing, offensive, and in one case I know personally so utterly awful that they left the party over it11.

The joy of Lib Dem conference is that all of us can be contained within it, without anyone getting too upset over anyone else's preferences. Don't assume that every conference is like your first impression of it, because it's impossible to see all facets in one go. Do assume that everyone there will be happy to see you, because there will be very few people who do not fall into that category for all first timers. We're all Liberals, and it's great to see people at conference. See you there in September?

All posts in this series:Do you have a request for a post in this series? Pop it in the comments below; I'm not going to promise a full post on every topic, but it'd be useful to be answering questions people actually want answered. Future posts I'm planning to do include: How to Participate in Q&A sessions, How to survive your first conference, How to Survive Glee, Submitting a Motion to conference, and the UNIT Dating Controversy.

1, This is why it's called the Fringe, because it's on the fringes of conference rather than actually being a part of it.
2, If you want more detail on this, you can look at paragraph 1.5 of the standing orders for conference, on page 49 of the federal party constitution.
3, You can go back and look at the websites for previous conferences if you want to. For example, I have fond memories of Spring 2010, when we were riding high in the polls and I stayed at my brother's house [/tangent].
4, This is easier for some of us than others.
5, This never works. Ask Gatwick Airport.
6, Not The Leader's Speech is an unofficial event for those of us who get hives at the enforced conformity of clapping and cheering at platitudes. We go to the pub instead. There have been jokes in recent years about putting this in the directory as an official fringe...
7, FCC has been considering whether or not we should go back to five days. I am a firm proponent of the idea that if we do, we should extend the soft start back on Fridays to match the pattern of Spring, rather than extending to Wednesday again, for two reasons. 1, it would match spring and this is pleasing to me, and 2, it feels WRONG having the rally after a full day of conference has already happened. The rally is supposed to kickstart conference, not be a distraction half way through.
8, They have bright yellow tops which say STEWARD on them in stonking great letters so they are easily identified.
9, We have FCC in stonking great letters on our passes so we are easily identified.
10, They tried to get me to speak at the last one, but I persuaded someone else to do it for me.
11, They've since rejoined, but have never been back to conference.
miss_s_b: (Mood: Cynical)
It was quite a long meeting, but a lot of it was taken up with stuff I can't blog about: future venues and financial stuff.

The headline news is: we have a new chair, as you may have already seen on Lib Dem Voice. This also means we have a new vice chair, since Geoff has gone up a rung. I was on the losing side of both elections, having nominated and voted for Zoe O'Connell to be chair and Mary Reid to be Vice Chair, but I'm not sore about it. I'm very fond indeed of our new Vice Chair, Nick Da Costa, and am confident that Geoff will be an excellent chair, with the breadth of knowledge and procedural geekery that he will bring. I'm a little sad that things didn't turn out how I wanted, but I don't think the committee will suffer for this result in any way at all.

After the elections were over we had a little visit from Jim Williams of Your Liberal Britain, to talk to us about The Ashdown Prize for Motherhood and Apple Pie and YLB in general. He used a lot of words, but most of them were very slippery and nebulous, and my well-known disquiet about the organisation has, if anything, increased. At one point Jim enthusiastically said "ooo we'd love to do more dealing with local parties" and my immediate thought was "I bet you would, sunshine". I do not know why Jim, I mean YLB, have a level of access to HQ and resources that even federal committees can only dream of, but it makes me very uncomfortable indeed that 1, he refuses to acknowledge that this is the case, and continues to insist that everyone else could have the same privileges if only they asked and 2, that level of power and influence has accreted into the hands of one person, however well-meaning and nice that person might be, who is completely unelected and unaccountable. I am a liberal, and I am against this sort of thing.

We discussed the feedback we got from Southport, a LOT of which was concerned with accessibility, and that will obviously feed into future venue considerations. As always a fair amount of the feedback was stuff that we are already doing, but people just hadn't noticed (newbie events and the matrix timetable were two that stuck in my mind) so that is something for both Conf Office and Zoe as Vice Chair comms to think about.

One thing I personally plan to do is a series of conference 101 blog posts (which I'll probably forward on to LDV if they want them), because with our membership having doubled over the last few years there are going to be a lot of folks who don't grok conference and need a primer. Hopefully people will find that useful.

Two other little bitties that might be of interest:
  1. at this autumn's conference we are going to trial electronic speakers' card submission for a few debates. This has already been sort-of in operation for a while - you can download and fill in a .pdf of a speaker's card now, if you want to, although you don't know what any of the debates are going to be (protip: it's a safe bet that the motion number will be F17 tho ;) ) - but you still have to print it out and hand it in to the speakers' table. We're going to have actual electronic submission for 3 debates, and see how it goes, hopefully with a view to rolling it out for every debate in Spring.

  2. The next FCC meeting is the agenda-setting meeting, and at that meeting we are going to trial name-blind motion selection. There are several erroneous perceptions floating around about how motions get selected:
    • that if there's an MP's name attached it carries more weight;
    • that the number of people who have signed it matters hugely;
    • that certain names being attached will doom a motion to failure;
    • etc.
    I, personally, feel that all of those perceptions are utter bollocks, but I am aware that unconscious bias exists, and I realise that I also can't expect you to take my word for it, so I think this is a step in the right direction. I'd actually like to see it go further, and have motions submitted by FPC and FB be name-blind and considered on their own merits too, but I suspect that's unlikely for a lot of reasons, not least of which the conniptions several members of FPC will have had on merely reading that sentence...
Anyway, I hope you all find that of some use, and as usual, if you have any questions fire away.

ETA: Having been asked in Another Place, I have remembered the other thing I meant to put in this report: several people had complained about the drafting advice service not getting back to them. It turns out that there was actually a reasonably good excuse for this: the email address was mistakenly forwarding to an inbox that is no longer checked, so the person who is meant to get the emails wasn't getting them. This was not discovered until too late for Southport, but is all fixed now.
miss_s_b: (Politics: Democracy)
I did actually take my laptop with me to conference, but with one thing and another I never actually got it open...

Realistically, this means that most of what I might report back is common knowledge now; everyone knows what motions passed and what fell and what Vince said in his speech. So I'm going to confine my comments to three big points, and then throw things open for questions. There may be a follow-up post if things get especially interesting... Anyway:
  1. The Venue

    The actual convention centre was... a bit of a curate's egg. It had a lot more rooms and facilities than (say) York Barbican, and it was good that you had to go through the exhibition to get to the auditorium, but there were some real accessibility issues (the corridor wheelchair users had to get down was way too narrow, the intervention mike was up actual steps, the seats would not accommodate several of the more ample delegates, etc). Also little niggles like they weren't ready for us with food availability when the doors opened, plus there were some little issues with the way the stage was set up that most delegates probably wouldn't have noticed: for example when I went to chair the first debate proper at 9.30am Saturday there was no clock on the chair's desk, and while there were bottles of water there were no glasses. So lots of little things which are probably just teething, plus the big accessibility issues.

    As for the town, I kind of liked it, somewhat to my surprise, given that it's the wrong side of the hills ;). I wish there were more food outlets in close proximity to the convention centre, though. I think I'd be happy to go back there, subject to all the usual FCC caveats about cost and things. But I much prefer York, even given the shortcomings of the Barbican.

  2. The Referral Back of the McDonald Review.

    There is a part of me that wants to say to my fellow FCC members: "See! This is what happens when you give people a boring agenda, they pick procedural holes for something to do"... but actually, I think the referral back was justified. A referral back is not a rejection, it is "well, we kind of like this, but it needs the corners knocking off before it'll work properly". And given how close the vote for the reference back was, it is extremely unlikely that had the reference back fallen, the constitutional change would have hit the required two thirds majority to pass anyway, so handwringing about it being referred back is a bit pointless. If the business motion had have passed and the constitutional amendment fallen we would have been in a world of pain. SO I genuinely think referring it back was the sensible solution.

    There were enough people who spoke against, and every last one of them made different points, that I think referring it back for further polishing was the right things to do. I'd further point out that every last one of the speakers against said they accepted the current system is not fit for purpose, and a new one is needed. So I am hopeful that FB will consult (properly) and rethink and come back in the autumn with something that takes into account at least some of the concerns raised.

  3. That Line in Vince's Speech

    Obviously I was not in the hall for Vince's speech, as is traditional. But I actually think that line about blue passports, white faces and pink globes was a really good one, because two days later it is still on the news agenda. So while there are people who are offended by it (and some of that is obviously manufactured) I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. As dear old Ossie said, "the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about", and this goes double for political parties. Plus, if this is a sign that the leadership are actually growing some pecs on Europe at last, then I am all for it. I'm sick of being told I must respect the result of a referendum based on lies that will take away my rights and my daughters rights and impoverish my country.

As usual, feel free to have a vent in the comments: all feedback gratefully received! Don't forget to fill in the feedback form you will have been emailed if you attended, but I will also, as last time, collect and collate all the feedback given here and put it forward to FCC myself. Last time two changes were directly made as a result of comments on my blog, so if you feel for whatever reason that the feedback form is not the place for it, the comments box is open below.
miss_s_b: Mindy St Clare from The Good Place, hiding her nakedness behind very large sunflowers and looking shocked (Default)
You can download the .pdf here.

Plain text version etc coming soon :)
miss_s_b: Mindy St Clare from The Good Place, hiding her nakedness behind very large sunflowers and looking shocked (Default)
A few notes before we start.
  1. I've done this in the form of tables because it would have been confusing in any other form, I think. If you need them in screen-readerable format, or if your display is too narrow and they slip under the sidebar, they are on a google doc here.

  2. I have tabulated how I initially thought I would vote as well as how I actually voted to show that arguments made in committee do have an effect.

  3. I have not tabulated how anyone else voted, or what the exact numbers were for any of the votes, because that information is not up to me to reveal.

  4. You will notice that the two motions I marked as essential both fell, albeit one of them by only one vote. Just in case any of you thought I was enjoying untrammeled power and influence...

  5. I really hope the way I have done this is clear, but if you want anything explaining, do ask in the comments*

  6. Because of the presumption towards taking motions from Federal Policy Committee (FPC) and Federal Board (FB), and because we had to take the two constitutional amendments, even after cutting the keynote speeches down to two (The Leader and A.N. Other) and skimming a few minutes off the lunch break, we were only left with enough space for two, possibly three member submitted motions**. This is obviously sub optimal, and is only going to get worse next conference because of how far FPC are backed up after the snap general election***.

I think the thing I am most bothered about is that we took the NHS at 70 motion over the Mental Health Detention motion - which did eventually go down to a run-off vote. I want to emphasize that I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with the NHS at 70 motion, and the NHS winter crisis is a timely topic to highlight, and all that. But:
  • Everybody, especially in the party, knows that we like the NHS, we want to fund it better, and thus the "debate" will be really dull because nobody in the party is going to disagree with anything in the motion. I bet we get a tonne of "this motion doesn't go far enough" cards.

  • The mental health detention motion would have highlighted an injustice that is not widely known and would have given us a distinctive policy platform which none of the other parties have - with all due respect to the submitters of the NHS at 70, there's little in there that is distinctive.

  • We already had a load of big slices of apple pie from FPC and FB, and putting in yet another one risks the entire agenda being deathly dull. This is not going to attract people to a conference that is already struggling to attract people due to a difficult location for many members to get to.
However, what do I know? My position was the minority position, albeit by only one vote.

The other big discussion I was on the losing side of was who to give the keynote speech to. That vote also went to a knife edge and a majority of one. Several of FCC felt that as the agenda was light on Home Affairs content, we ought to give the one non-leader keynote speech to our home affairs spokesman. Several others of us felt that would mean that the only two keynote speakers at our conference would be middle aged cis het white guys, and this would look really bad, especially after recent furores in the LGBT and BAME sections of our membership and supporters. I (and some others) felt we really really ought to have someone who was demographically divergent from Vince*****, and who could speak on equalities, which was also completely absent from the agenda after motion selection.

"But we haven’t given Ed a speech since we were in coalition" won. Just. And you know what? I could see their point. We haven't given Ed a speech since we were in coalition. It's just that I think the unfairness of giving our only two keynote speeches to middle-aged cis het white guys after what has gone on the last couple of months is worse than the unfairness of not giving a middle-aged cis het white guy his turn at a speech. Sorry, Ed.

And I'm hitting post on this in the hopes that my openness about what happened and what part I played will outweigh the offence I have caused to people whose motions I didn't vote for when it comes to the next set of committee elections...

*I suspect that one thing that needs an immediate explanation is "Snowball test" - the Snowball Test (©Zoe O'Connell) is "does this motion have a Snowball's chance in hell of getting onto the agenda given the various other things that are already on there and everything else that needs to be considered". If a motion fails the snowball test then there is no point in putting energy into arguing for its inclusion, even if you really like it.

**There was an attempt by some of us to drop one of the federal board motions, because it just seemed utterly anodyne and pointless, but the weight of tradition is heavy and it got taken.

***A really clever person, were they thinking of submitting a motion to autumn conference, would already be looking at which FPC papers are due to come forward for it, and picking topics not being covered by FPC. This information is publicly available... That person would also, obviously, have their motion written in plenty of time to be pimped by the drafting advice service****.

****yes, I know I go on about that a lot.

*****no, I'm not going to name any of the people suggested, as that would be unfair.
miss_s_b: Vince Cable's happy face (Politics: Vince - happy face)
... will be forthcoming when the results are no longer embargoed; I have typed it up though, because there was a lot of stuff I wanted to get down while it was fresh in my mind.

There were some really difficult decisions - we had far far more motions than we could possibly have accepted - and I didn't agree with the way all of the decisions went, but that's the way of committees, isn't it?

One thing I can, and will, say now, though?

A lot of our decisions were made immeasurably easier by some of the submitted motions being badly drafted. Some of them were unclear as to what they intended; some of them were great walls of text with no paragraph breaks, some of them were simple resubmissions of motions that had been submitted before with none of the errors corrected. All of these motions were easy to reject straight away.

Now, while members submitting awful motions makes it miles easier for FCC to decide what motions to select, it also does mean the members submitting have put in however much work they have put in with no hope of success. I don't like seeing that happen. I would like FCC to be wrangling for hours over which of several excellent motions to take (sorry Andrew, Geoff, Zoe, I guess I'm just a masochist ;) ).

To that end, my fellow Lib Dems:

If you're going to submit a motion please, please, PLEASE use the drafting advice service.

Hardly anybody uses it, and it's so, so helpful. Even if you're really good at writing motions, sometimes it helps to have an outside perspective. Sure, it doesn't guarantee your motion will be selected, especially on a day like yesterday when we had so many motions competing for so little time, but it massively improves your chances.

I therefore present here, for your convenience, a list of all the remaining drafting advice and submission deadlines for 2018:
  • 13.00 February 20th - Drafting Advice deadline for amendments to motions for the Southport conference.

  • 13.00 March 6th - Submission deadline for amendments to motions, emergency motions, topical issues, and questions to reports for the Southport conference.

  • 13.00 June 13th - Drafting Advice deadline for motions to the Brighton conference

  • 13.00 June 27th - Submission deadline for motions to Brighton conference

  • 13.00 August 20th - Drafting Advice deadline for amendments to motions for the Brighton conference

  • 13.00 September 3rd - Submission deadline for amendments to motions, emergency motions, topical issues, and questions to reports for the Brighton conference
Please pay those dates heed and use the drafting advice service. Please.
miss_s_b: (Politics: Liberal)
Here is my initial reaction to the non-constitutional motions before the committee tomorrow*.

Obviously I remain to be convinced by other committee members, I am not infallible. Also, bear in mind that some motions fit into more than one category.

  • Unsuitable: for one reason or another, this motion is not suitable for debate at conference
  • MH&AP: Motherhood and Apple Pie. They're suitable, but will be boring debates because nobody** disagrees with them.
  • Acceptable: this motion is OK, but I can muster no enthusiasm for it.
  • Commendable: I think this motion will lead to an interesting debate, and will argue for it's inclusion.
  • Essential: I will die in a ditch to get this motion on the Agenda.
I shall, of course, report back on how I personally voted on each motion once the results are public.

In other news, I can finally report back on the meeting mentioned in this entry, from which the results were embargoed due to commercial sensitivity. To nobody's surprise, autumn conference this year will be a four day conference instead of a three-and-two-half-days conference. This means that it will start at 9am Saturday and finish with the Leader's Speech*** on Tuesday afternoon.

Because of some clever temporal juggling, this actually results in more debate time than any conference since Bournemouth 2015****, and only about quarter of an hour less than that conference. I don't think that's bad, frankly.

I remain of the view that if they are ever going to extend Autumn conference by another day (or half day) it should go backwards, so that consultative sessions are on Friday afternoon and the rally is Friday night, the same as in Spring. This would mean that both conferences are similar in terms of timing for members, and also would help our many members in academic professions, who suffer enormously with autumn conference being early on in the term.

* We are constitutionally obliged to accept constitutional motions, so there's no point in me assessing whether or not they are acceptable.
** Nobody in the Lib Dems at least.
*** Or, indeed, Not The Leader's Speech, still defiantly unoffical by the skin of my teeth.
**** not Liverpool as I originally typed because I am a tit
miss_s_b: Vince Cable's happy face (Politics: Vince - happy face)
... will be forthcoming when the results are not embargoed.

Sorry about that.

But, you know, I take my commitment to report back to my electorate seriously.

(none of this is particularly exciting to anyone not massively invested in Lib Demmery but some of it is commercially sensitive. I promise you'll get an exciting blow-by-blow as soon as I'm allowed)
miss_s_b: (Mood: Kill me)
I didn't make any predictions last year. I should probably have more sense than to do so this year, too. However, I am willing to sacrifice myself on the altar of entertaining you all with how horribly wrong I am about all this.

click here for politics predictions )
click here for fandom predictions )
Click here for personal predictions )
miss_s_b: (Politics: Liberal)
Yes, yes, I know, Spring conference is AAAAAAAAGES away, however, the deadlines? The deadlines creep ever closer.

The deadline for drafting advice is December the 27th* at 13.00 hours. As one of the poor benighted souls who has to go through each and every motion can I please exhort you to go through the drafting advice service before submitting your motion? Please? We get so many that are spoiled by daft typos or imprecision, and in extreme cases this can get your motion ruled out of order before it's merits are even considered.

The deadline for submission is January 10th** at 13.00 hours. This means January the 10th. Not lunchtime on the 11th Oh-I'm-Really-Sorry-I-Forgot.


Now you can't say you haven't been warned.

*My Birthday - cash and/or visitors bearing gin and/or brandy and/or (non-chocolate) cake gratefully received.
**My dad's birthday - dad will also accept gin and cake, and is happy to accept chocolate too, as long as it's the mega dark 80%+ cocoa solids stuff
miss_s_b: Vince Cable's happy face (Politics: Vince - happy face)
Not much to report back, really. It was the debrief meeting. It was mostly us examining the things you lot had reported back to us.

I fed back all the things that you folks asked me to feed back in this and this post; pretty much all of them were received loud and clear. Especially popular was [personal profile] hollymath's suggestion that we put "would you benefit from step-free access" rather than "are you a wheelchair user" on Speaker's cards; this is definitely going to be done, hopefully for spring, but if not then for next autumn.

I've been given more work to do, which is mostly my own fault for volunteering to sort shit out. Nick Da Costa and I have to redesign the end of conference survey, so if you have any specific ideas about that do let me know. Is it too long, too short, too fiddly, etc? What questions do you think should be asked, and which ones do you think should be retired? As usual, I can;t promise to act on every suggestion, but I promise to at least read and respond to every suggestion.

Specifically regarding the app, which I know a few of you talked about: there was a feeling that we've sunk a lot of time and effort into the bespoke app, and it gets better every time - which it definitely does - and the developer is very responsive to requests for changes, so Grenadine is not going to fly. The specific comments about line numbers and clock hiding and too much nesting are definitely going to be fed back to the developer, so if those aren't sorted out for Spring you can take me to one side, spank me, and call me Gerald.

I'm going to go get a well deserved drink now.
miss_s_b: (Politics: Goth Lib Dems)
I'm attending this meeting right now, by dialing in to the phone conference machine in the middle of the meeting room.

It's interesting to note who has a clear speaking voice and who doesn't. No, I couldn't possibly name names :P

Will report back on actual happenings later...

ETA: Have just been christened The New Gareth Epps due to my scathing comments about real ale provision; I'm taking that as the compliment it was doubtless meant to be
miss_s_b: (Pratchett: Nanny Ogg)
Obviously for data protection reasons I can't go into much detail about the responses FCC got to the end of conference survey, but I do want to highlight one small area:

The impressive number of you who said Glee was the best fringe event, and the smaller but still impressive number who said we were the best thing about conference full stop, and the hardy few who said the best way to improve conference would be to have more Glee, and the one dear sweet soul who said Glee was their main reason for coming to conference?

I am genuinely touched and I love you all. Thank you. It makes it absolutely worth trying to chair a debate with a hangover and a sore throat first thing in the morning after. You guys rule.

miss_s_b: (Mood: Brain Hurts)
I just got around to filing all my paperwork from Bournemouth conference, and I realised that I'm not going to be able to fit any more into that lever arch file:

This means that paperwork from the three meetings I have remaining to attend this year will need to go in a new file. This displeases me; I wanted to be all neat and do a file per year.

* grumpy face *

About This Blog

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