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:
When should I, personally, rock up to Conference?
- 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.
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.