It’s no secret that I enjoy my trips to York and, while my overall political views shouldn’t come as a surprise to many people, it’s not often that I write about my party political involvement. I joined the Liberal Democrats in 2009, after being a (mostly quiet) supporter for a good while. It all came about following a meet-up with one of my friends during the Autumn 2008 Bournemouth Conference, in which she told me all about her activities and managed to sneak me into a social event (the hotel staff spotted that I wasn’t wearing a correct pass round about the time I’d been planning to go home anyway). Obviously, when the Autumn Conference was announced as coming back to the same venue the following year, I decided it was about time I got involved, and signed up.
I don’t go to every Spring or Autumn Conference, although I try to get to my Regional Conference and to at least one of the twice yearly LGBT+ LibDems Strategy Meetings, but this year’s Spring Conference being held in York, less than an hour away on the train, meant that I could sign-up for the whole thing, and then go for one, two or all three days as best fitted in with everything else I had planned. As it turned out, I just went on the Saturday.
I can’t speak for what the other UK political parties get up to at their conferences, but LibDems have a packed programme from which to choose their various activities. Generally, debates and speeches take place in the conference centre’s main hall, while lobbying groups, special interest organisations within the party, and the tourist boards of current and future conference locations have stands close by. Meetings and training sessions for activists of all levels of engagement and experience take place in side rooms of the conference centre and in the meeting rooms of local hotels, while fringe meetings are held in some of those same rooms over the lunch-break and once the main business of the day is concluded.
I managed to fit in a little bit of everything this year, beginning with a debate on the motion “A Rational Approach to Harm Reduction” regarding the adoption of Policy Paper 126. Policy papers are developed by a working group of party members tasked with researching a topic in depth before putting their findings to conference, but any group of members can submit a motion for debate at conference and those that are approved by a majority of attending members become part of party policy (full details of the process can be found here).
Likewise, any member attending a conference can speak in a debate – we’ve heard some fine speeches from junior members well under 18 at a number of conferences I’ve attended – and it’s possible to put in a card to speak as the debate is taking place.
Several of my friends took part in the debate, and the motion was approved, after which I had a quick look at some of the stands in the exhibition area and the main lobby before heading off to my first training session.
Hosted by the Campaign for Gender Balance/Liberal Democrat Women, “Giving a Brilliant Speech” was a women-only interactive session aimed at making confident public speakers out of the most nervous of us. I’m not convinced I’m brave enough to speak in a full conference debate yet, but I’m planning to have a go at putting my point across better during Regional Conference next time.
After the training session, it was the lunch-break and my first fringe meeting of the day, also hosted by LDW, and titled “Shrill, nasty women: Has the openness of the misogyny during the US presidential campaign made it harder or easier for women and feminists to engage in politics?”. We had a lively discussion that ranged quite wide of the topic, but once again the session was very empowering.
After another visit to the exhibition stands, I took part in my second training session, on Unconscious Bias. Although attendees were a largely self-selecting group, we had some good discussions on examples of the different forms bias can take, and left the session feeling better equipped to challenge our own, and others’, preconceptions in future.
I ended the day by attending two more fringe events: LGBT+ LibDems hosted a discussion on “Sex Work and Diversity”, and the Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists hosted an expert panel talking about “Science, Brexit and the Way Forward”.
Overall, I think I managed to fit in everything I’d hoped to do, including seeing something of York (especially the daffodils), and returned full of enthusiasm to get involved in more campaigning over the spring and summer months. The autumn conference is back in Bournemouth, which isn’t as easy for me to get to these days, but I’m considering the possibility more seriously now than I was last week.