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Spring Conference – Ditch it or shift it?

November 21, 2013 5:10 PM
By Toby Keynes in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

Neither of these are attractive options, and they appear to be deeply unpopular with activists.

However, the party has to contend with Spring Conference's high fixed costs (bad for delicate party finances) and relatively poor attendance (bad for both party finances and party democracy).

At the moment, Spring Conference takes place in early March, during the Easter parliamentary recess. That's under 2 months before the May elections (except in European Parliament election years), when many activists consider that they have more urgent matters to attend to. It's also uncomfortably close to the State Conferences, which hits the attendance from Scottish and Welsh members.

But does it have to?

What if Spring Conference were moved to mid-February (the February recess) or late May (the Whitsun recess)?

Moving Spring Conference from early March to mid February (the February parliamentary recess) removes the conflict with State Conferences, and reduces the conflict with campaigning for May elections.

Moving Conference from early March to late May (the first weekend of the Whitsun recess), except in June election years, removes entirely both the conflict with State Conferences and with campaigning for the May elections.

Both options could significantly improve attendance.

Of course, neither of these options is ideal:

  • the February and Whitsun parliamentary recess are, at 10 days and 12 days, much shorter than the 17-day Easter recess, so parliamentarians would lose a much larger chunk of the relevant recess.
  • mid-February may be a particularly cold, dark and uninviting time for tripping off to Conference;
  • the first weekend of the Whitsun recess (late May) would leave a little less than 4 months between the Spring and Autumn conferences.

However, I think they're both worth serious consideration, and particularly the late May option. A shorter gap between a Spring and Autumn conferences may be a price worth paying if it achieves a larger attendance, and therefore a reduction in both the democratic and the financial deficit.

If the other options are the scaling down or complete abandonment of Spring Conference, I know where I stand.

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* Toby Keynes is Chair of Humanist & Secularist Liberal Democrats and an activist in Croydon. He is not a blogger.