The Liberal Democrat Federal Conference Committee (FCC) is reasonably trying to tighten up the rules over who can qualify for the heavily discounted ‘party bodies’ rates for fringe meetings and exhibitions stands at federal party conferences. But its current draft proposals includes some rather surprising bans.
You can read the proposed set of rules in full below, and you’ll see its heart is in right place: ‘party bodies’ discounts should be for groups of Liberal Democrats, not for external organisations looking for a cheap way out of paying full commercial rates. It’s good too that the discounts are available to more than simply Associated Organisations (AOs) and Specified Associated Organisations (SAOs) as that would be too restrictive, especially for newly formed party groups.
However, the details also encourage party bodies to take an insular approach to their meetings and stands in future in order to protect their discounts, rather than looking to build bridges with the outside world in a way that often benefits the party.
For example, the draft rules strongly push party bodies away from having an outsider chair their fringe meetings and would ban any outside literature from appearing on party stands. In other words, having (say) Ben Goldacre* chair a meeting of the Lib Dem Engineers and Scientists would be out, as would Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform having any Electoral Reform Society leaflets on its stand explaining STV.
It’s hard to see why this insularity is the right direction to go in.
UPDATE: Over on Facebook, the FCC’s Geoff Payne has made this helpful response.
Interesting comments. Sorry to come late to this but I’ve been away from technology over the break.
The issues raised in the draft guidelines are not new. Conference generates considerable revenue for the campaigning activities of the party and that has to be balanced with the need to ensure that those party bodies that could not afford to attend, exhibit and run fringes without concessionary rates are able to do so. Identifying a party body eligible for the rates is not as straightforward as it may appear. The conference office has had to deal with a lot of requests from various bodies for the concessionary rates and some of them have clearly been commercial organisations to all intents and purposes or had commercial organisations sitting behind them. We could restrict the rate to SAOs or AOs but that would exclude worthy groups. We need the guidelines to create clarity over eligibility and to prevent abuse of the rates- they are, after all, pretty much cost price in many cases.
The guidelines are in draft. All party bodies were written to with a survey initially and then with the draft. They are not in a final form and are subject to change following consultation.
We’ll look again at the joint literature provisions as I can see a good case for change there.
We are very much wanting a common sense approach. As Jon [Ball] says, the General Purposes Sub Committee will deal with implementing the changes. What we have drafted is not designed to stop genuine party bodies from having good stands or fringes, less still an attempt to charge them more. We want to stop abuses of the rate by those who should be paying the commercial rate. Actually these guidelines would widen the eligibility for the cconcessionaryrate. I am happy to answer any questions about this here or through firstname.lastname@example.org
* Name used for illustrative purposes only. For all I know, he may be horrified at the idea of doing such a gig 🙂