Liberal Democrat autumn federal conference will be online

Writing in the party’s conference Facebook group, Geoff Payne (Chair of the Federal Conference Committee) explains plans for the party’s autumn federal conference:

We have decided that Autumn Conference will take place from 17th to 20th September. It will be held online. That was a very difficult decision to take and we had a very lengthy discussion about it.

We recognise that a lot of people would like to meet again in person – believe me, so we would we – but the question is whether, at this time, we can absolutely guarantee that conference could go ahead in the format that we know and love. Having consulted a range of others, FCC considered, with some reluctance, that it was not possible at this time to give such a guarantee. Although things are now a lot better in terms of the pandemic, we do not know if there are any final bumps in the road still to come. Medical experts say they expect a third wave in the Autumn but the extent is not yet clear. Of course, things seemed better in the early Autumn of 2020 but then took a marked turn for the worst a few months later. We do not, at this stage, know what social distancing requirements there will be or how many people will be able to attend the venue. We therefore cannot make meaningful plans and set any meaningful budget for the event. The risk of going ahead in person but having to cancel or heavily restrict the event such that it is not inclusive, is just too great. In the same way, we take any risk to the personal safety of party members very seriously. That is why we cancelled Spring 2020. We would not want to expose anyone to any unnecessary risk of catching this dreadful virus in a close setting.

We are also very concerned to maximise participation as far as we can. For the online conference, we had people logging on from around the world and throughout the nations and islands of the United Kingdom. 26 countries were represented at Spring; 24 at Autumn. The overwhelming balance of the conference feedback was that people want to ensure that conference remains fully inclusive but there is support for an in-person element as well. We understand that the social side of conference is very important. For that reason, we are going to work on ideas for in-person aspects of conference within public safety guidelines – in the form of some regional or local social events for example – and maybe some set-piece speeches with audiences.

That idea of physical add-ons to a virtual conference is one I have been particularly keen on the party exploring, and which I spoke in favour of at FCC. The social side of conference is missed by many in the party (myself included!). With physical social events alongside a virtual conference, we will have a chance to replicate some of that. Not perhaps with all the fun of a traditional conference, but also without the under-staffed and over-priced hotel bars of a conference.

If these events are arranged around the country, they will also enable us to build on the success of virtual conferences at involving a much more diverse range of people in our key democratic events.

You can read Geoff’s report in full here, including more details about conference such as the motions submissions deadline. It will also be appearing on the party website in the AdLib section and on Lib Dem Voice.

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