Thursday, July 05, 2012

How Liberal Democrat Conference has changed

There have been two significant changes to Liberal Democrat Conference since I started attending them when the Liberal Party and the SDP merged. The changes are even more pronounced when I think of the Liberal Party Assemblies I used to att...

Come to think of it, there has been another important change. These days Liberal Democrat Conference is patrolled by police officer with guns and you have to get the nod from the police before you are allowed to attend. Apparently it is all designed to 'send a message'. Oh, and if you use the party's democratic machinery to object to these new arrangement then those you elect to run the conference will imply that you do not care about the staff at its venue.

Where was I?

Two changes to Liberal Democrat Conference.

The first is the enormous emphasis on training. When I was a young activist you generally learnt by doing - you visited other people's by-elections and learned organisation, campaigning and Focus design by seeing it done and then helping do it. After that you joined the ALC or ALDC, armed yourself with their artwork sheets and some Letraset and got on with producing your own Focus.

No doubt part of my feeling is simple nostalgia - I particularly miss the smell of Cow Gum - but I do think the recent emphasis on training tells us something about the way that the party has changed. Now wisdom is not seen as being distributed evenly across the country: it is held at the centre and shared in discrete lessons.

The advent of information technology, which could have made more distinctive local campaigning possible, has coincided with, if not caused, a centralisation of the way that we learn to campaign.

The second change - and I seem to have commented on this in most recent Conference issues of Liberal Democrat News - is that almost all the fringe meetings are organised by outside pressure groups. This does not suggest there is a great deal of original thinking going on in the Liberal Democrats - we seem to be 'buying in' ideas from outside the party.

The danger is that we shall find ourselves talking to much the same outside experts and campaigners as the other parties and be saying much the same thing as the other parties as a result. Certainly, this is part of the explanation for the similarity of view between the Liberal Democrats and Labour during the Charles Kennedy years.

So let's have less of the police, a different model of training and a bit more Liberal Democrat ideology.


Liberal Neil said...

I'm not convinced your description of party training is a fair one.

Training is about sharing skills and ideas that work - best practice as it is known.

It is no different in principle to reading an article in an ALC publication about a campaign someone has run.

Going to help in a by-election and coming away with ideas is also training, just in a different format.

To this day one of the standard chunks of training new paid organisers are given is to be sent to a parliamentary by-election to see how it is done.

Obviously different trainers will have their own styles and different modules are different. My own preferred approach is more 'workshop' - I work on the basis that the people in my session probably have quite a lot of answers and ideas between them and my job is to get them to share them.

It is the case that not all party training is up to scratch. I find that there are too many sessions that are more PowerPoint presentation than actual training.

But overall I think the provision of more training at conferences is a big step forward.

Anonymous said...

Amen to the comment about all the fringes being organised by NGOs and corporates with the specific intent of mouthing their propaganda at delegates (though in reality most fringes are attended by lobbyists and political monitoring organisations - the bland talking to the bland).