Liberal Democrat Autumn Federal Conference begins this weekend in Glasgow, and runs through until Wednesday. Other people will have opinions about the policy motions on the agenda, the challenges facing the Leadership, even the Presidential and Federal elections which are ongoing. But this is an activist’s blog, for activist people, so that’s where I’m going to concentrate (apart from plugging one campaign).
The biggest problem we face as activists right now is fear and self-doubt. We think that people will hate us on the doorstep (pro-tip: generally they don’t). We’re not sure we can live with the compromises we’ve made in Government – letting the Tories do some stuff we don’t like, so we can get some stuff they don’t like through. We can’t quite be bothered to do that Focus round tonight… maybe tomorrow. And maybe we’ll canvass next week instead of this week. The weather might be better, after all.
The negative narrative has been pounding on us for nearly five years now, and it’s harder to maintain our energy and build critical masses. While we’ve always believed in theory in pluralism and pragmatism and the art of the possible, it’s hard to avoid worrying about what the party as a whole could have done differently or better, and how things might have turned out otherwise. Even those of us who wholeheartedly believe that going into the Coalition was the right thing to do for the country, that we knew it would make us unpopular but at the time felt it was worth it, even those people get disheartened at the way that our political opponents just spam our Facebook page with TUITION FEES YELLOW TORIES over and over again.
If you’re at Conference, this is the biggest critical mass of Lib Dems you’ll see until after the General Election. Many of them, like you, are disheartened, are burned out, are fed up. You can sit over a coffee with them and complain at each other and you will come away from Conference more disheartened than when you went. But there are also people there who are energetically fighting the good fight, and you can benefit from that energy. There are people making impassioned conference speeches because they strongly believe that it’s important to make good political policy democratically. There are people giving up their time to teach you new skills in the training sessions, or to get involved in discussions in fringe meetings. Listen to some of those speeches, go to some of those fringes and training, and be inspired. Buy a table flag for a local Lib Dem social event. Go back to your constituencies and share that inspiration – tell your members what you did, how you voted and why, discuss what you learned and saw, who you met, what friendships you made.
Let’s get together, inspire each other, work hard, party hard, and go back to our constituencies and prepare to hold our head up high and fight the good Liberal fight, win or lose!
I am not surprised to learn from FCC that my policy motion on IPv6 has not been accepted for debate at Conference in Glasgow this autumn. The polite rejection reads:
I am writing to let you know that the conference committee decided not to select your motion Connecting More Devices to the Internet for debate at the Glasgow conference. The subject matter is very technical and, although the drafting does a fair job of trying to make the issues as clear as possible to a non-specialist audience, we nevertheless felt that it would be of limited interest to most conference representatives and was unlikely to lead to a good political debate.
I am sorry to have to disappoint you on this occasion.
So yeah, mildly disappointed, but not surprised. I have asked what further recourse I might have, including lobbying a policy working group or just smiling sweetly at J-Hup.
When I’m not doing politics, I work in IT as a systems and network administrator. This involves dealing with the Internet Protocol (IP) a lot. This is basically the thing that makes the Internet (and hence the Web, which is a subset of the Internet) work. Trouble is, it’s based on an assumption that everything directly connected to the Internet (like your BT HomeHub, Virgin box or whatever) can have a unique identifier called an IP address. But there’s so much stuff connected to the Internet these days from smartphones to lamp-posts that we’re running out of unique identifiers allowed by the current version of the Internet Protocol.
Networking geeks basically solved this problem over 15 years ago in 1998 with a new version of the Internet Protocol, but we’re still using the old one because there’s no real incentive for anybody to switch before anybody else does. It’s a classic tragedy of the commons, so wearing my political hat I think there’s a case for the Government to lean on the industries.
I’ve drafted a policy motion on mandating rollout of IPv6 to end users for Lib Dem Conference in Glasgow. It’s aimed at a non-technical audience, so I’ve elided or hinted at some of the problems of address space exhaustion such as route fragmentation. I’ve had a couple of non-technical people read it, and they can grasp the gist: “There is a problem. There is a solution, but nobody’s doing anything about it. The Government should make them.” Note that I’m only addressing the ISP side; hosting and content providers are largely based outside the UK, particularly cloud-based ones, and it’s a business with tight profit margins; I think that if everybody has the ability to reach you on IPv6, then increasing IPv4 prices (and policies of IPv4 allocators such as RIPE) will encourage those providers to implement IPv6 of their own accord.
I’ll be encouraging my local party to support it, but the more LPs we get behind it (and individual conference reps) the better. Let me know if you have any suggested alterations to the text, or whether you or your local party would like to support the motion.
Maybe in 10 years I’ll be proposing a motion to deprecate IPv4…
I believe that it’s important for the Liberal Democrats and its members that more people get more involved more widely in the party. I’ve been trickling out posts about background and procedure, but it’s time to flip around the Kolb learning cycle from Abstract to Active, and encourage you to do something. Mostly, I’ve been talking here about local parties because it’s the most obvious and geographically proximate way for people to get involved.
For this post I’m going to talk about party interest groups, because it’s Conference now (it wasn’t when I started this post a week ago, but I’ve been busy) and most party interest groups have their AGMs at Autumn Conference. The Lib Dems has a wide, eclectic, federal structure. There are many ways to get involved, if you know about them. Unfortunately, few people do know about them and it’s not easy to find out. New members get details about Specified Associated Organisations in their member packs now, which is a vast improvement; there’s a horrible hard to navigate list of party bodies on the party website. But if you’re at Conference, go look around the Exhibitions to find party bodies which are at least organised and funded enough for a stall.
If there’s an area of Lib Dem policy you’re interested in, stand for election to the executive committee that runs the interest group – pretty much all of them are elected democratically at each autumn conference, either at the AGM or by postal ballot shortly afterwards. If you can’t get elected, ask the executive to co-opt you to any vacant spaces. Get involved and become part of a team – rope in a friend to stand with you, for moral support. If you’re not sure what to do, I’d make sure the following are happening:
- The organisation knows who its members are and chases up renewals
- The organisation communicates with its members through some combination of post, email or social networking
- The organisation asks for feedback and input from its members
- The organisation advertises its existence and actively seeks new members
- The organisation is creating, sponsoring or supporting policy motions to achieve its goals within the Party
- The organisation’s executive communicates effectively, regularly and frequently
In my experience, an executive list on the party list server or another mailing list provider is very helpful for the last point.
This is the bare minimum that an organisation needs to do to self-sustain. It’s not enough to make it an effective and useful organisation, but it’s a way of getting more people more involved and engaged to achieve that. People can’t do everything themselves, and organisations need to encourage strong teams of diverse talents. Once those requirements are being addressed – not necessarily perfectly, but things are moving in the right direction, think about:
- The organisation is promoting the party’s action on its policies and goals outside the Party
- The organisation is campaigning on its policies and goals outside the Party
Party bodies don’t exist just to sell the party to outsiders – that’s why these external goals are secondary. But they should exist to make the Lib Dems do the right thing (in their opinion) and to engage the public with these issues. Organisations need to be inward-facing to sustain themselves and grow, but they also need to look outward for fresh ideas, and to make sure we’re either representing or persuading the public in liberal directions.
This guide is nearly short enough for a Lib Dem Voice article (and following LDV is not a bad way to find out about some of the things happening in the party, particularly in its member-only forum). I hope it sets out how you can get involved in an SAO and what you can do. Getting more involved in the party can be frustrating at times, and can involve a lot of work if you haven’t got a strong team pulling together – or if you’re trying to bite off more than you can chew. But it can also be incredibly rewarding, from the small victories to the big ones. It can teach you skills, and lessons, and talents you can put to use in the rest of your life. It’s worth it for you, and it’s worth it for the cause of Liberal Democracy.
In the middle of the local election campaign, Federal Conference Committee have decided to ignore last September’s conference vote against their controversial CRB checks for delegates, and are holding a one-week “listening exercise” advertised on an unofficial party-aligned website. I’ve drafted the following response, and post it here for two reasons – to check I’ve not missed anything obvious, and to give guidance to others on a response (though the comments on the Lib Dem Voice article pretty much sum it up).
Coincidentally, I have a list of Brighton conference venues for hire courtesy of a friend who’s been looking at running a tech conference there. If FCC insist on imposing accreditation again, I will be organising an alternative conference for those disenfranchised by these measures. Hopefully there will not be more to come on that later because FCC will back down.
Some people have been discussing standing for Federal Conference Committee as a result of this, but since I don’t live in London I can’t really do that. As a voting rep however I will support FCC candidates who are opposed to disenfranchising our elected members through imposing unnecessary and useless CRB checks.
Again, if you oppose this security theatre, do e-mail FCC to let them know on firstname.lastname@example.org – while I suspect that with under six months to go, the decision has already been made, we can’t let FCC claim that nobody responded to their poorly-advertised “consultation” and use that as an excuse to do what they want. Also, please vote for this article on LibDig, and share it on Twitter and FaceBook, so more party members will see it and respond.
The recent discussions over the data requirements for Liberal Democrat Federal Conference have sparked wider discussion about the Federal Conference and the role it plays in the party’s life and policy making. It’s why I rushed to finish my guide to conference for the grassroots series, to add a bit more information to the debate (though I’ve yet to write the guide on policy making, because I need to do a little more research).
We Lib Dems are rightly proud of our party’s commitment to democracy in our internal procedures, and policy making is no different. Each local party elects voting reps, proportional to its membership, and those voting reps vote on policy motions at conference. The reason for the voting reps, rather than one member one vote as used for Presidential (and some other) elections, is to try to minimise the influence of geography – otherwise a conference in e.g. the Midlands will get more Midlands members, giving them more say in our policy. However, even with this measure in place, there are still limitations in place – whether it’s not being able to afford the cost of registration, or hotels, or time work, or childcare responsibilities, or data sharing concerns. Historically, there wasn’t much we could do about that – making our policy in one room gives us the opportunity for debate, for amendment and so on. There’s little to stop a party body or local party from fundraising to sponsor delegates to avoid the financial restrictions, but what local party would seriously engage its limited resources there rather than to campaigning?
There are three significant elements to the policy process on the conference floor – listening to what others (particularly the mover and seconder) have to say, having your own say, and voting. BBC Parliament already covers a lot of our conference live – but not all, and we couldn’t expect them to do so without their breaks for news bulletins and other scheduled programming. Back in February 2009, London saw the Convention on Modern Liberty, a multi-streamed debate on all aspects of civil liberties at the height of Labour’s assault. The main chamber of the convention was streamed live on the Internet, both to users at home and to satellite conventions in Manchester, Bristol, Edinburgh and elsewhere. Internet streaming of the main hall during debates would be pretty feasible and cheap in this day and age, and would allow many of our members, particularly the younger and less well off, to listen to the debates in the conference hall.
The Convention used Twitter as a way for the satellite conventions to feed back questions to the speakers in London – a relatively simple method, but one we could probably improve on. I don’t think that it’d necessarily be feasible to have two-way streaming for the speeches from the podium, but it should be possible to allow online attendees to make interjections which possibly could be read out by the vice-Chair (who currently doesn’t have much to do during the debate). Mixing online voting and a hand count in the debating hall would be tricky – one option might be handsets in the auditorium to count the votes cast there automatically, removing the need for a motion to count a vote. Fortunately, there’s no privacy in Lib Dem conference floor voting, which makes moving the process online much much simpler.
I’m not going to try and propose a complete solution here, because I don’t want to get bogged down in technical detail (other than to push for open standards and free software to avoid unnecessarily excluding people based on their choice of computer operating system). Nor would I recommend replacing Federal conference with an online-only event – there’s far more to conference than policy making. But we might be able to open up our policy making to a wider range of democratically-elected local party representatives, at fairly minimal cost, and I think that’s a discussion worth having.
Since my last post on the new data requirements for Liberal Democrat Federal Conference (I refuse to call them security requirements, because I have no reason to believe that they provide any extra security), there has been some movement on the issues raised.
It seems that the decision to exclude anybody from conference will be advised by the police, but the decision will rest with the Party (though it seems to rest with the chair of FCC and the Chief Executive, rather than the Chief Steward as the Constitution states). Police have confirmed that the computer system used for attendee information is separate from the normal police computer systems, and is used only for conference accreditation – and that attendees will be able to have their information removed from the system on request.
However, it’s also been confirmed that the background checks used are Criminal Records Bureau checks, and these still present a problem for many people, as I’ve previously outlined. Some people are so unhappy with the idea of submitting to a CRB check, even if they have no criminal record, that they will not attend Conference this time. The current alternative plan proposed by FCC seems to be that people in certain specific circumstances can identify themselves to the conference team who will make sure their CRB check is ‘sensitively’ handled, but that seems to create at least as many problems as it solves.
I’m a big fan of Bruce Schneier, the American security guru whose book Beyond Fear is a must-read for anybody interested in security policy, from whether you should buy a burglar alarm or pay for contents insurance, to whether your country should have a national identity database. It doesn’t tell you what to think on these issues, but how to think about them to produce meaningful conclusions.
One of the things Schneier talks about is trust between parties. As it stands, all the background checking is being done by the police, who have no inherent reason to trust any Liberal Democrat. They will put us through CRB checks, and if we pass, deem us trustworthy. However, the Lib Dems are something like a family. A lot of us know each other well, and can vouch for each other. I have suggested to an FCC member that we investigate some kind of transitive reputational trust – where Lib Dems can vouch for other Lib Dems.
Perhaps if one or more local or regional party officers vouched for a member, then that member could avoid the CRB check – without having to give a reason for the avoidance. There are a number of different possibilities and safeguards, including not letting a voucher vouch for more than one or two attendees, but the principle is clear. I don’t think there’d be any way around having the people doing the vouching requiring a CRB check, if only to give the police reason to trust the vouchers, but it seems many attendees don’t have a problem with this.
Discussions on this remaining point of accreditation seem to have reached an impasse, with one side saying that CRB checks are simply unacceptable and the other saying that they are mandatory. I’m hoping that a more flexible system based around the idea I’ve proposed here will help move things forward, and I hope the FCC members will consider this approach and discuss it with the West Midlands Police.