Last week I wrote about conference, and continued to ask what conference is for. So I thought I’d build on the three ideas I threw out at the end of the piece that I think might make conference work better – or at least make it more accessible to members.
I don’t think bringing back long debates on complex resolutions is the answer (I want to see more democracy in the party an a greater say for members, but that should happen elsewhere, e.g. NPF), but I do think the following are worth pursuing. If these were implemented, we might get more members interested in and engage with conference – which could be a first step towards making them more relevant to the public.
So, here it is – the three ways to make conference better:
Make conference shorter: At the moment conference is long. Too long. Even for a political junkie like me, Saturday to Thursday is quite a long time to spend solely on the intricacies of Labour politics. The length also contributes to whether or not the event is accessible. It also makes conference more expensive, which further exacerbates its inaccessibility. Does anyone think that time at conference is used effectively? No. There’s loads of fluff and chaff that could be eliminated, starting with speeches from the Shadow Cabinet. I’m sure the speeches are nice for them, but right now we have few policies and little for them to say. Cut the speeches, shorten the conference. There’s a first step.
Make conference cheaper: For starters, the price of a conference ticket prices many of the poorest party members out straight away. But they wouldn’t on the whole even be able to consider attending, because they can’t afford to travel across the country, pay for five nights in a hotel and all of the other costs associated with conference. Conference passes are a well recognised swindle designed to take money from lobbyists and stall holders, but also from some of the most devoted of party members. The councillor rate for conference in particular is outrageous, considering many councillors won’t be much better of (if at all) than many ordinary members. Cheap day rates would help, as would altogether cheaper conference passes and potentially cheap travel to conference from major UK cities. The current cost though means its the same old faces year in and year out – and an ever dwindling number of even those die hard conference addicts.
Hold conference at the weekend: One way of running conference in a way that actually works for members would be to hold conference over a weekend. Like Glastonbury (bear with me) it could start on a Friday afternoon and finish on a Sunday night – closing with the leader’s speech. Each night would have a “headliner” and most business could be crammed into three days. That way members wouldn’t need to take time off or stay for as long. It also wouldn’t penalise those (such as shift workers or teachers) who aren’t able to take a whole week off for conference. And like Glastonbury (bear with me again), it could start early for those who wanted to arrive early – with fringes beginning on Wednesday, yet keeping the main event for the weekend. A quicker, cheaper, more accessible and focused conference, wouldn’t that be nice?