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.
We are not yet ready to launch a fully-hybrid conference; by that, I mean a conference in a physical auditorium with the ability to speak and vote remotely. There are considerable technical challenges, not least around voting, that are yet to be overcome although we are confident that they can be. We are working towards such a conference for Autumn 2022 but there are wider discussions about budgets and the like that must take place with other committees in the party before we commit to it. For FCC’s part, we are clear however that the possibility of a hybrid is the sort of Autumn Conference that we would like to see worked up for the future and we will shortly be appointing a working group to start that project.
The Autumn Conference deadlines are as follows. All of them are at 13:00 –
- Drafting Advice: 16th June 2021
- Motions deadline: 30th June 2021
Deadline for drafts of committee and Parliamentary reports where votes are required: 30th
- Drafting Advice deadline for amendments and emergency motions: 23rd August 2021
- Amendments and Emergency motions deadline: 6th September 2021
We look forward to receiving your motions!
Our meeting was scheduled for 8pm so as not to get in the way of campaigning for the local elections. As a result, we did not consider the feedback from Spring Conference. Another meeting will be arranged in May to complete that task.