My first experience of conference was quite some years ago, not long after I joined the party and I was invited to speak at fringe at Spring Conference. I went all the way down, spoke on the Saturday evening, then went to conference the next day, and sat through a debate.
This was when I learnt that I was, at conference, the 'wrong' sort of member, had no vote, and that some members were, in conference terms, more equal than others.
Ever since then, the vagaries of who gets a vote at conference has troubled me. All sorts of party officials get a vote, associated groups seem to have allocations, and then local members seem to get a vote if they turn up at their local AGM and ask. I know reps are meant to be elected by their local party - but I wonder how often this actually happens? This seems a fairly undemocratic way of going about things.
This seems quite wrong. I also know many people feel if they can't go to conference for the whole time, they shouldn't 'take up' a voting rep place. And of course many can't afford to go to conference for the whole time, or even part of the time.
I went to Birmingham for Special Conference in 2010. But I wasn't a voting rep that year, so I had no say in the most important decision the party had made for 80 years.
So here's what I think. I'd like to democratise conference.
I see two stages:
1. Firstly I think any member of the party who is at conference should have voting rights fo the time they are there. I simply cannot see any argument against this. The only argument I have heard is members who 'qualify' for current voting rep status are more likely to be 'informed'on the issues. What nonsense this is. We may as well say only member of the electorate who can demonstrate they have done their homework have the right to vote in a General Election.
2. And then I would go further. I would allow members of the party who wish to register to watch a debate online, and then view the debate, should be allowed a remote vote, in realtime. I think they would have to pay a mall amount to register - but the technology is very cheap, very easy, and will not slow up conference in any way. I have seen another good blog post making this case in far more detail
Currently votes in conference often take place between a couple of hundred people. Rather more people vote in the average Lib Dem Voice survey. This is madness for the party that prides itself on being the one where the members still decide policy.
I'm considering proposing a motion at Spring Conference to make both of these things possible - although I would imagine the first would be easier to achieve than the second. I will also be starting a campaign amongst members to gather support for this.
So - are you with me?
And why hasn't this happened before? - or am i going over old ground? Do tell.