That time of year is upon us again – Labour Party Conference season, so whether you are attending national or regional conference, going for the first time or tenth and being a delegate or a visitor, here are my top tips for making the most of your experience!
Conferences are arranged by an elected body, The CAC or Conference Arrangements Committee and their job is to book a venue, speakers and decide on the running order of the conference. They also deal with motions and resolutions that are submitted by Labour Party constituencies and Trade Unions and organise the elections that are due to take place at conference in terms of who is standing and announcing the results of said elections.
I am currently nearing the end of my second term on the North West CAC and standing again for the third time this year at regional conference so I am probably quite well informed to talk you through what to expect and how to get the most out of conference.
Last year I attended the Labour Party national conference at the lead delegate for my CLP and despite being on the CAC North West and a seasoned regional conference goer, I found myself like a rabbit in the headlights at national conference, just the sheer size of the event was overwhelming and despite being given a very well produced and detailed guide on the first day, I still felt out of my depth and unsure of where to go, when and who to ask for help, hence me putting this little article together this year to help others.
Going it alone: How to mingle!
I think probably the most daunting part of attending conference for a lot of people is the fact that often we have to “go it alone”, especially if we are attending delegates.
My first tip would be to utilise your social media! If you are a member of any Labour or left wing forums, pop a post on there asking if anyone else is going to the conference and arrange to meet up! They will be as glad of the company as you are and even just having someone to meet for a quick cuppa first thing in the morning on day 1 will really settle your nerves.
If this is not possible then not to worry, when you arrive at conference, register yourself and then head inside and to the nearest cafe area, there will be so many other people there alone, desperate for someone to talk to that it should not take you long to get chatting!
Another big mistake I made on day 1 was going off the conference site for lunch, at the time I just thought I would rather get out of the way than sit awkwardly alone, but I ended up sat awkwardly alone in M&S cafe in the city centre anyway and on the second day when I stayed on site I realised that actually, most people there are awkwardly alone and the people they are talking to are strangers they have just met!
If you just make the effort to speak to people you will hit it off with them, after all, we are all Labour so straight away you have something in common and a really good ice breaker and way into a conversation is to simply ask people if they are enjoying it and which CLP they are from. I ended up having lunch with a lovely lady last year who turned out to be a Labour MP, although I had no idea when I approached her. She was full of wonderful stories and information and really welcoming and friendly.
Although you are there to attend to official conference, it is important to also get out to some of the fringe events – some of them might even be in the same complex and others will be very nearby. The conference guide will list them and they are always free to enter, occasionally you will need to book a ticket but for those events you will usually see them prior on social media and simply download a ticket on an app like eventbright.
The Fringe events usually have guest speakers like Owen Jones (Guardian columnist) and special guests who are really interesting to listen to, Mr Corbyn will usually turn up to some of the Momentum fringe events like the World Transformed and I actually met one of his sons there last year.
The Fringe for me is as important as the conference itself and actually, sometimes more enjoyable! You are doing nothing wrong by attending, in fact it is encouraged and better still, there is usually really affordable food and drink, whereas it can be quite expensive within the actual conference venues.
Conference is full of stalls and exhibitors ranging from charities to trade unions and there are even bars and book shops! It is a good idea to spend your spare time going around the stalls and talking to the people on them, signing petitions and learning more but be careful not to sign up to support too many charities! Us lefties always find it hard to say no when someone asks us for our bank details and to set up a direct debit to donate a couple of quid a month but by the time you had made it around the exhibition hall you would have none of your salary left and I am not joking! Pick one or two you want to support financially and then just support the others by signing their petitions, if you explain you already donate to other charities they will understand your position and just be glad of any support you can give to them, even if it is just wearing one of their badges or lanyards to raise awareness of their cause!
It is not all give though – many stalls in the exhibition hall have FREEBIES! We all love a good freebie! Notebooks, pens, bags, mobile phone accessories, gadgets, food, drink & lanyards…. you will be overloaded by the time you leave!
Stewards / Guides / Accessibility:
There are always plenty of stewards at conference who have volunteered from constituencies and unions so if you are lost or confused – ASK! Do not feel silly, they are there for that purpose! If you have a disability or additional needs they will also be able to advise on accessibility and guide you to the easiest points of access to gt to where you want to go!
Sadly, the times we live in mean that any big gathering of people is a target for terrorism and for that reason you are inevitably going to be searched entering conference site – there will be an area at the entrance where bags get searched so allow time for these searches when planning your timing to enter the conference and keep in mind that if you are in and out of the site because you are attending fringe events at other venues, you may be searched several times in one day, but it is for your safety so be patient if you get stuck in a queue.
If you have been sent to conference as a delegate for your CLP you will be expected to provide a delegates report afterwards, you could either stand up at the next CLP meeting and tell your comrades verbally about your conference experience, or, if like me you are far better communicating in written form – you could write a little report just outlining what you did, what you enjoyed and what key points came out of the conference. Also do not forget to thank your comrades for sending you, especially if they supported you financially by paying for your pass and expenses!
Have fun, enjoy and if any of you need company and a friendly face at North West regional conference let me know in the comments below because I will be there and I know just the place for a nice cup of tea!
Helen Hill is the Editor at:
The Socialite UK https://thesocialiteuk.wordpress.com/