Lib Dems urged to axe party conference and switch to virtual format | World news

The Liberal Democrats’ traditional autumn party conference should be axed and switched to a virtual version amid the coronavirus outbreak, party officials have recommended.

Labour’s ruling body will also hold crunch talks on whether the party’s five-day event in Liverpool should go ahead, while the Conservatives say planning for their conference is still under way but being regularly reviewed.

A report by the Lib Dem federal conference committee to be presented to the party’s board suggests the event in Brighton on 26-29 September be cancelled and plans made for an online format instead.

The pandemic has thrown the annual political fixtures, which attract thousands of people, into doubt owing to the current ban on mass gatherings and suggestions from government to prepare for a “new normal” with physical distancing in place for some time.

The Lib Dems have investigated various software packages to make a virtual conference work. Current advice to members is not to book accommodation or travel for the event and registration is closed.

As well as being a focal point for developing policy with rounds of voting and speeches by senior party members, the Lib Dem conference hosts niche events, such as its popular Glee Club, and generates between £400,000 and £500,000 a year for the party.

A party source said: “It’s looking increasingly likely we will be out of this situation in September, or at least move into a situation where you can get 1,000-plus people together.”

Labour’s conference, attended by up to 13,000 people under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, is being discussed by members of its national executive committee over a Zoom call on Tuesday, with a final decision expected to be taken later in the summer. It would be the first to be led by the party’s new leader, Keir Starmer.

The party has said the conference, due to be held at Liverpool’s ACC convention venue, is under constant review since the coronavirus outbreak, with the priority being the safety of members, staff and visitors and the need to protect public health.

A Conservative party spokesperson said its event, scheduled for 4-7 October at the Birmingham International Convention Centre, was still going ahead at this stage.

“At present, planning for the party conference is continuing. We will keep this under review in light of the outbreak of coronavirus. Any decisions taken will be guided by the latest science and medical advice and government guidance,” the spokesperson said.

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