Wednesday, February 23, 2011

BBC Liberal Democrat Conference policing costs report gets its facts wrong

I was a bit bemused to see this report on the BBC website for a number of reasons. The report contrasts the alleged £2 million cost of policing the 3 day Liberal Democrat Federal Conference in Sheffield in 2 weeks' time with the £15 million of cuts the Police Force has been told to make next year. For a start, the phrase next year is critical to that sentence - the conference policing cost is coming out of the tail end of this year's budget.

First in my long list of issues with this report is the simple inaccuracy of their statement that "the Party cancelled a conference in London in December due to protest threats." That is complete nonsense. What actually happened was that the headteacher of the school where the event was going to be held was concerned about the effect of protests on other users of the school, including children, on that day. The London Regional Executive, with just days to go, tried its hardest to find an alternative venue, but just couldn't at such short notice. As you can imagine, places are booked up in the run up to Christmas.

Secondly, I can't imagine that this Conference in Sheffield is the first held by a governing party where there will be protests. In fact I know it isn't. Remember the 80s, anyone? Also, I was one of those many thousands who marched on 15th February 2003 in Glasgow to the Labour Conference at the SECC where Tony Blair was speaking, to protest against the impending war in Iraq. I wonder what the comparative policing costs for these events would be.  The right to protest is a fundamental in our society and, yes, it's going to cost money. It's an essential part of democracy.

Thirdly, the report quotes a Labour Councillor from Sheffield who's clearly trying to stir up trouble. It's worth remembering that the Liberal Democrats and Labour have been engaged in a not always civilised war of attrition in Sheffield for many, many years. To say that there's no love lost between the parties would be a fairly massive understatement. Anyway, Cllr Shaun Wright said that "it was "ironic" the force would have to pay for the service for the political party who had a hand in devising its cuts."

You have to wonder what Cllr Wright is trying to say, here. It's not as if there would have been much less in the way of cuts had there still been a Labour government. In fact, there might have been a Lib Dem/Labour coalition imposing those cuts. What would he have said then? Actually, I do know - he'd have blamed the Lib Dems because he doesn't like us. Is he saying that Governments should never do anything that people don't like? Is he saying that people shouldn't protest? What's his point?

I presume the reason that South Yorkshire Police Force have taken the decisions they have on policing are because of the violent anti tuition fees demonstrations in London. You actually have to wonder whether these protests would have been quite as violent without the hypocritical hysteria whipped up by the Labour Party. I don't think that there's any excuse for rampaging vandalism, but I do think that if Labour's contribution to the debate had been more civilised and honest, the overall temperature might have been lower.

The BBC report is a bit of sloppy journalism, put together without much thought or checking the facts. I'm not impressed.

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