Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Speech in the Conference Accreditation debate I won't get to make #ldconf

I'm not going to get to Birmingham until tomorrow afternoon, so I'm going to miss the debate on Conference Accreditation at 9am tomorrow. This is the speech I would have made if I were there. If you think it's useful, please feel free to help yourself to it.


I'm here today, not because of my constitutional right to attend Conference, but because Greater Manchester Police have deemed that I'm not a security risk. They are right. But that's not the point. The Federal Conference Committee has given the Police the right to determine the extent of our political activity and that is simply not right in the sort of liberal society we want to live in.

Now, I have a very strong personal interest in this conference being safe and secure. Some of the people I care most about in the world are here. My beloved family are 400 miles away - I want to return to them in one piece. I am also one of the most over anxious people on the planet.

Despite that, I do not see how this expensive accreditation system is going to make one person safer. It seems to me to be a wasteful exercise in bureaucracy. We have airport style security on the way in and lots of vigilant security people around the place. That's enough to protect us. Nobody is going to be able to get in here with anything that could cause harm. 

Those of us who were around the last time an atrocity was carried out at a party conference will remember the feeling of numbness and shock and nausea  as we watched events unfold. That bomb, though, had been planted a month before.

In recent acts of terrorism, everyone involved has had the correct paperwork.

There is simply no need for accreditation. And since when did we fall for the line that the Police say they need it? They said that about 90 days detention as well and as a party we didn't flinch in our opposition to that.

The FCC will say that it all comes down to insurance. I am far from convinced that this is the case. My understanding is that they've gone to the usual provider who has said that if we don't take police advice, it'll invalidate our insurance. They tell us that if we don't accept accreditation, there will be no Conference. 

I think we need more imagination here.  If festivals can get public liability insurance when they have, frankly, even more A-listers than we have wandering around, then I'm sure we can find someone who is prepared to see that the physical security arrangements suffice.

I saw an argument that refusing to implement accreditation would be a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act. I have had the special privilege of living with a health and safety adviser for the last almost quarter of a century. You know, the sort of guy who goes to an open night at his daughter's school and takes pictures, not of her learning environment, but of the fire exit signs. He gets very irritated when health and safety is blamed for stupid decisions by insurance companies. He says that using health and safety law as an excuse in this instance is, well, a word I don't dare say from the platform. 

We do know that one person has been refused accreditation on security grounds and that the three representatives from the party have agreed with that Police decision. I worry that we could be complicit in an injustice here. And if the  Party had over-ruled the Police decision, would that have invalidated our insurance? How much power does the Party really have to safeguard the rights of its own members and protect their constitutional right to be part of the policy making heart of the Liberal Democrats. 

And let's say next year that the Police come back and say we all need biometrics on our Conference passes. What will Federal Conference Committee do then? Where, exactly, is their line in the sand? As Private Eye might say, I think we should be told.

I think that they have gone further than the party is comfortable with. Therefore, I would urge you to support Amendment 2, calling for FCC to refuse to implement an accreditation system for future conferences. If that means you all have to come north to Scotland, where we manage to have our Conference without resorting to such measures, you'll be very welcome. 

I can sense that FCC will say "but there will be no conference". I say, are the Police really going to dare to shut down the Conference of a Party of Government on the basis of arguments that can easily be torn to shreds. I'm sure people would much rather see Police officers out on the streets in their communities in place of lengthy checks being done on political anoraks.

One of the reasons I voted for Nick Clegg as leader was his promise to refuse to have an ID card when they became compulsory. I think we need to be inspired by his example and look at this afresh. The accreditation system is illiberal and fundamentally wrong in principle, and ineffective and expensive in practice. It will not make one single person safer.

Just because this system is accepted without question by the Labour and Tory parties does not mean that we should meekly follow. They don't care about civil liberties - but we do and we should show it today by rejecting the FCC's woolly amendment and supporting the original motion, preferably with amendment 2.

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