Thursday, June 02, 2011

My Federal Conference Dilemma - do I submit to illiberal police veto? #ldconf

This brilliant image has been produced by Sarah Brown, @auntysarah on Twitter and is reproduced here with her permission. Can't you just see a whole auditorium full of these t-shirts? Would look fabulous on tv.

During his leadership campaign, I was so proud of Nick Clegg when he said that he was prepared to go to prison rather than be compelled to carry a compulsory ID card. That was a flash of the immense political courage he has shown us since. He's not always right, but you can't deny he's brave.

Nick will not have had anything to do with the new security procedures for our Conference. However, I think it's time that our Federal Conference stood up to the Police and told them that we will not implement fundamentally illiberal measures.

I was really excited last night to receive an e-mail inviting  me to register for Party Conference in Birmingham in September. I haven't been since 1999 as I simply couldn't afford it and Scottish Conference. However, we can this year, and the dates tie in with our long September weekend holiday. I'd intended to fill in the form today. But then I woke up this morning, and saw immediately from my blogroll that there was a problem. Jennie, Jonathan and Spidey had all reported that, in order to register, you had to submit passport, driving licence or National Insurance number and that:

 These details will be passed onto the police to carry out their own accreditation procedures. Please note that Police Accreditation will be carried out by Greater Manchester Police on behalf of West Midlands Police.
In the unlikely event that your accreditation is unsuccessful, you will be issued a full refund of your registration fees. The Liberal Democrats will not accept liability for any additional costs incurred by the applicant.


This to me is in complete conflict with our constitution as a party. Let me explain. Our conference is the sovereign policy making body of our party. Our policy is made by Conference Representatives voting at Conference. These Conference Representatives are elected by their local parties. You see where I'm going here? What right do the Police have to undermine our democratic processes and overturn our members' fundamental right to be part of our policy making process. Even if you aren't a representative, it's really important for the democracy of our party that you have the right to attend as a member. 

Now, of course I want everyone going to conference to be safe. For heaven's sake, it's going to be filled with a huge number of people I really care about. I don't want anything to happen to them. Of course not. The Police milling around, assisted by full body scanners and bag searches on the way in should be enough to take care of that.

My first instinct when I saw what was required to attend, that the Police would have an effective veto on whether I can go or not, was to say "stuff you, forget that, I'm not going." Well, I might have used other words, but this is a family blog.

Then when my knee stopped jerking, I had a thought to myself - do I want the policy of my party to be decided by people who think this sort of stuff is ok? That would just rip the heart and soul out of the party. As Susan Ashton said on Twitter:
only reason still going is not to let them hound true Liberals out of their own conf
 I'm still in a dilemma to be honest. There's nothing in the procedures outlined which states exactly on what basis the police will make their decision. I mean, are they going to read my blog? My Twitter account? Will they take public dissent from party policy as an indicator of risk? If they did decide that this leftie peace loving hippy was too much of a danger to be let in, would the Party stand up for me? What would the right of appeal be?

The Police will by their nature be very cautious, and might well turn people down on the slightest pretext. The Party simply can't allow that. The Police don't have to balance liberty with security - they are only concerned about security. The Party, on the other hand, has to inject the liberalism into the process. If we don't, who ever will?

I'll have to make my mind up mighty quickly, though. The cheap registration rate ends a week on Friday, and after that date rises from £64 to £91. It's unacceptable to give party members such a short turnaround time, especially at a time when many will be on holiday.

And spare a thought for people like Callum Leslie, who's just completed his first year at Edinburgh University. He doesn't yet have a Summer job (potential employers, he's got the gift of the gab, is very creative, and very hard working, snap him up while you can). Anyway, he registered for Conference 8 months ago, a year out. He's now been given just 10 days to provide a passport photo - and it has to comply with Home Office guidelines. They cost £5 minimum. He doesn't have a spare £5. He's given me permission to say that he's e-mailed the Conference Team saying:
I am currently moving house and without a job or student finance, so my situation is very difficult. I am disappointed that if I do not manage to complete this within two weeks, 3 months before the conference, I will have to pay again! 
The response of the Conference team was (and I'm paraphrasing here) along the lines of "Hard lines, mate, you can have an extra week, or your pass will be delayed."

So, what can we do about it? Well, I guess the appropriate thing to do is to contact the members of Federal Conference Committee.  They are the people who have the political and organisational accountability for Conference. They are good, liberal people and we need to be aware that some of them at least will have struggled with this. However, if anybody wants my vote in the elections next year, they will have to oppose these sorts of illiberal measures. Here is a list for you.

Members of Federal Conference Committee

Robert Adamson Elected by Conference
Qassim Afzal Elected by Conference
Jon Ball Elected by Conference - Twitter @jonball
Adrian BeavisCo-opted, Chief Steward (non-voting)
Sal Brinton (Vice-Chair)Elected by Conference Twitter @salbrinton
Lucy Care FPC representative
Alistair Carmichael MPChief Whip
Dee DooceyElected by Conference
Tim Farron Party President Twitter @timfarron
Chris FoxChief Executive (non-voting)
Susan Gaszczak Elected by Conference Twitter @susangaszczak
Arnie Gibbons Elected by Conference
Sandra Gidley Elected by Conference Twitter @sandragidley
James Gurling FE representative 
Jeremy Hargreaves FPC representative

Linda Jack Elected by Conference Twitter @lindajack
Jenni Lang Scottish Party representative
Chris Maines Elected by Conference
Justine McGuinness  Elected by Conference
Geoff Payne (Vice-Chair) English Party representative
Joanna Shaw FE representative @_joshaw
Ian Walton Welsh Party representative
Andrew Wiseman (Chair) Elected by Conference

I don't have contact details for them, but some of them are on Twitter and others at large in the blogosphere.  They aren't stupid. They will know fine that Party activists would most likely be slightly peeved when this became public knowledge. They'll be waiting for your e-mail. 

I believe in giving everybody a fair hearing, so if any FCC member wants to do a guest post on here explaining the situation, you are welcome to do so. Although you'll probably go to Lib Dem Voice, but the invitation is there. I really want to hear their take on it.

We are the party who stood up against illiberal, ineffective ID cards. And now we are asking our own members to use our passports and driving licences as much worse, as requests for the Police to give us permission to attend our own Conference. Given the security measures in place for the venues, I don't see how this will make us any safer.  Every instinct tells me that this is wrong and the party must oppose such restrictions loudly. 

Update: Thought you might like to see some of the other blog posts on this which have been made over the last few hours: Zoe at Complicity, Michael at Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland, Lady Mark (please come to Conference), Disgruntled Radical (who actually was the first to post), Stephen, Daniel, James Baker, Chris, Stephen again on the issues regarding recruitment in Northern Ireland and Charlotte at Virtually Naked who is the sole voice I've found in support so far.

I've also had a very detailed and reasonable and rational e-mail in support of the proposals from a member of the Federal Conference Committee. I appreciate the time they put into their reply. I still disagree though. It's a fundamental issue that the Police should not have the power of veto over people attending our conference for spurious and probably over cautious reasons.

And, finally, what about our youngest members, those under 16, who don't have a passport, or NI number and are too young to drive. Remember Alex White, our star in waiting from up here? That's her West Midlands Police are keeping out of Conference. 


Jennie Rigg said...

fabulous, fabulous post.

Kelvin Holdsworth said...

>During his leadership campaign, I was so proud of Nick Clegg
>when he said that he was prepared to go to prison rather
>than be compelled to carry a compulsory ID card.

Did he sign a pledge?

[That's the trouble right now....]

David said...

I have written to FCC but also to Nick Clegg and Tim Farron. Amongst other things I wrote, "I have heard that both Labour and Conservatives have agreed to this. That doesn’t surprise me but is no reason why we should accept it. It has also been said that the police demanded this rather than requested it. I know of no legal basis for such a demand. If there is one, we should be campaigning to change the law. If there isn’t, as I suspect, we should resist the demand."
Please write to Nick and Tim as well.

Kev said...

The party just needs to say no to the police vetting. It's as simple as that.
It looks as though the party is heading towards abandonment of a key principle of liberty, just as so many MPs abandoned the key principle of keeping a key promise.
I shall watch how this progresses.

george said...

ID cards are on the way back again so Nick didn't keep that promise either.
Oh and they still haven't removed innocent people from the DNA database despite being told to by the ECHR. Any idea what's going on there ?
And why are we in Libya bombing civilians. What's Nick saying about that ?

Stephen Glenn said...

It's asking for details of second passport. I may not get to Birmingham at this rate :-)

Stuart Smith said...

The requirement to provide a passport number, driving licence number or national insurance number is just plain stupid and should never have been agreed to. All you should provide is your membership number.

The police can "go to hell", we don't live in a police state!

I can assure you that while I remain as Chief Steward for Scottish Party Conferences such requirements will NOT happen.

I will raise this at Scottish Conference Committee on Saturday.

Richard Gadsden said...

I've just filled in the forms, on the grounds that I'd like to go to conference. Can't claim I'm happy about it.

I had to get my passport out to supply a passport number, I had to scan in a passport photo - and why couldn't I authorise them to get the one that IPS already have from my passport application? - I had to supply my current address and all previous addresses in the last three years.

I would also have to supply the passport numbers of any other passports I hold, which I regard as being entirely none of their business - if I'm a British citizen in the UK on a British passport then holding a non-UK passport is none of the business of the UK state.

At least, while they asked my gender, they gave me the option of telling them to sod off.

Andrew said...

Thanks Stuart! That's very reassuring!

Unfortunately I would like to go to conference (I love conference) but I am more than uncomfortable with having to submit to these authoritarian and unnecessarily illiberal measures in order to do so. I haven't made a final decision yet, but I think I will follow David's lead and write to Tim and Nick before doing so.

But why do this? It's not as if risks are higher than last year (when we were also in government). The "abandonment of a key principle of liberty" Kev refers to is almost enough to make you question your political allegiance...

Sadie Smith said...

Wonderful post.
Very happy to add my name
Sadie Smith, voting rep. West Bromwich and Warley.
Graphic very good,


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