Friday, March 23, 2012

The Conference Accreditation row slumbers no more

Remember that stooshie we had over the blatantly illiberal and actually discriminatory Conference Accreditation system for last year's Autumn event in Birmingham? For a refresher, have a look at the speech I would have made in the debate about it had I been there on time.

Well, that can of worms has been opened again by way of a BBC behind the scenes programme which followed the Police as they provided the security for the Conference. We saw a policeman fill and charge 2 stone worth of armoury before she went out on her shift. We saw the Police helicopter in action. We saw police in the water feeling the hulls of boats and going down the drains, all 750 of them. While we accept the need for physical security - after all, we do have some sense of self preservation, there was something quite sinister in that this programme, in the words of its presenter, was sending a strong message to Al Qaeda and their mates not to mess with our Conferences.  'Cos, obviously, BBC daytime TV is quite big in the terrorist training camps. You can watch the programme here.

You can tell where Liberal Democrats get their information from, because it the programme concerned was broadcast on daytime TV last Friday, yet it's only once it's reviewed in Private Eye that we notice.

It still upsets me greatly how easily our Federal Conference Committee buckled to what were unreasonable Police demands. Benjamin Franklin had a point when he said: Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Both Gareth Epps and Jonathan Calder have already posted about this and I agree with their comments. That programme sent the message to people in this country that political activity can be dangerous and must be heavily protected. That's not an altogether healthy message. Getting that balance right, making sure our liberties and values are not compromised, being sensible and proportionate is really, really important. We allowed our eye to be taken off that ball last year and it must not happen again.

There are FCC elections this year and I'm sure this issue will come into play. What I would say, though, is that we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Only one person, Justine McGuinness, voted against accreditation. There are lots of good people on that Committee who took a different view but who can be relied upon not to buckle to the Parliamentarians on policy motions. We need to keep that balance in mind when we're voting and not throw good people off just because of this.

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