Yes, yes, long time no blog. Sorry, no time to dwell on that.
So having sat through the debate this morning and watched with horror over 100 people put their hands up to vote for ammendment 1 (for all papers relating to this post, so you can read the motions and ammendments, go here; the motion is F9 on page 20 of the agenda, and the ammendments are on page 23 of conference extra, both available as pdfs at the above link), I thought I might as well write the speech that I should have put a speakers’ card in to make earlier today.
Basically, my problems with this come under three headings:
1. How is it making us safer?
Let’s assume for the moment that I’m a maniac and I’m looking for opportunities to do something nasty to people inside conference. On my way into conference, four different people check my pass to make sure I match my photo, my bag has been X-rayed and if necessary searched, and I have passed through a metal detector and if necessary frisked. I don’t object to this, I can see the use of it, and I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate FCC on significantly speeding up this process at this conference.
But I’m sorry, I just don’t get how, in addition to these basic physical checks, the fact that the police think that I’m the right sort of chap to be attending conference makes us any safer. Short of strangling someone with my bare hands, I don’t see what damage I could inflict on people inside the barriers even if I wanted to.
2. The argument that “it is still ultimately conference who decide” is flawed.
Andrew Wiseman (who, to his credit, has done more than he could have done to engage with the discontent over this, and is taking a disproportionate amount of flak for a decision that, with the honourable exception of Justine McGuinness, all of FCC should be held accountable for) told us yesterday that two people have been flagged by the police as recommended for being turned away from conference. Of these, one was over-ruled by the “three wise men” who apparently now speak for the party on these matters, and one wasn’t. Andrew told us that he couldn’t give us details, for confidentiality reasons, other than to say that the one who was turned away was a recently joined member, who the police had significant concerns about.
Now, since I don’t have the information, I’m going to have to speculate and make generalisations. But it seems to me that on this limited evidence, we can draw a couple of conclusions: Firstly, if the police try to bar you, you have a pretty good chance of being turned away, compared to if they don’t. And secondly, it seems likely that the most likely people to be turned away are new members, younger people or other new recruits, who don’t happen to have a friend in high places to put in a good word for them.
It seems likely that the people whose flagging will be over-ruled will be people of whom the three wise men can say “oh, that’s just Bill, he’s been coming for donkeys’ years, he’s harmless”. Which is fine, as far as it goes. The problem is, what happens to new members who are flagged. Nobody will vouch for them, since nobody knows them yet. We will create a closed shop, where the only people who can come to conference are longstanding Lib Dems, and nice folk with no questionable things in their records. As was eloquently argued this morning, conference will be all the poorer for the loss of those voices.
3. Some of the arguments being made in favour of accreditation are pretty weak.
Since we know that the same bind on FCC to follow police advice in order to secure their insurance was presumably in place during Sheffield (where, incidentally, the crowds outside the security zone were a damn sight more rowdy than they are in Brum), it is reasonable to assume that in Sheffield, the police didn’t insist on accreditation, even if they might have thought it was a good idea. So there are, presumably, conference venues where we could go where we wouldn’t be subject to this “requirement” from the police. To suggest, therefore, that critics of accreditation would rather have no conference at all is a contemptible piece of sophistry.
So was the argument I heard from one member of FCC today that the nature of some of the people outside the security barriers should be seen as a reason to want accreditation. Either this is supposed to imply that soon everyone who comes within a mile of conference should have to be vetted, or this is merely highlighting the limitations on the effectiveness of this kind of measure anyway. The saddest part of this is that some of the people arguing the FCC line didn’t even look much like they were convincing themselves.
Ultimately, then, I find it hard to conclude that the vetting system is anything other than a piece of security theatre, and a damaging one at that.
And don’t even get me started on the patronising bollocks from a couple of people today who denied the very existence of anyone who had stayed away from conference because they didn’t want to submit to the process. Those people deserved all the angry heckles they got today.