Thursday, April 19, 2012
Would you credit it ? Accreditation (again) !
The Liberal Democrat Federal Conference Committee plan to ignore the conference decision on accreditation and have asked for my views. Here they are.
A. The request for views
1. The timing of the request on Liberal Democrat Voice
I have deliberately waited before replying to allow myself to give a calm and considered response but I find that my astonishment at FCC’s course of action has only increased. FCC have known since the conference in Birmingham in September 2011 that there would be a problem. To await until meeting the police in March 2012 and then to invite comments on 14th April giving members one week to respond is ridiculous. We would not hesitate to condemn any government department or agency which behaved like that.
2. The wording of the request on Liberal Democrat Voice
Andrew begins by mentioning “widely differing views within the party” and ends by saying “strong views on both sides”. He finally manages to mention the conference resolution which he says FCC “has taken into account”. FCC appears to have developed a new way of deciding things in the Liberal Democrats. Conference resolutions (by the way, it is a resolution because it was resolved, not merely a motion which was moved) can be ignored and decisions will be taken by the committee itself. Consulting those members who happen to read LDV is not a democratic process as LDV has no place in our party’s constitution and nobody elects its readers.
B. The substance of the argument
1. The question of members providing personal data
Others have argued this point endlessly and the party’s tradition is well known. The Birmingham resolution specifically stated:
“Conference therefore condemns the system of police accreditation adopted for this conference which requires party members to disclose personal data to the police”
2. The selection of representatives at conference: constitutional point
Article 6.3 of the party’s constitution provides:
“Representatives of Local Parties shall be elected by all members of the Local Party concerned...”
Nowhere in the constitution or the federal conference standing orders is there any provision for officials of the party to interfere with that process. I addressed this point when summing up the debate in Birmingham which adopted the resolution which includes the following:
“Conference therefore calls upon:
2) The Federal Conference Committee to negotiate security arrangements for future conferences which protect the privacy of members’ personal data and which respect the party’s constitution and internal democracy.” [My emphasis]
Nevertheless FCC proposes to ignore conference’s decision and is proposing exactly the same unconstitutional powers for the three wise men, President, Chair of FCC and Chief Executive. If FCC considered that such powers should exist they could have proposed a constitutional amendment at Gateshead but they did not do so. Andrew’s request states “The final decision on accreditation rests with the party, not with the police (and the police accept this).” This misses the point. As a democratic party we cannot agree to any outside body OR federal officers interfering with the election of representatives by local parties. How could a party conference hold officers to account effectively if those same officers could decide who may attend ?
3. The selection of representatives at conference: practical point
Andrew also says that the proposed three wise men “will review the reasons for suggested declining accreditation, and the information on which it is based (where privacy laws permit)” and “will only consider not accrediting a member of the party if they believe there is very strong evidence that that individual may pose a serious security threat to the conference”. How is it possible to review information which the police or security services do not divulge ? This is exactly the problem with control orders, that the security services would not present evidence to a court which they believe would compromise their methods and their agents.
4. Spurious security arguments
Andrew says the police cited the Brighton bombing. The bomb was planted before the Conservative conference began and would now be found by the security searches of buildings conducted in advance of conference. Even if not found, accreditation would not have prevented the bombing. Apparently the police also cited Breivik’s attack in Norway. Breivik was not accredited. Nobody carrying the armament Breivik took on to the island would get through physical security. Did the police really have no better arguments for accreditation ?
5. The insurance risk
This argument was also presented last year. We know that last year the police recommended not accrediting one member and that the three wise men overruled the recommendation. What was the impact on our insurance ? None. What then is the point of accreditation if the party’s officers can overrule it ?
The FCC’s task now is to obey the party conference and not to seek views on what has already been settled. However, this is not just a question of procedural incompetence (in both senses of the word). The police proposal and the FCC’s proposed acquiescence flies in the face of our party’s most fundamental and cherished principles. The FCC’s attempt to ignore a Federal Conference decision undermines our constitution, our contract with each other as members of a party and our trust in our elected officers. As a party our devotion to liberty and our commitment to our internal democracy lie at the heart of what makes us different and valuable to our country and our voters. We throw these away at our peril and , if we do, then in a small way but of fundamental importance, the terrorists have won.