My Response to FCC about #ldconf Accreditation
In the middle of the local election campaign, Federal Conference Committee have decided to ignore last September’s conference vote against their controversial CRB checks for delegates, and are holding a one-week “listening exercise” advertised on an unofficial party-aligned website. I’ve drafted the following response, and post it here for two reasons – to check I’ve not missed anything obvious, and to give guidance to others on a response (though the comments on the Lib Dem Voice article pretty much sum it up).
Coincidentally, I have a list of Brighton conference venues for hire courtesy of a friend who’s been looking at running a tech conference there. If FCC insist on imposing accreditation again, I will be organising an alternative conference for those disenfranchised by these measures. Hopefully there will not be more to come on that later because FCC will back down.
Some people have been discussing standing for Federal Conference Committee as a result of this, but since I don’t live in London I can’t really do that. As a voting rep however I will support FCC candidates who are opposed to disenfranchising our elected members through imposing unnecessary and useless CRB checks.
Again, if you oppose this security theatre, do e-mail FCC to let them know on firstname.lastname@example.org – while I suspect that with under six months to go, the decision has already been made, we can’t let FCC claim that nobody responded to their poorly-advertised “consultation” and use that as an excuse to do what they want. Also, please vote for this article on LibDig, and share it on Twitter and FaceBook, so more party members will see it and respond.
Dear Federal Conference Committee,
It’s a nice sunny day in Manchester, and there’s a bundle of Focus leaflets waiting in my nice Lib Dem hemp tote bag to be delivered for the local elections under three weeks away.
Unfortunately, I read on Lib Dem Voice that you have decided to ignore the motion passed in Birmingham opposing the accreditation system used for delegates, and are now holding a one-week-long “listening exercise”. I wonder if there will be an all-member mailing about this, or even an e-mail to all Conference Voting Representatives, or whether the story will just go up on a non-party website where a small number of members will see it.
I am a firm believer in the necessity to ensure, insofar as possible, the physical safety of our party members and the Brighton public. However, I am also know that the police will always ask for extra powers and controls over people, even if they offer no security or safety benefit, since not to have asked for them might be deemed negligent in the event of a tragedy even if they would have been completely ineffective. This is doubly the case when the shadow of terrorism is raised.
I was a regional co-ordinator for the No2ID campaign and am familiar with the arguments advanced by police and security services for extra powers – and familiar with the logical flaws in them. I am also a professional security adviser and am familiar with threat profiling and reducing attack surface. My opposition here is not based on some fundamental belief that the police should never have power, but on an understanding of the flaws in the arguments they advance to justify it.
I do not believe that police background checks, or CRB checks, will do anything to improve the safety of conference goers or the public against a determined attack. The two examples of attacks on political events given in Andrew Wiseman’s piece for Lib Dem Voice – the 1984 Brighton Bombing and Anders Breivik – were both great examples of attackers who were not registered conference delegates and hence who would not have been considered by an accreditation scheme for delegates. Even then, CRB checks have been criticised by Nick Clegg himself as being ineffective and intrusive – we know that they are woefully inaccurate, and can in any case only demonstrate that somebody may have been caught before. We know that most terrorist attacks are carried out by people with clean records.
I do support the physical security measures in place. They are inconvenient and imperfect – I have both been stopped for my ear piercing which is unlikely to harm anybody, and carried locked metal boxes through the X-ray scanners without being asked to display the contents. However, they are proportionate and stand enough of a chance of stopping a determined attacker that they’d probably put one off – or at least convince them to carry out their attack outside the conference.
Our conferences take place in major cities since these are the only places which have sufficient facilities. Our MPs and party members will be rubbing shoulders with the public around Brighton all week. There will be many opportunities for non-delegates to attack outside the conference throughout the week, which will obviously gain the attention of the gathered media, which will be what the attacker wants to achieve. All the party and police can reasonably do is prevent an attack inside the conference perimeter itself, and protect high-profile targets like Nick and other Cabinet ministers. This protection is afforded by the physical security measures mentioned above, and Nick’s personal security detail.
Therefore, there is no purpose in debating whether the risks of data loss and harassment by police justify the positive protection offered by accreditation, since there is no positive protection offered by accreditation. You cannot balance security against liberty if the security side of the balance is empty.
This, incidentally, is why people might infer that the purpose of the accreditation system is to protect the party from embarrassment – if it’s clear that the purpose is not for security, people start to wonder what the purpose is. I’m fairly sure that the purpose is just the police being able to say “we did everything we could” in the event of a tragedy, even if the specific measure is useless, but I can empathise with others who look for an alternative explanation.
LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, formerly known as DELGA and on whose executive I sit, has already made its position clear before Birmingham conference:
“It is the opinion of the DELGA executive that the background checks required to attend autumn conference place transgender people in a position where they risk being ‘outed’ to party colleagues, and risk information about their gender status, including their former names, being dispersed within the party and police, and potentially stored for long periods.
“The executive recognises that for many transgender people, this represents an unacceptable intrusion into their private lives. For some this also represents a risk to their personal safety.
“The DELGA executive feels that it is not acceptable that a member of the party should feel they have to choose between their personal safety and participating fully in the operation of the party, through attending conference.”
I’m not aware of the LGBT+ Lib Dems executive, or Trans Working Group, having been contacted by FCC since the anti-accreditation motion was passed at Birmingham conference.
The only remaining argument in favour of accreditation, then, is that if the police call for it and FCC refuse, there may be trouble gaining insurance. I have heard mixed opinions on this from people who work in large-scale event organisation, but it is clear that at Birmingham at least one delegate was able to attend on the party’s own insurance rather than the venue’s after his background check threw up red flags with the police. It is also clear that Nick Clegg himself attends many party conferences and events around the country with media in tow, for which accreditation is not required. It is also clear that the people who claim that insurance without accreditation would not be possible, tend to be people in favour of, or unopposed to, accreditation in any case.
So yes, count my name against accreditation. What I would ask is that FCC consider other ways for elected voting reps to attend Conference if they decide to go through with it anyway. I have discussed alternative non-police accreditation systems and online contributions to Conference on my blog here and here respectively. However, I hope that the case against accreditation convinces FCC to go with Conference’s decision that the arrangements are unacceptable.
As a final note, it’s worth reminding you that the people who expressed satisfaction with Birmingham security arrangements only include the voting reps who turned up – and not those who stayed away because of the CRB checking, either on principle, or because of previous experience with the police.