The thing that puzzles me is that at recent conferences, they fence off the Conference Centre and check everyone going in about 4 times, no entry without a badge (Party Membership Card not sufficient), but the Conference Hotel allows anyone in so long as they're prepared to walk past a single policeman. In which of these buildings does the leader and senior ministers spend most of their time?
This is an email I didn’t receive:
I’m sorry that you’re going to be angry with me by the end of this email, but I’m realistic enough to know that I’m unlikely to win you over with what I’m about to say.
But I hope you will keep on reading and at least understand that we both share the same values, even if on this occasion I’ve supported a decision you very much disagree with.
It’s conference accreditation and in short – it’s going ahead.
I know from your response to our consultation that you won’t like this. However, please consider the situation we were in.
We could have got insurance for the venue even without accreditation – that’s a bit of a red herring. But the problem is that an insurance firm would have happily taken our money whilst keeping its options open over what would happen if we had to make a claim.
Imagine the very worst. A massive tragedy at conference, a big insurance claim by the party and then the insurer says, “Ah, but you didn’t follow the police’s advice, and so we’re not going to pay out”.
We would then have been caught in a legal struggle, where the outcome might have been the party being landed with a multi-million pound bill.
Only might, I know.
A very slim chance – of an enormous financial bill that would have cleared out the party’s funds and put us into bankruptcy. With no money to pay taxes, our staff would not have stayed employed for long and the party’s premises would have all been lost in quick order.
Utter disaster for the party. Paddy has often talked about his sleepless nights over how close the party came to folding in the financial disasters around merger. There is no way I could support risking putting the party through what we only just escaped back then.
Only a slim chance of that happening, yes, but a real chance.
That is why as someone who is absolutely dedicated heart and soul to the party I couldn’t possibly let that slim risk happen.
So sorry that you won’t like the decision I made, but I hope you can understand the reason for it was about protecting liberalism in the way I see best.
Instead of that email there was this post on Lib Dem Voice.
How does it differ? First, as might be expected from a joint piece by three people, the post is a bit flat and woolly. It doesn’t have the personal touch to really persuade that yes, you think our decision is wrong, but we’re doing our best to be liberals too.
Second, despite having had a consultation to which people responded personally by email, there has been (so far) just this post. When it comes to handling a controversial consultation, prompt direct personal messages to those who have taken part again at the least shows willing.
Third, and most importantly, the post had a dreadful phrase about how “some of us are willing to risk the possibility of serious harm to ourselves by not following police recommendations to accept accreditation”.
No, no and no.
That misses the point that for many of us (including myself), the case simply hasn’t been made that no accreditation means a higher security risk:
The consultation paper gives two examples of the sort of threats that conference needs protecting against and which, it is claimed, background checks would protect against: “[The police] gave some examples of lone individuals who have caused serious violence, or attempted to, ranging from the 1984 Brighton bombing to the Norwegian gunman at a youth political event”.
Neither, however, is a case of background checks failing. In the case of the Brighton bomb, the problem was with a bomb being planted well ahead of conference by someone who was not going to conference. In the Norwegian case, a policeman impersonated, followed quickly by armed force. Background checks of people attending events would not have helped in either case.
If that is really the best examples the police can provide, then the answer should be: “We’re concerned about those sorts of threats to. So please don’t waste your time and money on accreditation checks which won’t stop them. Put the effort instead into measures which will.”
The party is well used to examining carefully claims that one measure or another is vital for the fight against crime. Sometimes we agree with the police and sometimes we don’t. When the police said that 90 days detention without charge was necessary, we didn’t say “ok”, we said “show us the evidence” and the evidence turned out to be unconvincing.
And that, at heart, I fear is why the post on Lib Dem Voice was nothing like my imaginary email. From what Tim has said, I fear that actually the security issue was what moved him and others to back accreditation. Not based on a compelling case by the police as to how accreditation really increases security but based on too great a willingness to accept a very thin case from the police.
Had they made a judgement based on avoiding the small risk of financial apocalypse for the party, I’d still have doubted it, but it would at least have been far better than what has been said and looks to have happened.