Andrew Wiseman writes: Seeking your views on Conference accreditation

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Federal Conference this autumn takes place in Brighton, and as you would expect FCC and conference office staff are in discussion with Sussex police about security arrangements for conference.

1. Security at conference

Most security arrangements will be those we always have at conference and are not controversial among conference-goers (as shown by reps’ feedback). The Brighton venue is of course very used to these levels of security, both for our conferences and those of other parties.

The police and security services have however also requested that we use ‘accreditation’ for conference reps. There are widely different views within the party on this and FCC is therefore seeking views from members. This paper sets out the proposal, why the police are requesting it, some further information, and finally some of the arguments for and against. FCC would be grateful for any views on this by 21st April, and will review these at a meeting in late April prior to registration opening in early May.

Under all circumstances, however, FCC is extremely clear that this is our party’s conference, it is up to us to decide who attends, and how any personal data is managed (subject to the Data Protection Act) .

2. Why the police are proposing accreditation

Two senior officers of Sussex police attended an FCC meeting in late March and outlined the reasons they are asking the party to use accreditation. It is their clear view that party conferences, including ours while we are in government, attract people who wish to cause serious harm and violence to conference-goers (and also to those working in the venue and other residents of Brighton, whom they also have a duty to protect). This includes large international terrorist organisations, but also individuals who are able to make bombs or other equipment. They 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.

Because of the particular attraction that major public events which are heavily covered by the media have to people who want to cause serious violence, they believe that in order to protect the security of everyone at conference, attendees should go through accreditation.

The police are extremely clear, as are FCC, that preventing any other difficulties or embarrassment for the party are not part of their remit. They are focused only on specific information which might indicate that someone may pose a serious security threat to other conference-goers.

Anyone can join the party for as little as £12 and can then attend conference as a party member.

3. The proposal

Implementing accreditation would mean that, alongside the normal registration process for conference, members would submit some further personal information, including past addresses and passport number. This information is used to check whether the police or security services have any information to suggest that the registrant might pose a serious security threat to conference. Any other information about the individual, including any unrelated criminal convictions, will not be considered.

4. Safeguards

The party and the police have agreed some further safeguards which would apply if we do use accreditation.

Anyone registering can insist that any security information they provide be deleted after the conference. Some people did this for autumn conference last year and their information was deleted.

Even if someone does not ask for their information be deleted, it is held on a free-standing system which is used solely for purposes for accreditation for party conferences (ours and other major parties’). No other police or security system is able to access it for any other purpose.

FCC is in discussions with the police so that if someone wishes their accreditation to be done by someone from the local Sussex police, rather than the National Accreditation Team (formed by Greater Manchester Police), they should be able to do this.

5. Decision process

The vast majority of people registering for conference, of course, would go through the process without any issue.

Last year the communications were not as good as they could have been and FCC is committed to ensuring that all those attending conference receive timely information about their registration.

If the checking process does recommend that someone not be accredited, FCC is proposing (and Sussex police are also happy with), that the case be referred to the party president, the chair of FCC and the party’s chief executive. They will review the reasons for suggested declining accreditation, and the information on which it is based (where privacy laws permit), and take a decision on whether to accredit the individual. They are clearly strongly committed to the principle of party members being able to attend conference, 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. The final decision on accreditation rests with the party, not with the police (and the police accept this).

6. People who have changed identity

Last year there was considerable concern about people who have changed identity, and whether they would be required to provide information about their former identity.

West Sussex police have been clear that where this applies, individuals can apply under their current identity, and do not need to disclose their previous identity. They are familiar with dealing with this issue, and have ongoing dialogue with relevant communities locally about handling this issue.

FCC is also very happy to follow up any further specific concerns relating to this issue. It is clear that the police understand this issue well and are committed to dealing with it sensitively. We will engage with LGBT+ and other relevant party bodies and individuals.

7. Case for using accreditation

  • We have a duty to all those who attend our party conferences – staff and visitors as well as party members – to ensure their security. The high-profile nature of party conferences mean that they can attract people who wish to cause serious violence and harm to large numbers of people. Accreditation may be a proportionate means of excluding anyone for whom there is strong evidence to believe that they are likely to pose a serious security threat to conference-goers.
  • If the police recommend the use of accreditation and the party decides not to do so, the party itself is potentially in an extremely exposed position. Having to take liability for those attending and risk invalidating our insurance.

8. Case against using accreditation

  • Party members should be free to attend their own party’s conference without any checks.
  • Concerns about personal data mean the party should not require members to submit such data to the police.

9. Party views

FCC is well aware that this is a very sensitive issue within the party, with strong views on both sides. It has taken into account the motion passed in Birmingham. It takes its role taking a decision on this on behalf of the party extremely seriously and would therefore welcome views on the proposal, by 21st April. It will consider this at its meeting on 23rd April and take a decision.

Views should be sent to conferenceinformation@libdems.org.uk

Andrew Wiseman is Chair of the Liberal Democrats’ Federal Conference Committee.

* Andrew Wiseman is Chair of the Liberal Democrats' Federal Conference Committee.

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75 Comments

  • “It is their clear view that party conferences, including ours while we are in government, attract people who wish to cause serious harm and violence to conference-goers (and also to those working in the venue and other residents of Brighton, whom they also have a duty to protect). ”

    Did they give any evidence of the scale of the threat?

    “They 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.”

    The1984 bombing was not commited by a lone individual (at least not in my understanding of the phrase as usually used in a security context) as the IRA was a highly organised and co-ordinated. It is unlikely that Magee was acting alone or without approval and support form higher up in the IRA.

    In any case that bombing took place in the conference hotel not the conference venue and was IIRC a bomb planted a month before the event running on a timer. The equivalent venue in Gateshead could well be the hotel I was in on the Saturday evening where no accreditaiton of any sort was required.

    Furthremore the Norweigan shootings were committed by someone who got into the venue unaccredited. Neither example quoted would have been prevented by a system of accreditation.

  • Andrew Emmerson 14th Apr '12 - 1:02pm

    What Dave said.

    Conference spoke listen to it.

  • Andrew Wiseman 14th Apr '12 - 1:13pm

    Could I urge everyone with views to email them, as suggested in the article, to conferenceinformation@libdems.org.uk that way all of FCC will see them.

    Thanks
    Andrew

  • Andrew Wiseman 14th Apr '12 - 1:17pm

    @Dave Page I’m sorry you’re making this personal against me “now Andrew Wiseman wants to enforce it again, against the wishes of Conference”. The paper was requested by FCC written by another member of FCC, comented on by a few others and I agreed to post it as chair of the committee.

    Andrew

  • Jennie Rigg 14th Apr '12 - 1:22pm

    I came here ready to unleash both barrels, but Dave has said most of what I wanted to clearly and concisely enough.

    No, Andrew. Just no.

    Conference voted against this.

    It is utterly pointless security theatre, which will not stop anyone who is determined to attend from doing so, but causes inconvenience at least, and in some cases actual trauma, to party members who wish to attend conference.

    It is HORRENDOUSLY discriminatory for transfolk (expecting transpeople to just take the word of the police that they will be nice, especially those transfolk who have already experienced bad treatment from the police, is akin to a women’s refuge sending battered wives back to their abusive husbands every time the husband says “I’m sorry and I won’t do it again”)

    We’re supposed to be Liberals, FFS. If we don’t stand up to the rozzers and their ever-increasing demands for control over everyone, who the hell will? Tell them to sod off. And if they say we can’t have conference without accreditation, tell them we’ll take conference elsewhere. Sure, it’ll mean more work for Emma (sorry, Emma), but better a free conference held as a flashmob in a park somewhere than kowtowing to stupid crap like this.

  • Jennie Rigg 14th Apr '12 - 1:25pm

    “free” as in liberal, not “free” as in costs no money, BTW. Even I’m not that naive…

  • jenny barnes 14th Apr '12 - 1:26pm

    I spoke on this at last year’s conference; I think it would be a useful addition if we could have a link to the motion passed at the end of that debate by conference. Thank you.

  • “@Dave Page I’m sorry you’re making this personal against me “now Andrew Wiseman wants to enforce it again, against the wishes of Conference”. The paper was requested by FCC written by another member of FCC, comented on by a few others and I agreed to post it as chair of the committee.”

    @Andrew Wiseman, are you saying that you don’t endorse these suggestions and are posting them against your will, then?

  • I don’t know how much louder and clearer it can be said; we do not want or need this kind of pointless security theatre. Can some one please explain why my refusal to undergo these ‘security’ checks makes me more of a potential danger in the Autumn than I was in the Spring, when I attended conference without needing them. Anyone?

  • Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera 14th Apr '12 - 1:43pm

    If one follows the instructions of the Police on security matters alone, we may forget that we are actually a liberal and democrat Party, where its members influence the decision making process.

    As a former police officer, I would say that it is right and proper that the police service raises any concerns regarding potential security issues, but unless they have precise evidence, or the ‘real’ intelligence that an act of criminality is going to happen, then we as a Party need to realise that what they say is only advice, and that it should not necessarily be taken as an edict.

    The police service forgets at times, that is meant to be a defender of democracy for everyone, and not restricting democracy to a few.

  • Adam Bernard 14th Apr '12 - 1:52pm

    The accreditation does seem to be a rather invidious form of security theatre. As others have said, it protects delegates within the conference venue, where we already have badge checks, metal detection, bag searches (which, please note, I don’t see anyone objecting to), but it does nothing to secure the hotels, the queues for security, or any meetings outside the main venue, where (as per 1984) any rational would-be terrorist would already be focussed on. Add to this that accreditation is known to have significant levels of false positives and false negatives, and that its negative effects are focussed on some already-marginalised groups in society, and it’s not a measure that we, as liberals and Liberal Democrats, should be countenancing.

  • Adam Bernard 14th Apr '12 - 1:57pm

    By the way, it seems whoever drafted the article above didn’t quite get around to fleshing out the bullet points in section 8. This was surely an unfortunate oversight, rather than an attempt to minimise the arguments against accreditation.

  • paul barker 14th Apr '12 - 2:14pm

    Judging from the above this is shaping up to be a dialog of the deaf. Could everyone turn down their complacency/outrage controls & start preparing to compromise, like proper liberals .

  • Jennie Rigg 14th Apr '12 - 2:22pm

    Paul, where is there room to compromise? Nobody is arguing against physical security measures. But how do we compromise on accreditation? We’ll just have a /little/ bit of background checking? No. All it takes is one transphobic rozzer with access to the database and the lives of several people I care deeply about are potentially ruined. I don’t think it’s worth that risk when compared to the benefits, which are spurious at best.

  • Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera 14th Apr '12 - 4:11pm

    In there UK the public have for centuries believed that there exists presumption of innocence rather than guilt, and as Sarah has courageously highlighted some within the community will be directly or indirectly discriminated against by the Party following advice that is not necessarily applicable.

    Some may come to the conclusion that the FCC, like many public organisations will continue to ‘consult’ until fatigue sets in, and people no longer bother to respond, then they can say, “well we have consulted our membership, and there have been no complaints”.

    Perhaps all of this debate could resolved if we all had ID cards?

  • As someone who sometimes fails to take as much notice of these things as i should, thanks for all the comment above as it made me change my initial ambivalence into opposition for accreditation.

    And i did think it went over the top at Gateshead with checking and removing my body spray. I know it was only Impulse but even I’m not impulsive enough to go spray it in anyone’s face! And if you’re in conference all day and off to fringe in the evening & your hotel isn’t that close, it is nice to be able to freshen up. What’s the betting that they’ll take my toothpaste or chewing gum off me in Brighton…

    The reason more people dont complain about the checks is that we dont have any choice if we want to get in. All for keeping us safe but when i gatecrashed an event in the Hilton with one of our MPs no-one was bothered and accreditation wouldn’t have stopped that. If the bomber turns out to be a pretty young blonde i doubt accreditation

  • Foregone Conclusion 14th Apr '12 - 5:04pm

    I must say, it’s extremely brave for FCC to be attempting, for a second year running, to be canvassing for an unpopular accreditation regime and in the process ignoring a clearly-worded conference motion on the subject, given that they are all up for re-election this year and are elected by conference representatives. Almost courageous, as Sir Humphrey would say.

  • jenny barnes 14th Apr '12 - 5:20pm

    sarah said ” “Trust us not to mess this up” is no assurance at all. ”
    Exactly. Institutional incompetence, transphobia, accidental leaving of data on trains. Government institutions have proved their inabilities. Trust is hard to earn, easy to lose. And I for one don’t trust them.

  • jenny barnes 14th Apr '12 - 5:27pm

    I suppose what we’re seeing is the end of conference as the body that decides LD policy. LD parliamentarians seem to be ignoring it, now the FCC is. What happened to the Liberal Democrats?

  • I would prefer it if the police spent more time catching real criminals, than all this stuff. I simply don’t believe that the threat level warrants the number of police present at conference, let alone more checks and other expenses that have to be paid by someone. Crossing the road is likely to be far more dangerous than an accreditation-free conference.

    If someone really wants to blow up Nick Clegg they can drive a truck full of explosives into his house. Ditto Vince, Danny, Ed and Michael. Or they can attend their surgeries and shoot them, or attack them with a knife. The last has happened, as we know: what next, the police say people attending surgeries should be accredited?

  • Would the contributors to this discussion stop tyring to make it a personal attack on FCC. All Andrew is doing is telling us what the police have said to them. I have written to the email address he suggested and madeclear my view that FCC should make plain to the police that FCC don’t have the right to override a conference decision and that whatever happens the conference arrangements should be in conformity with the views of conference. I strongly urge everyone to do just that and stop seeing intent where there is none. Tom McNally’s piece in this week’s Lib Dem views has a very important sentence about not jumping to conclusions and many of the writers above should heed it.

  • Jennie Rigg 14th Apr '12 - 7:43pm

    “I suppose what we’re seeing is the end of conference as the body that decides LD policy. LD parliamentarians seem to be ignoring it, now the FCC is.”

    I really hope not 🙁

  • I think it’s a very courageous thing for the FCC to offer up (this post I mean). They’ve tried to learn the lessons of last year and still present something they know everyone will hate.

    Please everyone cut them some personal slack and focus on the issue at hand.

    Does anyone have any evidence about the effectiveness of West Sussex Police’s data protection? It sounds like there are those who will always oppose this and then those who would be ‘happy’ (in big inverted commas) with bombproof safeguards.

    If nothing else this is a really good start on the communication of this from the decision makers. As I said very courageous to do when you know the response will be hostile.

  • Oh and I love the suggestion that we’ll all get bored and there will be no more objections! You’ve clearly not experienced a disagreement at a local party meeting!

  • Callum Leslie 14th Apr '12 - 7:59pm

    I think that in two ways FCC has been misguided here.

    Firstly, not offering compromises, or potential compromises. For example, the automatic deletion of data, rather than an opt-out which is not offered to everyone.

    Secondly, not establishing if any progress has been made since last year on the concerns raised, particularly on the trans issue. It seems like whatever we say this will go through, so whatever. I just think the FCC need to realise they are, at the end of the day, just members.

  • It is a totally pointless excercise.

    I would pass accreditation with no problem whatsoever.

    That however would not stop me making a bomb and taking it to conference, or running amok with an improvised weapon within the conference venue if I so chose. Nothing in my background would lead to anyone expecting this of me.

    Vigilant physical security checks at conference venue, however unwelcome is a realistic means of improving the safety of all those attending. This ridiculous suggestion of acreditation is just a typical authoritarian response by the police and security forces to an unspecified and unknowable threat.

    If a specific threat is supposed exists then the specific intelligence that leads to the supposition must also give information which would allow the security service to be vigilant at the venue regarding the threat.

    An absolute no to accreditation.

    And no I cannot be bothered emailing – it shows here as a members post, feel free to print it off and consider it in your meeting.

  • paul barker 14th Apr '12 - 8:32pm

    My point about 2 “sides”, not listening to each other seems to be confirmed. Reading this thread is like being in a meeting when people start shouting, its a s*** way to get anything done.
    I do actually believe that compromise is a core liberal value because there are always different viewpoints. Theres too much certainty in this thread & not enough doubt.
    I keep hearing the echo Ian Paisley bellowing ” Never, Never”.

  • Jennie Rigg 14th Apr '12 - 9:29pm

    Andy: I asked that and got no answer

  • Perhaps that’s not really a surprise, Andy, given that the only trick in Paul’s book appears to be the Lib Dem equivalent of Godwin’s Law: “YOU’RE NOT PROPER LIBERALS!!!!”

  • Wouldn’t it be cheaper to improve membership cards so that they can be used to gain entry? Faffing around with accreditation seems to be designed to discourage people from attending.

  • Simon mcgrath 15th Apr '12 - 9:14am

    Actually The view of Conference on this topic was far more nuanced than is suggested in the comments above. an amendment which said: “Conference rejects the current system of accreditation as it is discriminatory and has resulted in members being denied their constitutional right to attend Conference, and requests the Federal Conference Committee to refuse to operate it for future Conferences.” was rejected by Conference.

    @lisa Harding – you have given no reason at all why you would be rejected apart from to assert it would be the case.

    Where I think Andrew needs to give more information is on the consequences of ignoring police advice would be. If it is that there would be no insurance cover, which would mean no venue, then Conf Ctee should put a motion to Confernce making that explicit and asking Conf to choose between no accreditation and no Conference. .

  • Malcolm Todd 15th Apr '12 - 1:36pm

    @Nick Noble
    “That however would not stop me making a bomb and taking it to conference, or running amok with an improvised weapon within the conference venue if I so chose. Nothing in my background would lead to anyone expecting this of me.”

    Well, not until now… 😉

  • Well I suppose as Liberals we are free to be paranoid, free to be suspicious, but if we want the Uk policing system to continue to be by consent, then we need to listen to the advice we receive. We have appointed Andrew to manage our conference and to do his utmost to keep us safe, so – listen to him.! You can’t (or shouldn’t) run any event without thinking through and minimising the risks.. – that is what is being done here. If we can’t run the conference in a way that the committee, which we appointed to run it, think is safe(having listened to all advice and opinion) then I don’t think I shall be going.

  • jenny barnes 15th Apr '12 - 4:07pm

    peter… who is “us”? White ablebodied middle aged middle class men hetero cis men? Or can ANYONE consider their safety? If so, please note that for some people the proposed system decreases their safety – and that’s part of what the argument is about.

  • The point I raised about what credible evidence hasn’t been answered.

    But let me put it another way. If there is credible evidence of such a threat then why in NOvember last year was there a widely advertised Liberal Democrat event – at which it was known in advance that Nick would be a speaker. And when I arrived at that event I walked in through main door and sat at the back of the hall without any check whatsoever on who I was or what I was doing. The event was Yorks & Humber regional conference. I wasn’t registered in advance and I just walked into the venue which had neither a policeman nor a member of the conference team checking on admissions. Admitedly I was sat opposite the registration desk at which was sat someone I knew but why is such a low level of security allowed at one event when just a few months earlier much more extreme measures had been required.

  • Andrew Suffield 16th Apr '12 - 7:47pm

    The point I raised about what credible evidence hasn’t been answered.

    Answered by whom? This is a comment thread of, by, and for random people that want to object for the benefit of the peanut gallery. The other side of the debate isn’t here; Andrew Wiseman has made it fairly clear that he’s not going to argue the point in this thread.

  • That’s why I reasked it. Why did we need all that security at Birmingham and then nothing 2 months later when the most likely target was present at both. If the history of terrorism teaches us anything then it is that the soft targets will always be more preferable.

  • Andrew Suffield 17th Apr '12 - 12:51pm

    Find a venue that doesn’t want this ridiculous approach.

    I’ll just point out that the venue needs to be selected two or three years in advance. It takes that long.

    Furthermore, there are about ten venues in the UK which can host a conference of this size.

  • Sara Bedford 17th Apr '12 - 1:59pm

    I didn’t manage to get to Gateshead mainly due to the impractibility of the journey on crutches with only one weightbearing leg.Had Conference been now then I probably could have managed it. But there’s no way even now that I could stand anywhere near that long in a queue with a leg in plaster and on crutches. That must be the same for a number of other potential attendees.

    If everyone has to use the same entrance, regardless of who they are, and wait the same amount of time, then people might think again.

  • Andrew Suffield 17th Apr '12 - 3:03pm

    But there’s no way even now that I could stand anywhere near that long in a queue with a leg in plaster and on crutches. That must be the same for a number of other potential attendees.

    Anybody with this kind of problem should contact the conference office as soon as they can. Arrangements can be made to handle issues like this, for everybody who tells the office that they have a problem. Lots of people come to conference with mobility issues, and substantial time and money is spent on making conference accessible to them.

    Nothing can be done for people who don’t tell the conference office.

  • Andrew Suffield 17th Apr '12 - 10:37pm

    There was an issue with taxi access at Sheffield, but that was the unfortunate road layout as much as anything else. I’m fairly sure a solution was found either for Birmingham or Newcastle, although I don’t know what they did exactly.

  • Justine McGuinness 20th Apr '12 - 8:25pm

    I’ve read the comments above with interest, as I am the only member of FCC to speak, vote and campaign consistently against police vetting for those people elected by their peers to represent local parties at Conference.

    Many of us opposed to vetting feel strongly about this, yet people on the other side of the argument clearly think we eventually will give up and go away!

    Conference made a clear decision. FCC lost the argument. If this was another matter, or indeed the opposite had happened, David Grace would not be permitted to re-submit his motion, to ask Conference to over turn the decision made at a previous Conference, nor would someone be allowed to re-open the matter. FCC regularly doesn’t accept/select motions for debate because the topic has recently been debated and a decision has been made. I am at a lost to see why this decision is any different. Putting a thin wash of ‘consultation’ looks, at best, ill-conceived.

    Without meaning to preach, FCC collectively needs to demonstrate more respect for our fellow Lib Dems and our constituency, Conference.

  • Andrew Wiseman 27th Apr '12 - 11:55am

    Federal Conference Committee met on Monday to consider the question of conference security.

    As we said in our article of 14th April 2012, the police have requested that we adopt a similar system of accreditation for conference that was used for Birmingham last Autumn.

    That system would involve conference attendees submitting certain pieces of information at the time of registration, such as their past addresses and passport number. That information would be used to assess whether the person registering is who they say they are and whether they pose a serious security threat to conference. If so, the person concerned would not be accredited. The vast majority, however, would be. Those who were accredited for attendance in Birmingham would be recognised by the system, unless they had asked for their data from last time to be deleted, and minimal checks would be required.

    As before, safeguards would be put in place were accreditation to be adopted. These include an appeals procedure whereby the final decision as to whether someone could attend conference or not would be taken by the Party and not the police. It would also include the facility for the data to be deleted in respect of anyone who wanted it. What data remained would be held on a standalone system, not linked to the main police computer system. People who have changed identity would be able to apply for accreditation under their current identity and would not need to reveal their former one.

    The FCC recognises that accreditation is highly controversial within the Party. A motion was submitted about it to Birmingham Conference and, whilst an amendment that would have refused to adopt accreditation in the future failed, conference did ‘condemn’ the system that was in use at that time.

    When we called for views on the accreditation proposal for Brighton, many responses were received. We would like to thank everyone who took the time and trouble to send us their opinions. Many were in favour of accreditation but many were vehemently opposed to it.

    At our meeting on Monday, representatives of LGBT+ attended to tell us about the particular problems with accreditation that face people with previous identities. We are very grateful for the time they took to do that.

    Senior members of Party staff also attended. Over the past two weeks, they have talked extensively to the Party insurers and to staff at the conference venue in Brighton.

    Following careful consideration, FCC does not think that the case for accreditation of party members is presently made out, but recognises that there are other complex issues around it that need to be addressed. We are committed to holding conference without it if we possibly can.

    We have therefore decided to delay opening registration for Party members (and only Party members) whilst further negotiation takes place with the police, other Party Committees, the owners of the conference venue and our insurers. If we possibly can avoid using accreditation though, we will. We will provide further information as soon as we are able to do so.

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