Gareth Epps writes: Don’t fix the conference accreditation process – break it!

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I am writing this from the position of having – after two false starts – finally been ‘processed’
or ‘accredited’ by the police in order to exercise my right as a member of this proud and democratic party. This has come after delay, rejection of my form, and increasingly agitated discussion with various people wasting vast amounts of time. Suffice to say that in my 11 years on Conference Committee, I would never have accepted the imposition of such a system. I am possibly luckier, too, than some Conference-goers in knowing how Conference is organised, and who has the ultimate responsibility when things go wrong.

The possibility of general bureaucratic bungling comes from the fact that so many people still have not been ‘processed’. Regardless of assurances that nobody has (yet) been excluded, many people have had objections to their application, most seemingly trivial; and hundreds of people still do not know if they can attend. Some of those will not have booked travel or accommodation, and face paying over the odds due to others’ incompetence.

But it appears that something more sinister is afoot, with more than one member being contacted this weekend by the police with demands for details of their passports in order to attend Conference. Let’s be clear, there is NO reason whatsoever that they need this information, nor that a member of a political party should be required to provide it or face being barred from participating in the sovereign decision-making body of that party not by Conference Committee, but by unaccountable bureaucrats acting for the police.

GMP (and Conference Committee) evidently need reminding that the May 2010 General Election result killed off compulsory ID cards and the database state – or did it?

It now appears, sinisterly, that people who happen not to have a passport produced in the post-Blair era of security paranoia and the database state are having their accreditation made more difficult and responses are being delayed. It is unclear whether Conference Committee was ever told about this.

I’ve always enjoyed a good working relationship with my local police. As a local councillor I held regular meetings with the neighbourhood team. I served on the Crime & Disorder Reduction Partnership. I’m still a member of my local NAG. Evidently the common-sense, consensus policing of Reading is non-existent in Greater Manchester, where interference in the internal processes of a political party appears to be considered fair game.

It should be the job of the Conference Committee ‘appeal process’ that people well-known to the
Party, such as Liberal Youth executive members, who are having their accreditation blocked should
be supported. The Conference Committee Chair (and whoever else is involved) should point out
that these people are not coming intent on causing any disorder greater than, perhaps, the moving
of a procedural motion. They should also not leave Party staff – who didn’t take these decisions –
exposed at what is already a frantic time of year in the Conference Office.

A number of LGBT members, specifically transgender members, are being discriminated against. I am told that the process discriminates against trans members such that they cannot register under
the police system and are being offered a separate process. That is appalling. I have asked for the assessment of the equality impact of the process to be published. I am not alone in doing so.

Equally appalling is the fact that the vast majority of members have been forced to lie to the police in order to get accredited. Principally this is because the ‘date of joining’ information requested is not held anywhere. In my case it’s a year out.

Meanwhile, on a planet many light years from freedom, a very, very small number (indeed) of people calling themselves Liberal Democrats take the ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ view of the likes of John Reid. The company they keep speaks volumes.

To prevent this ever happening again, Conference Committee should be empowered to work with our ministers in Government to prevent further police interference in the legitimate business of a
legitimate political party.

I have tabled an amendment to the Accreditation motion (F9) which gives a much clearer instruction
to Federal Conference Committee as far as the intrusion and bungling of the accreditation system is concerned: never again.

Finally, I would like to hear from Lib Dem members who are still facing being barred from Conference, or who have simply heard nothing; I will give them help and advice, and make representations on their behalf so they can do what they should in any case be entitled to do. Contact me at gareth [at] garethepps.org.uk

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25 Comments

  • I have a question – and it’s quite an important one – do transgendered people attend Labour and Tory conferences?

    The answer, in case you didn’t know, is yes. They go through accreditation fine, because these things were factored in.

    And on some other aspects – if you can’t read instructions, it’s your own fault. The number of people who sent in unacceptable photos is ridiculous; you’d get exactly the same stipulations for a passport or driving license, yet people don’t seem to mind following those rules.

    I’m not saying the system isn’t flawed, because it is – all new implementations are. And the timing issues are nothing short of shambolic.

    But to say it’s a sinister conspiracy is completely ludicrous.

  • I’d like to know why providing my NI number for accreditation is insufficient – it was offered as an option and yet now I’m being emailed by a GMP Officer asking for my passport number too. I was narked at the beginning at why this illiberal system had been allowed, but now I am certain that with the amount of hoop-jumping we’re being made to do it really is a data-harvesting fall-into-line-you-liberals type operation.
    Photographs seem to need to fall in line with passport rules meaning facial recognition will be used maybe?

  • I chose not to attend this time because I was not happy with the terms under which the police wanted to hold my data. I “have nothing to hide”, never having more than a speeding ticket, but this all felt excessive so I opted out. I had dual registered for this and the last conference so I sought and received a refund instead.

    I am not a voting rep (something else I find an irritant, as supposedly a “full” member of this party) so I was already disenfranchised anyway.

    Not Liberal, hardly Democratic.

  • Gareth – why did you have such difficulty in being accredited? Did you follow the instructions exactly?

  • Can I ask for some clarification on members being forced to lie to the police, specifically (as you state) about the date they have joined? I am unsure of why anyone should have to lie and what effect this would have had on being allowed in.

    I am not for the process. In some cases it has been far too intrusive. And the fact that people feel they cannot attend is completely wrong. Though I would prefer more information on those that are trans and their application to the Tory and Labour conferences.

  • Gareth: Your statement that other parties “have traditionally discriminated against them [transgendered people]”, I fear, exposes a certain naivety that has run throughout this process. Do you have the numbers of each LGBT society? Do you know how many of those attend the party conferences? I think I already know the answer.

    For example: the one case that some have mentioned re: police markers? That person would not fail for that alone, they were wrong to say – the marker flags up a name, then the information attached is read. Same with criminal records – police are clever enough to use their own systems to see when something is relevant or not.

    I am not doubting people are worried, or that things are clunky in places – but accreditation is probably the least intrusive process to go through when done properly. I have submitted more information to my bank or workplace on a regular basis than I ever have an accreditation form.

    Your passport number, driving licence number or National Insurance number – on its own, because you only need to supply one – will not be enough for identity theft. You’ve more to worry about if you lose your wallet or mobile phone!

    I don’t advocate the holding of people’s entire cache of personal information but, sometimes, we have to be practical and admit that it’s necessary.

    I would personally prefer to know we have done everything possible to prevent something potentially going wrong, rather than risking it and hoping for the best.

  • Sorry, Simon, I consider the “modern” requirements for photos on documents to be hugely clunky and difficult for many people. It is not “clear’ and simple, and discriminates against those without good IT skills. Sorry. As Lib Dems we should be fighting rearguard actions against all these “rules” based on specific IT requirements. Apart from anything there is an “ageist” component!

  • Dean… I guess you’re cis-sexual, and applying the usual cis privilege. I took the trouble to google the Tory “trans” association. It’s called LGBTory. As you might suspect with a name like that, it doesn’t appear to have any trans awareness, includes trans people in “sexual orientation” FFS. Their top priorities are marriage equality for LGB people, and…that’s it, really. I couldn’t find any numbers.
    By contrast, there are known, out, trans people who are LDcouncillors. How many elected transsexual Tory councillors are there?

  • PS. Labour of course passed the Gender Recognition Act (2004) against some ludicrous opposition from Tebbit and other Tory grandees… so it’s not impossible that they deal with accreditation properly.

  • 1. The requirements for the photo were clear and if you couldn’t cope with the technology, there was an option to post it. My partner did this and he got his accredition before my electronic photo.

    2. I too lied about the date I joined the party. I just filled in the day and month fields as 01/01 and then 1981 for the year. Anyone with any nouse would realise that was wrong because the SDP didn’t exist then!

  • David Wright 7th Sep '11 - 12:51pm

    I wouldn’t say I lied about my date of joining the party, but I did have to guess the year, and as to day and month, how am I supposed to remember that 45+ years later? (01/01 is as good a guess as any, as the form wouldn’t let me leave those blank.)

    But why even ask? The Party knows our date of joining, unless it’s over 20 years ago, in which case it should be “long enough”. And if the police need to know (why?), surely all they need is whether you’ve been a member for more than 1 or 2 years.

  • Simon : “What does this mean?”
    Try this link http://tinyurl.com/3f2ekun

  • Simon – that is a disgrace and you should expect some support from Conference Office, who should be rotaing their members to take the flak. On-site registration is going to resemble an airport at strike time, I fear.

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