Opinion: How a stranger carrying a rucksack came within 10 feet of Nick Clegg

It was November 5th 2011, the date for that hotbed of radical fervour that is Yorkshire and Humber regional conference.

Those who know me will not be surprised that I was running late so things were already underway when I arrive. Those people will be further un-surprised that I hadn’t registered in advance either, confident that people would be willing to take my money on the day!

The session was already underway so I quietly slipped in through the door and sat at the back.

That’s right – at an openly advertised meeting, where Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was speaking, I just walked in off the street.

No pre-registration.

No ID check.

Not even a check on whether I was a party member.

And no check as to what I was carrying in the rucksack on my back, which includes my laptop, charger, external hard drive etc so is hardly empty.

So just what is it that made the Yorkshire and Humber region so much less of a security risk than Brighton or Birmingham?

Is Nick so incredibly popular in Yorkshire that there is no risk? It isn’t. No really. We’ve had letters.

Of course there was some security. There were 6-8 clearly visible people, presumably from Special Branch or somesuch organisation, keeping an eye on events. These are not, I suspect, the sort of people you want to mess with.  As a slightly unexpected latecomer they were probably keeping a pretty close eye on me throughout!

But surely the same arguments about Federal Conference would apply just as much to a regional conference?

There would have been a risk to the staff working in the venue and for the party. There would also be the financial risk to the regional party had they gone against the recommendation of the police etc.

Clearly the risk was considered negligible. In fact the risk was so negligible that the security officers tasked with protecting Nick weren’t even operating a cursory door check that people were party members and conference attendees. As I was sat by the door he even passed within about 10 feet of me on his way out!

If the party can hold a conference, operating a minimal level of security, quite safely and with the apparent approval of the police and security in Skipton in November 2011, why does it need such an incredibly higher level of security for a conference in Brighton in September 2012?

Maybe the FCC, FFAC and FE can explain.

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21 Comments

  • There are posts like this when you really think LDV should have a ‘Like lots’ button

  • Richard Dean 24th May '12 - 1:25pm

    If you do something dangerous and it just happens that you don’t get damaged, that’s no reason to do it again. Tempting fate and all. I guess it would be the police who need to be asked?

  • I don’t support accreditation, but playing devil’s advocate for a moment, the things that make Yorkshire and Humber regional conference different from the federal conference are:

    (1) the higher number of attendees,
    (2) the higher profile of the event,
    (3) the location.

    If it’s (1) that would imply the justification is crowd security. So how come even larger gatherings like music festivals and major sport events don’t require accreditation?

    If it’s (2), are they really saying that a terrorist attack on a regional conference would not achieve as much media attention? Nonsense.

    If it’s (3), why is there a postcode lottery in the way our security is managed?

    But why am I as an opponent of the system trying to figure the justification for it? Those who are justifying accreditation ought to be making the case!

  • Richard Dean 24th May '12 - 2:02pm

    I am definitely NOT going to get sucked into this conversation again. No no no! Just to say (4) the importance of the attendees. If Nick or Vince or Danny or others didn’t matter much, then yes, people mighn’t bother doing bad things. Then there’s (5) if everyone knows there’s no security, doing something bad wouldn’t get you much kudos,

  • Richard Dean 24th May '12 - 2:04pm

    Nick or Vince or Danny or others –> the party. Typo again! Last comment definitely.

  • Malcolm Todd 24th May '12 - 2:21pm

    @Richard — one of us is confused. In your “last” (but one) comment, you seem to suggest that one of the differences between this regional conference and the national conference is the importance of the attendees. Hywel’s point is that Nick Clegg, already the DPM, was at that conference and indeed passed within 10 feet of him (hence the title of the piece). So that clearly isn’t a difference between the two. (Unless you think the alleged “security” provided by accreditation is all for the sake of Shirley Williams, of course…)

  • Richard Dean 24th May '12 - 3:18pm

    @Malcolm Todd. I am always confused, but fortunately I am not too proud to learn. There are quite a few reasons why there could be a difference between the security assessments for the conferences, and no doubt the police will be able to enlighten us on that. There are also other important issues, such as who has the ultimate right to decide, and whether the previous democratically expressed opinions can be overridden. I favour accrediation, and much of the reason for that is that I do trust the UK police. I woudn’t favour accreditation if we were in Egypt or Syria..

  • Stephen Donnelly 24th May '12 - 10:54pm

    Simon: Fortunately insurance is a free market. No doubt we ultimately get cover through Lloyds. If one insurance company is unreasonable we can go to another one. We can negotiate. Insurance is not the issue, just a group of people not having the courage of their convictions.

  • Andrew Suffield 25th May '12 - 8:21am

    No doubt we ultimately get cover through Lloyds. If one insurance company is unreasonable we can go to another one. We can negotiate.

    Even if an underwriter could be found who would provide real insurance for this, it would doubtless cost more.

    Please do not mistake what you are proposing here: you are suggesting that the party should spend less money on winning elections and ultimately win less seats, in order to accomplish this thing.

    That is a legitimate position, but if the amount of money involved is substantial, I doubt it will draw much support.

  • Grammar Police 25th May '12 - 11:31am

    Easiest way to settle the insurance question is for people to get themselves elected to FCC (and other bodies) on this issue, and then run the conference without accreditation. Or not – either way, the question is answered.

  • @Simon – the insurance point only arises if police instructions aren’t followed. That would equally apply to regional conferences though. Where, as can be seen the police insist on much much lower levels of security. There is therefore a question of proportionality about the measures being adopted.

    @Richard – “Then there’s (5) if everyone knows there’s no security, doing something bad wouldn’t get you much kudos,” This is not really borne out by the history of terrorism. Very few attacks are made against highly secured targets – eg th e9/11 attacks targetted domestic flights because the security on those was very lax.

    @Joe – I turned up expecting some sort of perimeter check for party membership etc.

  • “Please do not mistake what you are proposing here: you are suggesting that the party should spend less money on winning elections and ultimately win less seats, in order to accomplish this thing.”

    He may be suggesting spending more on insurance, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to spending less on ‘winning elections’ and winning less seats, does it?

    You’re making an unspoken assumption that the party’s income and campaigning performance aren’t themselves affected by royally ****ing off the activists.

  • “Please do not mistake what you are proposing here: you are suggesting that the party should spend less money on winning elections and ultimately win less seats, in order to accomplish this thing.”

    BTW the partys draft budget in spring 2012 suggested we would have considerably more money than the draft budget in 2011.

  • Andrew Suffield 26th May '12 - 2:03am

    You’re making an unspoken assumption that the party’s income and campaigning performance aren’t themselves affected by royally ****ing off the activists.

    Yeah… I don’t really want to comment in depth on party financing, but the activists are a consistently reluctant source of funding. This isn’t something new in the past ten years, they’ve always been a group which seeks to minimise the amount of money they pass to the federal party, while expecting it to spend money on them.

    (The lament of the activist: “I’ve reduced my membership subscription to express my disapproval at how poorly the federal party’s doing at getting the LD message across in the media”)

  • Richard Dean 26th May '12 - 9:19am

    I know I am an unusually ignorant person. But like several others, I have joined the LibDems in part to find out what they are like. I am very puzzled about this accreditation business. I can see there is an issue with trans people, but I should think it could be resolved quite easily by an approproate process. But I do not understand why accreditation should be contrary to liberal principles, or an attack on the party’s identity.

    Being honest about who you are seems to me to be an important liberal value , and especially so if you have a vote. Allowing other people to check who you are seems important to maintain the integrity of the democratic process. As a party of government, we need to develop a proper relationship with the police. In the spirit of community we need to ensure that if things go wrong there is insurance cover available to mitigate some of the consequences.

  • Andrew Suffield 26th May '12 - 12:18pm

    Are you sure this would cost more than all these security checks?

    Yes, the party doesn’t have to pay for those.

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