Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Conference Accreditation - My Response

As I start typing this it's around 45 minutes since I saw a tweet by @caronmlindsay that alerted me to the decision of the Federal Conference Committee (FCC) to pursue a policy of accreditation for this year's autumn conference. Well, I say the Federal Conference Committee but it transpires that they passed the decision on to the Federal Finance and Administration Committee (FFAC), which itself is a sub-committee of the Federal Executive (FE).

The result: the FFAC voted in favour of accreditation with one dissenting voice; step forward Ms Caron Lindsay

My first second public reaction was this tweet: 

I haven't been able to leave it at that, though, and so this piece is a direct response to the Lib Dem Voice article co-authored by the chairs of the three committees concerned (Andrew Wiseman, Duncan Greenland and Tim Farron). For background, you can read my previous thoughts here and the original consultation invitation here - I don't intend to rehearse all the arguments against again. Well, not now, anyway... Instead, I wish to make some observations on the article.

The first three paragraphs read well and seem to be a fair summary of the situation. So far so good. If only it had continued in that vein. Sadly, though, not enough thought went into the next paragraph:
However, whilst some of us are willing to risk the possibility of serious harm to ourselves by not following police recommendations to accept accreditation for all conference goers, we accept that we do not have the right to impose this on others who have no choice about attending Conference. This includes the many staff that will be working for the venue, the Conference hotel or for the Party.
Woah There! Quite aside from the fact that the accreditation process comes with very little (i.e. no) evidence it actually makes conference more secure and quite aside from the fact we all take risks every day of our lives, this sentence infers that those against accreditation are happy to play fast and loose with the lives and liberties of others. Rather than acknowledge the principled stand that LIBERAL Democrat party members were taking in resisting this move, the authors (whether intentionally or not) manage to insult those of us who take a contrary view as to the need for this measure.

The next paragraph comments on the financial risks of rejecting Police advice. This is not an area I feel competent to comment on, but you can find comment on it elsewhere. Suffice to say two things: 1) this is mentioned throughout the article but the nature of the risk is neither quantified nor qualified and 2) just as democracy costs, so can principles: sure, the FFAC has specific responsibilities but these aren't divorced from our party constitution and beliefs.

There follows a sentence about the difficult decision the FCC had been faced with in "weighing the opinions of some of our members and Conference against security recommendations, our duty of care, and the practicalities of holding a large, high profile, conference as a party of government." Some? From my viewpoint, the Lib Dem blog- and twitter-spheres were pretty much united in one voice on this. Whilst this may be a self-selecting group of the most vocal amongst us, it is by no means an homogeneous group - so when it speaks with one voice it's probably a fair bet it's speaking for the party at large.

Anyway, it appears that the FCC decided to subcontract the decision to the FFAC, making it (as far as I can tell) a financial rather than a policy decision. As I said above, I don't feel qualified to comment on this area. It may be that, looked at in those terms, the resultant decision was fair enough but hats off (again) to Caron for fighting the Liberal corner.

As many on Twitter, and in the LDV comments section, have observed, the article then proceeds to suggest that accreditation process is unlikely to result in Police recommendations to accredit (m)any people. From memory, I believe two people failed the process last year and one of those decisions was not upheld by the party. In the space of a few paragraphs we go from being told we're risking serious harm to ourselves and those around us to being told that the accreditation process is unlikely to result in accreditation being with-held. Which is it, precisely?

The article ends:
We are aware that this decision will not be an ideal outcome for some of you. It has been very difficult for each of the Committees involved to weigh the opinions of some of our members and Conference against security recommendations, our duty of care, and the practicalities of holding a large, high profile Conference as a party of government. We hope however that this post goes some way to explain the reasons for the decision made.
The first sentence here somewhat understates the case as I've already pointed out. I do, however, accept that this will have been a difficult decision for each of the committees, although I question whether it was appropriate to pass the buck to the FFAC. I'm not convinced, in the end analysis, that the post does go any way to explaining the reasons for the decision made.

Ultimately, this is a disappointing decision made in an unsatisfactory fashion against a backdrop of member (or at least activist) disagreement. All in all, it's an illiberal decision unworthy of a party with our name.


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