Tag Archives: conferences

Policing Party Conferences

One final thing I have to say about the party conferences this year, and this is not a partisan point, is the state of policing at the various party conferences this year.

At the Lib Dem conference, as usual, the police were almost non-existent. No great surprise there as the party is simply not a target. Indeed, even the Brighton & Hove Albion FC fans didn’t bother to show up this year and shout rude things about David Bellotti.

In Bournemouth, the police surrounding Labour conference was a severe case of overkill but, as a leafletter, I have few complaints. Yes, they mucked us about a little on the Sunday morning as they dithered over where to allow people to hand out flyers, but all of that was sorted over about 30 minutes. They were friendly and courteous throughout.

Blackpool was a different story however. To start with, they kept away anyone without a conference pass so they couldn’t even flyer. This included the ubiquitous anti-cigarette man who for much of the week was forced to shout at the other side of the street. They kept hassling people for the so-called crime of leaving their bags to one side as they handed out flyers. This was justified on the basis that people could hide dangerous devices amongst it while the owners weren’t looking. But any terrorist worth his or her salt would simply take advantage of the dozens of traffic cones that the police themselves had insisted on scattering everywhere.

The worst day was Tuesday. Overnight, and for no apparent reason, they massively stepped up security around the Winter Gardens. Suddenly, you weren’t allowed within 100 metres of the entrance without a pass. There were mounted police everywhere, despite the fact that there were no demonstrators, no crowds and no expectation of them. People with press passes were suddenly told they were not allowed to use the main entrance and had to round the back.

Myself and a colleague turned up with a big heavy box of materials to hand out only to be told we would have to either carry the box or have it confiscated. In the end, we ended up with a pantomimic routine of holding the materials every time a police officer walked by.

What was worse was that it was clear they were just having a laugh. An officer would come up to me and give me a hard time, walk up the road, have a giggle, and his colleague would come down and do the same again. A lot of the time they couldn’t even keep a straight face. I’m not claiming to be the victim of some major miscarriage of justice, but police harassment is an ugly thing no matter how petty and it was unacceptable.

The last time the Lib Dems were in Blackpool, it was a similar story. They insisted on a number of extravagant security measures which they then told the Home Office were not strictly speaking necessary, therefore leading to the party itself to carry the costs. And then the enforcement was shoddy, to say the least. At the Imperial Hotel, they operated an extremely tight operation at the entrance, but the officers themselves would then leave the fire exits open and unguarded, allowing people to sneak in round the back. It was utterly hopeless.

This was possibly the last time there will ever be a main party conference in Blackpool, at least until they sort out their basic infrastructure (lack of direct trains, the distance between the Winter Gardens and the main hotels, etc). But in case there is one (and unforeseen consequences have a way of forcing parties back – in the case of the Lib Dems in 2005 it was the practicalities of holding a conference at Gateshead just before the Great North Run), they need to get their act together.

Rock the Vote – a Tory front?

Amongst many of the things that was being handed out at Tory conference (including a flyer alleging that Shami Chakrabarti is “worse than Hitler, Himmler and Heydrich”), was a card promoting a new Rock the Vote website.

A US-staple designed to encourage young people to vote, the first UK Rock the Vote emerged in the run up to the 1997 General Election. Leftwing dominated, it barely got off the ground. My recollection was that a promised national tour of major bands ended up consisting mainly of 808 State and the Shamen, both of which were passed their sell-by date by that stage (back when they were good, Radiohead threatened to get involved, but shied off).

This Rock the Vote does not appear to be in any way associated with that campaign, or the Sun effort in 2005. Indeed, it isn’t yet clear who is behind it; the site claims it has been developed by logibase, whose own website’s about us section is “under construction.”

The obligatory accompanying blog is a little more illuminating. On its own about us section, it lists a number of pseudonyms, from “future canny politician” Lord T to Shredder, the “businesswomen from London” who “makes Thacher look a saint.”

The posts on the blog make it entirely clear where they’re coming from: it’s all unremittingly negative about Brown, hagiographic about Cameron (“Super Dave”?). Worryingly in light of the weird things I’ve seen being handed out throughout the week of Tory conference, it links approvingly to a video alleging that Gordon Brown is the very devil and actively working to bring in a new world order; Super Dave is compared favourably to Justin Timberlake.

So, not least of all the fact that it was being promoted at Tory conference but not at the other two, it does appear that at the very least the site is being run by Tories. It is surprising they chose to launch the site last week when it clearly isn’t ready yet. But more to the point, is rehashing a 20 year old idea which wasn’t particularly successful when it was launched in the States and without any visible line up of rock stars and celebs to endorse it, really going to achieve anything? I’m not convinced.

The Conservative Party: a better class of bonkers

It’s the 30th, so it must be the Tory conference in Blackpool and thankfully the final leg of the annual Party Conference Odyssey. Thus far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the relative niceness of our B&B (believe me, I’ve been in much worse in this town) and am slowly getting my lay of the land with regards to the culture. Thus far, it all seems to boil down to hats. You don’t see Lib Dems or Labour wearing fedoras or something that wouldn’t look out of place at Ladies Day at Ascot. Having spent much of this afternoon handing out free magazines, I can also attest that I’ve been dead-eyed by more delegates than either of the other two conferences put together. This is also the first time I’ve come across delegates informing me that they don’t want to be a citizen, “I want to be a subject of the crown!” Fair enough.

Whereas last week I could wander about in relative anonymity, here my blogging and regular appearances on 18 Doughty Street get me recognised everywhere. It was nice to finally meet Peter Cuthbertson last night after all these years, although being mid-fever and encountering a particularly tricky madras meant that I wasn’t exactly at my best. I also understand that Croydonian is about to out me on the basis that I’m wearing a Conservative lanyard.

One thing that is particularly distinctive at Tory conference is the rich seam of loons. That isn’t to say the other parties don’t have them as well; we sure do. But the Tories take this one step further. The Free Society and Forest are having a reception stuffed full of delegates behind me as I type in which they are giving out a CD containing “songs for swinging smokers” – even DELGA has struggled to make free love a mainstream issue in the way that seems to be taken for granted here (the reception certainly isn’t about smoking as I’ve just seen a couple of people get ejected for the temerity of lighting up).

And then there is the UK Column (incorporating the Plymouth and Devonport Column), a newspaper which has been handed out all day today. For more information about where they are coming from, see the accompanying website eutruth.org.uk and this YouTube video with their editor David Noakes. I hasten to add that this newspaper is in no way affiliated with the Conservative Party, but it was clearly decided that the Lib Dem and Labour conferences would be much less fertile ground.

This paper is fantastic, bonkers stuff on the extreme end of the Euro-nihilist fringe. Pretty much everyone is listed as EU collaborators involved in a grand conspiracy to foist an EU Police State on the British people, including Cameron, John Redwood, Francis “pornographer” Maude (I bet he’s a smokin’ swinger!), UKIP and Thames Valley Police. As for the mainstream parties:

“The ruling EU marxist cliques in the Labour, Lib-Dem and Conservative parties are heavily into sexual practices which most of us would not regard as normal, with a significant amount of paedophilia amongst them, both nationally and locally.”

The Grand Conspiracy has apparently been orchestrated behind the scenes by the Bilderburg Group, German Intellegence, Freemasons, the Legal Profession and the sinister sounding Common Purpose. They have surprisingly accurate seeming percentages for how much each organisation is dominated by The Conspiracy. We therefore are to understand, for example that the Lib Dems and Labour are 60% dominated (some hope for us then) while the Tories are overwhelmed by a 75% dominance of conspirators. Surprisingly, 4% of the Bilderberg Group, we are to understand, are not in on the conspiracy. How Jewish Bankers, the Catholic Church and Zeta Reticulans fit in in all this is sadly left unexplained.

One thing that might confuse the casual reader of this august organ is that despite being called the UK Column, they have what appears to be a flag of St George as part of their logo. Surely that is English imperialism of the worst kind? Apparently not.

It is explained that it is in fact the flag of Arviragus (Arthur?), a Cornish Prince who was friends with Joseph of Arimathea and who kicked the Roman’s arses the last time those dirty continentals invaded. So it isn’t English imperialism at all; it’s Cornish imperialism. So that’s all right then.

And how is this paper funded in the face of such a grand conspiracy? Through local advertising. All well and good, but my humble suggestion to the customers of BDL Denture Clinics, based in Plymouth and Bodmin, is to look very carefully into their credentials. Just a suggestion.

Oh, and there’s a rumour going round that Zac Goldsmith is about to defect to the Lib Dems. I don’t personally believe it for a minute, but then again I don’t really understand what he’s doing here either. And it doesn’t look as if he’s going to be having a very good week.

Labour’s capacity for self-delusion

Back from Labour conference and in a bit of a mess if truth be told. The problem with cheap B&Bs that haven’t been dusted in decades is that they can turn a mild cold into a nasty cough that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I’ve got two days to recover before doing it all again with the Tories in Blackpool. I’m sure the B&Bs there can’t be as chintzy and grotty as the ones in Bournemouth. Er…

Anyway, it’s been an interesting week. Labour conferences – I’ve been to 3 now – are so completely different from Lib Dem ones its hard to know where to begin. Obviously, there is the security, although compared to 2004 where they wouldn’t let you bring fluids into the conference centre and insisted you prove your mobile phone was genuine before letting you through, this one was relatively low key. The beards and sandals combo – largely mythical these days – is replaced by the rather more sartorially challenged baseball cap and crumpled suit. Indeed, everyone who isn’t wearing a trade union approved t-shirt wears suits, making me stand out in my standard attire of jeans and a short sleeved shirt.

The psychology of the two conferences couldn’t be more different either. In Labour, collectivism is all. The mindset, even among relatively sensible people, is that you are either one of us, or you’re the enemy. Back in my student and BYC days I used to encounter this on a regular basis and it would drive me insane; you simply could not reason with these people who would back anyone who was a card carrying member in an instant, no matter how reprehensible they were. Back when I was a student, the Labour membership card was a passport which guaranteed you votes at NUS conference even if you publically denounced Labour and claimed to be an independent. On the other side of the coin, former IDS adviser Quentin Davies can rely on the party faithful to give him a standing ovation.

Labour is quite unapologetic about this mindset. Indeed, Brown’s emphasis on shared values and national identity seems to be a calculated attempt to sell collectivism to the wider public. Around the conference centre there were posters everywhere emphasising the “strength” to make Britain better.

At the Fabian / Centre For Um fringe, both Angela Eagle and Michael Wills readily cited it as the crucial difference between the Lib Dems and Labour and parodied the Lib Dems for flirting with libertarianism. I suspect that my friend Tristan Mills would have responded by saying “if only”.

The simple fact is, collectivism is in many ways a strength of the Labour party. It is what has made them electable over the past decade, and what has made the Conservatives so woefully unelectable. It is this key difference more than anything else which currently appears to be guaranteeing Gordon Brown a win whenever he chooses to call the next election.

And I should also point out that with a few exceptions, I don’t see many Lib Dems who are opposed to collective action per se, so long as it is ultimately centred on the interests of individuals. But I struggled to find any Labour delegates at this conference who placed any emphasis on the individual at all. The bitter irony is that I doubt any of them believe it. Why else have people been leaving in droves? Why else do super-unions such as Unite campaign so hard to defend the interests of the relatively few Remploy workers?

Fundamentally, I don’t believe that the Labour Party believes its own hype about unity through strength. It knows where that leads. But the inability of its members to talk about collectivism as anything other than an unalloyed good does cause me deep concern. We have seen how this attitude causes them to struggle to criticise their superiors. The fact that Tony Blair remained in power – purely because of the lack of enthusiasm for Parliamentarians and members to conduct a coup – ought to worry us. I can imagine far worse people than Tony Blair finding themselves at the top of a political party; if they rose to power in Labour would we see little more than the determined foot-shuffling we’ve witnessed over the past four years? For the good of the country we must hope that Labour reconciles itself with liberalism again before too long.

Back to the Fabian / Centre For Um joint fringe, much of this debate was taken up with allegations about “dirty tricks”. Most of the attacks came from a contingent from the Colchester CLP. Now, I don’t doubt those delegates’ sincerity, nor am I naive enough to believe that no Lib Dem has ever indulged in dirty campaigning, but it is rather ironic that almost a year ago to the day, a Lib Dem councillor in Colchester was outed in a national newspaper.

I was pleased that Vince Cable and David Laws did a grand job at defending the party’s record under pressure, not resorting to crowd pleasing tactics by condemning alleged activities that they knew nothing about. Yet Michael Wills was keen to continue twisting the knife, making the “no smoke without fire” smear that because Labour and Tory MPs agree that Lib Dems are the dirtiest campaigners, it must be true.

To make such a statement, without providing one scintilla of evidence, is to indulge in the very same groupthink that Miranda Grell manipulated in Waltham Forest last year. He ought to know better. The Lib Dems threaten an order that both Labour and the Tories have an interest in defending, and it is extraordinary how they can be blind to both their own faults and each others. The recent by-elections showed both parties at their worst, yet that gets forgotten. Tom Watson‘s reliance on the rent-a-mob got him promoted. The Tories’ attempts to portray Mark Hunter as a rapist in the Cheadle by-election even gave ConservativeHome pause for thought, but it was quickly forgotten. I could go on, but Rob Blackie has already done much of the work for me.

When senior MPs make such allegations in public, it is unfortunate politicking. When they do it in the relative privacy of an audience of mainly Labour members (albeit were at least one journalist was present), it smacks of self-delusion. No-one is pretending that the Lib Dems are perfect, but when Labour have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar so many times, it is time to stop being so precious.

Overall, my advice to Labour friends is to be careful. Don’t believe your own hype. This week I saw an awful lot of that. The biggest problem with Labour is not that it’s evil but that it still believes it is whiter than white. With the scapegoat Blair now safely dispatched to the middle east, that delusion will only continue. A party that believes that is capable of anything, which is how it ended up invading Iraq, doling out peerages to people it was indebted to and marginalising human rights in the first place.