Monthly Archives: September 2006

Just because you’re paranoid…

Oh dear, the police are getting bored. They’ve started enforcing arbitrary rules on the myriad leafleters delivering outside of the Labour Conference secure zone, forcing them to stand behind invisible lines that, remarkably didn’t exist yesterday.

Of more concern, I’ve just watched half a dozen police officers spend half an hour filming an anti-vivisectionist handing out flyers. The lad didn’t exactly look very dangerous (his 60-something female colleague on the other hand seemed somewhat unhinged), and the flyers they were handing out were relatively innocuous (questioning the validity of vivisection but not using the usual emotive photos of bleeding monkeys, etc). With animal rights activists taking ever more extreme action, I can understand why the police may have wanted to photograph any activists they come across, but why film him for half an hour? And why does it take 6 PCs to do the job?

When you see this sort of just-plain-weird police activity, it gives you a jolt because it makes you realise quite how arbitrary police powers have become in this country. And of course, those powers were introduced by the very people inside the conference secure zone.

Personally, I’m very suspicious of the need for a secure zone altogether. The whole thing is paid for by the taxpayer, which on one level is fair enough. But of course, Labour can charge higher room booking fees for organisations inside the zone. In short, regardless of the actual security implications, they are making a packet out of creating a ring of steel around their conference, inconveniencing locals and ensuring that a large number of conference goers only get exposed to the lobbying organisations with larger paychecks.

Funny how, even after the Brighton bombing in 1984, it was a decade and a half before such security was deemed neccesary.

Communicating and Campaigning

Readers of Liberator will be aware that I’ve been having a disagreement with Chris Rennard about internal party democracy in that magazine’s pages over the last two issues. But there is one thing that the two of us do agree on, albeit possibly for different reasons: the English, Welsh and Scottish State Parties’ proposal for defining the party’s Campaigns and Communications Committee in the constitution was a terrible idea.

Far from Lembit’s claims that this was all about democratising the system, what they were proposing was a system of indirect election. At the same time it was clear from the speeches that the movers wanted this new committee to set campaign strategy, a power currently formally in the hands of the FE.

There is a problem in the way the CCC is set up, but it is in the gift of the FE to take back those powers and reassert its authority. Creating another tier would simply confuse things intolerably. The reality is it had nothing to do with democratising the process and everything to do with the State Parties wanting us to move away from a Federal system to a Multilateral system. That is understandable from their point of view, but let’s not fool ourselves that it would put the system closer to the membership.

James Gurling was all too correct when he said that if this committee were to be established a new, secret sub-committee would emerge and take on the bulk of the decision-making powers. In fact, we’ve already seen what happens when the “wrong” people are elected onto the CCC. In 2003, the committee didn’t meet for nine months, coincidently during a time when a known “troublemaker” was elected onto the committee.

The party used to have much more open debates on strategy. To be fair, the Meeting the Challenge process was at least partially concerned with this and was certainly an open process, but it is a long way since the No Glass Ceilings debate in 1998. Such open processes are desirable because they mean that good ideas have a chance of making it onto the table regardless of who they come from.

The FE doesn’t need a new bit in the constitution for that sort of thing to happen; it simply needs to WANT it to happen. My advice to conference reps who want such a process is to look very carefully at who they vote for in next month’s Federal Executive elections.