Lib Dem rebellion looms over security for party conference
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Monday 29 August 2011
Nick Clegg is facing an embarrassing rebellion by the Liberal Democrats grassroots over stringent security measures brought in for the party's annual conference next month.
The Deputy Prime Minister, who has made civil liberties a priority since the Coalition was formed, has been warned by activists that a security clampdown on his party's biggest event of the year could breach human-rights laws. The Birmingham conference will debate a strongly-worded protest motion ordering Liberal Democrat ministers and MPs to persuade the Home Office and police to rewrite the guidelines on security at party political events.
Several activists have protested that they were asked to provide much more personal information about themselves when they applied for their conference passes. They complained that the data could even allow the police to ban some representatives. A motion backed by more than 40 conference delegates, to be proposed by Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Gilbert, accepts the need for "physical security measures" but says they must not "interfere with the democratic decision-making processes of a political party."
The motion condemns the "system of police accreditation" and urges the party to negotiate security arrangements for future conferences which "protect the privacy of members' personal data and which respect the party's constitution and internal democracy". The conference's decisions are binding on the party's leadership.
Traditionally, the Liberal Democrats' autumn conference has much less of a police presence than those of the two main parties. But the event has been upgraded now that the Liberal Democrats are in Government.
However, the measures introduced for next month's event have infuriated many Liberal Democrat activists, who claim they undermine the party's long-standing commitment to civil liberties. Some members will wear T-shirts depicting the party's yellow "bird of freedom" symbol behind bars with the slogan: "Your papers please."
Andrew Wiseman, who chairs the Liberal Democrats' conference committee, said the party was responsible for decisions on security. He insisted that it would have been "irresponsible" to ignore police advice about protecting people's lives and could have invalidated the party's insurance for the annual gathering.
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