Could the riots be the beginning of the end for the Coalition?

Today I was idly wondering whether the way in which the Government responds to last week’s riots could turn out to be pivotal for the Coalition. Possibly the beginning of the end. Why might that be? I was pondering what makes Liberal Democrats distinctive.

If you think about Liberal Democrats on a left-right political axis then the Party’s identity is perhaps rather indistinct. It encompasses a broad range of opinion. It stretches from the left of the Social Liberal Forum, which would appear to share common ground with the remnants of the left wing of the Labour party or the Green party, to Liberal Vision and beyond which occupy parts of the political spectrum where it is hard to tell a Liberal from a Libertarian at twenty paces.

But if you look at the Liberal Democrats on the authoritarian-liberal axis then they are hugely distinctive from the other major parties, which share a strong authoritarian streak (although Labour is perhaps less clear what it thinks on this point than it might appear, as discussed here on Liberal Conspiracy today). The only party that comes close to the Liberal Democrats on questions of human rights and civil liberties is the Green party. The only comparable area of divergence between the Liberal Democrats and the other major parties might be constitutional reform.

This is, I think, why things might start to unravel. Read more of this post

Conference, security and the ‘managers of unease’

The additional security provisions for the Liberal Democrat September conference in Birmingham have attracted considerable high profile comment in the Lib Dem blogosphere. Bloggers including Caron’s Musings, Aunty Sarah and Mark Thompson have registered significant and fundamental concerns. A explanatory post by Andrew Wiseman at Lib Dem Voice, in response to a strongly critical post by Dave Page, has generated substantial comment.

The concerns are several. Three stand out. First, it appears – though it is not entirely clear – that it will be the Police who accredit those who are able to attend Conference. The criteria against which potential delegates will be assessed are not clear. Nor is the basis upon which someone might be rejected. There appears no right of appeal. So not only will the Police stand in judgement over who is able to participate in a lawful democratic assembly, but the process will be utterly non-transparent. Second, the additional data submitted for accreditation can be stored by the Police indefinitely. While that might at first sight appear to contravene the Data Protection Act, there are widespread exemptions for the security services. Third, a key reason for accepting the Police and Home Office position that accreditation is necessary is that not to do so would risk rendering the conference uninsurable.

The proposals for accreditation might seem unexceptional to many because they have been in use at Labour and Conservative conferences for years. Critics have seized on this debate as indicating that Liberal Democrats are not a “serious” party. Read more of this post