'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Observations on last night's conference call with the great and the good.

As others have blogged - good pieces from Zoe O'Connell here , Miss S-B here, the always brilliant Lord Bonkers here, just for starters - there was a heated conference call last night between SpAds and Policy advisors from Great George Street and many of the active Lib Dem blogosphere. For what's its worth, here are a few observations. (These are my take outs from the call, didn't have time to write everything down, too much shouting going on...)

1. I appreciate the time everyone took to do this call (and of course hats off to Helen Duffett for organising it).

2. The call started badly. The general view of the SpAds seemed to be - as is so often the case - that we simply don't understand. Position 1 was that the press reports are wrong, there are simply no agreed proposals to discuss. When it was pointed out that the Home Secretary had written a piece in The Sun that morning telling everyone how much the new powers were needed, this was abandoned.

3. Next we were told that there will be no new central database. As was again pointed out, this is disingenuous - with ISPs required to hold data for up to two years, there will be a multitude of non centralised data bases. It's also a Red Herring - it's any increase of powers in this area at all that we object to.

4. Next we were told Nick - 48 hours after the event - had been in the media that day telling people he was firmly against these plans. Despite the fact that we were all looking at the transcript from his World at One interview in which he most certainly did not say that at all. These being the plans we'd been told earlier didn't actually exist.

5.There was a clear desire from the SpAds to persuade us that this was a messaging problem - lots of mea culpas and 'with the benefit of hindsights'. Undoubtedly, there has been a messaging problem - Nick should have been on the airwaves first thing Sunday Morning saying 'over my dead body'. But the real problem is that the party really didn't seem to get that its not how the message is conveyed that is the problem - we, as a party, do not want these powers extended. Full stop. That's not messaging. It's philosophy.

6. At one point one SpAd asked the 'rhetorical question' of the group 'are you saying there's no way in which we should be extending the current powers to cover other forms of technology'. He seemed genuinely non plussed when he got a chorus of 'yes' comments. Not so rhetorical after all...

7.  Finally, no one on the call seemed to understand that the party is expecting the coalition agreement to deliver powers like these being reduced - actively. We would like legislation put forward in the Queens Speech, agreeing how this can be rolled back. We don't want an 'extension of the status quo'. We want action to reverse the status quo.

I asked for Nick to unequivocally state that he backs every word of the motion passed at Conference on this area just three weeks ago. I was told this was being looked at. I am actively looking out for it.

I think the SpAds on the call were expecting a bunch of mildly miffed but dedicated Lib Dems to politely ask for clarification of the plans. I hope the fact that they got two dozen well informed, totally irate party members demanding action right now has clarified how the party feels about all this.

And I hope that message has been delivered to Nick.


  1. How did you get on this conference call? *Jealous*

  2. Who the hell picked these "SpUds" in the first place??? No-wonder the leadership and the parliamentary party seem so out of touch if these is the quality of the advice they are getting!!!

  3. There are a multitude of party email lists, which you can get put on for various reasons - if you are an expert in a particular area, for example, or if you have an interest in policy in a particular area. There are (as far as I am aware) at least five different bloggers' email lists, each with different populations, and then there's the tech email list, and the civil liberties ones, and many many more. My local party has three that are just for local issues. Basically, any Lib Dem with an interest in a particular area can set up a party email list. Sometimes you can apply to join a particular list, sometimes you get invites, but mostly, most people don't even know the list system exists, let alone what lists are on it.

    The invite for the conference call came out on ONE of the lists; I think it was one of the bloggers' ones, but I couldn't swear to it. It was basically one very hard-working Lib Dem with contacts who set up the call and then sent the invite out to a list that was known to have a, active and b, trusted people on it.

    tl;dr version: how do you get in on one of these conference calls? Luck.

  4. For me the fact that all the advisors at this level didn't instinctively understand that the policy is completely wrong is as a big a worry as the policy itself.

  5. Excellent summary and positive that the policy team have even bothered to find out what's going on in sections of the blogosphere.

    From my perspective as someone loosely involved in this arena CCDP is symptomatic of the government/Home Office cyber strategy. It used to be the case that secrecy and intelligence-lead security were inseparable. This is now not the case with cyber security. The Home Office must stop conflating secrecy with security or else we'll only ever be as strong as our secrets and turn our backs on the massve resource of computer talent out there.

    I've already briefed those who'll listen on our policy of privacy as an enabler to cyber security and the need for open honest dialogue to strengthen trust. Trust of a people in its government is even more valuable than the ability to listen in on every single bit of electronic communication. Our strength is our autonomy - if we are all trusting and motivated to act in the interests of our own security it's far better than a weak slew of half-baked schemes emerging periodically from the home office bunker.

    Keep your eyes peeled for a high profie security-focussed event on CCDP in central london in a couple of weeks, if all goes to plan.

    More at blog.opendigital.org