A brief turn in Brighton

Welsh Assembly member and leading Lib Dem blogger Peter Black
enjoys an all too short visit to Bri

The sunshine that greeted representatives as they arrived in Brighton managed to last into the Sunday morning, but by then the wind had already started to pick up and dark clouds were gathering above our heads. By Monday the wind had died but it was still overcast.

In contrast the mood of Liberal Democrats at this year's Conference is sunny and upbeat. At last we are really putting some meat on the bone with respect to our green policies, our Shadow Home Secretary is taking a principled Liberal Democrat stance on the surveillance society, including the whole state apparatus of ID cards, CCTV and DNA data banks and having settled for Ming as our leader, the vast majority are getting behind him and willing him to succeed.

As a Welsh Assembly member my stay here can be only short. The Assembly is back in session on Tuesday so I must leave the Sussex coast at 8am that day to debate affordable housing in a place where my views can hopefully have an immediate impact.

Most of the debates in the main hall on Sunday and Monday are English-only topics or on matters that I can safely leave to others, so my main focus has been on the fringe meetings and on the Welsh media. I made a point though of attending Ming's question time session, if only because the media will want my comments on the answer to the inevitable question on leadership.

Sunday saw an interview with Radio Wales and BBC Wales about the inevitable leadership issues, but this time the leadership of the Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly group as well. After that it was off to a meeting about the Severn Barrage, the Conference rally with the federal leader himself addressing us, Shelter and the annual Lib Dem blogger awards.

Entitled 'Human rights and civil liberties: home and abroad' the rally was a celebration of the essence of Liberal Democracy. A packed auditorium heard passionate speeches in defence of the right of dissent by Nick Clegg MP, Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty, Philippe Sands QC and Sir Menzies Campbell. If anybody ever questions what the Liberal Democrats are for again they should be made to watch video footage of this event.

Alas I did not win the award for best blog by an elected representative. That honour went instead toCouncillor Mary Reid of Kingston. Liberal Democrat blog of the year went to James Graham's Quaequam blog.

Highlight of the night was the award for most humorous Lib Dem blog, which was won by Liberal Mafia. In time honoured fashion Don Liberali was unable to attend in person but sent an acceptance note instead together with the present of a horses head, not a real one you understand but convincing nevertheless.

Monday saw a session with the Police Federation, held under Chatham House rules. This was an opportunity for both sides to explore issues of mutual concern and for some lobbying to be carried out in respect of our manifesto. The one thing that become evident as we move from fringe meeting to fringe meeting is the respect that various lobby groups have for our spokespeople. We listen and we respond. That does not always happen with Labour and the Tories.

Tuesday morning and I am on my way back to Cardiff. It has been fun. Roll on next year.

Leon Neal/ Getty
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“Brexit is based on racism”: Who is protesting outside the Supreme Court and what are they fighting for?

Movement for Justice is challenging the racist potential of Brexit, as the government appeals the High Court's Article 50 decision.

Protestors from the campaign group Movement for Justice are demonstrating outside the Supreme Court for the second day running. They are against the government triggering Article 50 without asking MPs, and are protesting against the Brexit vote in general. They plan to remain outside the Supreme Court for the duration of the case, as the government appeals the recent High Court ruling in favour of Parliament.

Their banners call to "STOP the scapgoating of immigrants", to "Build the movement against austerity & FOR equality", and to "Stop Brexit Fight Racism".

The group led Saturday’s march at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre, where a crowd of over 2,000 people stood against the government’s immigration policy, and the management of the centre, which has long been under fire for claims of abuse against detainees.  

Movement for Justice, and its 50 campaigners, were in the company yesterday of people from all walks of pro and anti-Brexit life, including the hangers-on from former Ukip leader Nigel Farage’s postponed march on the Supreme Court.

Antonia Bright, one of the campaign’s lead figures, says: “It is in the interests of our fight for freedom of movement that the Supreme Court blocks May’s attempt to rush through an anti-immigrant deal.”

This sentiment is echoed by campaigners on both sides of the referendum, many of whom believe that Parliament should be involved.

Alongside refuting the royal prerogative, the group criticises the Brexit vote in general. Bright says:

“The bottom line is that Brexit represents an anti-immigrant movement. It is based on racism, so regardless of how people intended their vote, it will still be a decision that is an attack on immigration.”

A crucial concern for the group is that the terms of the agreement will set a precedent for anti-immigrant policies that will heighten aggression against ethnic communities.

This concern isn’t entirely unfounded. The National Police Chief’s Council recorded a 58 per cent spike in hate crimes in the week following the referendum. Over the course of the month, this averaged as a 41 per cent increase, compared with the same time the following year.

The subtext of Bright's statement is not only a dissatisfaction with the result of the EU referendum, but the process of the vote itself. It voices a concern heard many times since the vote that a referendum is far too simple a process for a desicion of such momentous consequences. She also draws on the gaping hole between people's voting intentions and the policy that is implemented.

This is particularly troubling when the competitive nature of multilateral bargaining allows the government to keep its cards close to its chest on critical issues such as freedom of movement and trade agreements. Bright insists that this, “is not a democratic process at all”.

“We want to positively say that there does need to be scrutiny and transparency, and an opening up of this question, not just a rushing through on the royal prerogative,” she adds. “There needs to be transparency in everything that is being negotiated and discussed in the public realm.”

For campaigners, the use of royal prerogative is a sinister symbol of the government deciding whatever it likes, without consulting Parliament or voters, during the future Brexit negotiations. A ruling in the Supreme Court in favour of a parliamentary vote would present a small but important reassurance against these fears.