Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Cost of Policing Party Conferences

Tory Police Spokesman David Ruffley has unearthed figures which show the Labour conference costing more than £2 million more to police than the Tory Conference. The figures are £6.5 million and £4.5 million respectively. He wants to know why.

I'm less interested in the disparity, than the fact that the taxpayer is picking up a bill of more than eleven million spondoolicks for policing these exercises in political nosegazing. I have long been sceptical about the future of set-piece four day party conferences, and these figures make me think we should perhaps call time on conferences in the current format.

Ruffley also points out that the cost of policing Labour's Manchester conference has risen by 63% in two years. It would be interesting to know why.


Anonymous said...

Football clubs have to pay for policing at match days. I can see no reason why the tax payer should pay for the policing of any political party bash.

Also, I would love to detail of the costings to learn how they can spend so much dosh

Anonymous said...

It will be because more security is required to ensure the safety of government ministers than oposition politics

Anonymous said...

True, but if you think democracy is expensive, try the alternative...

Gareth said...

We nearly had a childrens' May Day garland parade canceled in Lewes this year - because the police couldn't afford to police it!

If football clubs have to pay for policing, why not political parties?

The vast majority of the population couldn't care less about party political conferences. Including me.

labourparty said...

///Tory Police Spokesman David Ruffley has unearthed figures...//

Unearthed eh? You mean he read reports of the same published over a week ago? "Tory Police Spokesperson discovers Internet" would be more apt.

I realise it's a slow news day, but please.

Anonymous said...

I know all the bloggers think that the future is virtual, but just like any other "gathering" there is a whole different dynamic to physically gathering as opposed to passively gathering - the chance meetings, the buzz of an "event" cannot be simulated on a PC. Compare & contrast with staying at home to watch Sky Sports or being in the crowd, watching the God Channel or being in the congregation, reading blogs as or going to a debate.

The decreasing numbers of "gatherings" is just symptomatic of our general move away from community and social interaction towards greater self-centredness & loneliness.

Though - admittedly - sometimes it's also because the view & the company is crap when you're actually there!

Anonymous said...

Among the smaller parties conferences are still the forum for setting party policy. It is where the ordinary members get a chance to speak and vote on policies. The big three have become too scared of their membership speaking freely to have that type of conference. Back in the 80s the Labour conference was excellent television! I have attended the SNP conference on many occasions and the conference is'policed' by stewards and private security paid for - I believe - by the party.

Anonymous said...

I think that the bomb at the Brighton conference in 1984 might possibly be a factor.

The government party is always likely to be a bigger target for terrorists than the opposition.

Perhaps you should dig out the equivalent costs for policing the Conservative and Labour party conferences in 1985.

Anonymous said...

It is entirly a political event, and as such the parties should pay all costs. I enjoy a good piss up as much as the next person, but I don't think the taxpayer should carry any part of the cost.

Anonymous said...

All costs associated with these private love ins should be the responsibility of the organizing party, including protection\security for ministers.

Anonymous said...

As geoff said - isn't that obvious?

Ted Foan said...

"Nosegazing"? Are they looking for bogeys?

Anonymous said...

Nowadays a labour conference attracts protestors who want to get at the PM & ministerial colleagues on such topics as: Iraq, palestine/israel, pensioner groups, fathers4justice, countryside alliance, road hauliers.... etc etc!!
Its about 4 days of protesting outside the venue and possibly outside the main hotel base of the delegates. I dont think its anything sinister... whichever party is in government will surely always post higher policing costs?

J said...

You can't haul Holocaust survivors from the conference floor without paying for it!

Anonymous said...

This is outrageous. Let them go hire a hall for a day and be done with it.

Lola said...

Party conferences are a Good Thing. They are a sort of AGM of a club or society. To a degree the State should pay towards policing the party of Government as it is subject to very real threats from all sorts of loonies (including me!?). Similarly the Opposition parties could attract some attention.

However, it has all got out of hand. Principally because the current government just loves spending other peoples money. It thinks it has a right to the wealth of everyone else as it thinks it knows how to spend it best. And the reason for this is that since the abondonment of cl4.4 (nationalisation) all these proto totalitarian 'socialists' can do is to tax and spend. Hence eye watering policing budgets. They are culturally unable to resist it. They find it attractive to be at the centre of this power and money spending jamboree. It's not attractive to try to not spend money, especially if being profligate with it will not drive you personally into penury.

Anonymous said...

This is just the tip of the iceberg. What I would like to know is the total cost of "protecting" politicians from the people they purport to represent. In central London about the only place you see any significant numbers of police on the streets is around Parliament Square. I suspect that most of the growth in resources for the Metropolitan Police over the last 10 years has been absorbed by increased "security" for politicians and government leaving nothing for the protection of the public from their increasingly oppressive laws. Time to take their blanket away and let them feel the anger that they generate in their subjects.

Anonymous said...

As the lib/lab/con sects become ever more hated by everyone else the more they take to spending public money on themselves.

Shaun said...

Presumably they need the extra police to enforce Terrorism legislation against holocaust-surviving pensioners who dare to murmur dissent from one of the conference 'chap seats'. Like in Brighton...

Unsworth said...

I'd be more interested in seeing some sort of definitive description of what 'policing' actually is.

Anonymous said...

This is what happens when you give the police a blank cgeque book.

I wouldn't be surprised if they hid capital expenditure that would have been needed by the force anyway in the conference security bill.

Security is like the NHS, no matter how much money you throw at it you can always throw even more.

Why are the police providing security anyway? I thought we had security services? Let the politicians hire their own private bouncers.

Iain Dale said...

Toby 12.22. He got the figures in a written parliamentary question.

Chris Whiteside said...

Iain, I did a double take when I read this from you, because back in 1984 in one of our earliest conversations you were the person who first told me that the Brighton Bomb had gone off at Conservative Party confernce, nearly killing half the then cabinet.

Why is it morally right that football clubs should pay for the cost of policing their activity and the taxpayer should pay for the cost of protecting party conferences?

Easy. Because, I'm afraid, the threat to public order at football matches is generated by a minority of the football "supporters" themselves - I accept not all of them - while the main threat at party conferences comes from terrorists and other external enemies who, if given the chance, would strike at politicians as a means of striking at democracy and/or at our society as a whole.

A good rule of thumb: if you need policing to ensure that the people attending an event don't get out of control, the organisers should pay, if you need it to protect them against an external threat (which would include both political meetings, though not necessarily marches or demos, and Toque's children's parade), the taxpayer should pay.

Judging from some of the earlier posts here, those who have gone beyond healthy scepticism about politics to despising all politicians may have difficulty accepting this, but if you want a functioning democracy then both government and opposition political activity has to be protected or you can ultimately end up with the sort of thing which has been going on in Zimbabwe. Including a collapsing economy and 1,000,000%+ inflation.

Of course, no government expenditure should be above scrutiny, and if all you are saying is that the costs seem high and should be checked, I would agree with you.

Anonymous said...

The difference between footbal matches and political conferences may be subtle but its important.

At football matches, the trouble is caused by the spectators, ie those taking part.

At political conferences, trouble comes from those who have not paid for a ticket.

Forcing Political Parties to pay for the policing, would be like expecting Southern Blacks to pay for the luxury of not being lynched.

James Higham said...

set-piece four day party conferences

Always thought they were basically knees ups for the cogniscenti.

myob said...

The Police are there to serve all of the community. Using cost as an excuse is just wrong.

"No you can't protest because it will cost £x for the police to keep an eye on you"

I don't accept or agree with state funding for political parties but this isn't the same thing at all.

Anonymous said...

The question, surely is this, how much do the Political Parties pay towards the cost of policing?

'Togue' talks about a children's MayDay being cancelled because of policing costs..there is a similar story in almost every village and town throughout the land, whereby organisers cannot afford the policing bill ----(that is why football stadiums have their own stewards in preference to police because they are cheaper.)

So, Iain, please do everyone a big public service and ascertain just how much the parties contribute towards the policing costs!
The conferences are called in the name of the parties - NOT the Government nor the Opposition.

DO government pick up the bills for hotels? IF so WHY? etc. etc.

You have unearthed a very big story here methinks!

CC said...

Political conference are one of the few opportunities that grass roots activists have these days to come into contact with MPs, PPCs and CCHQ wonks - remember the vast majority of attendees aren't politicos or London-based "cogniscenti", but activists from across the country.

Its a great opportunity for training and morale boosting for those parts of the Conservative Party who are a very long way from the Westminster Village.

Of course the cost should be met by the taxpayer. Put the question another way - should terrorism stop us having public political meetings in the UK - and the issue become clearer.

Janus said...

I also noticed and wrote about this (I'm on the pulse/I read too much Hansard).

Note from the figures, linked to from my post that Lib Dem conference apparently don't receive a penny of extra Government funding.

In fact Labour received more last year for security at one conference than the Liberal Democrats received in donations, in total!

Roger Thornhill said...

To question the party conference is to question the very concept of a party.

Conferences in various forms are a deep-rooted human need. People need to meet in person, to see their leader in the flesh, to observe the parade of feathers and the general lekking.

A near infinite stream of conscious and subconscious signals and responses are picked up, processed and fed into our reptilian brain.

The leaders need this as much as the troops and all points in between.

Political party, corporation or even industry body - all crave such meetings to feed the subconscious.

Richard Nabavi said...

Chris Whiteside 8.53: "A good rule of thumb: if you need policing to ensure that the people attending an event don't get out of control, the organisers should pay, if you need it to protect them against an external threat ... the taxpayer should pay."

Spot-on. We need vigorously to resist the idea that the victims or potential victims of crime should pay for policing. Anyone going about their lawful business peacably and responsibly should be entitled to appropriate levels of protection. That goes for companies at risk from animal-rights terrorists, individuals targeted by gangs, and, yes, sadly, politicians potentially at risk from nutters or terrorists. In a society where we (quite rightly) delegate our protection to the police rather than being armed and doing it ourselves, we should not be punished or deterred from having meetings or conferences or community events because of policing costs.

Whether the policing is carried out well, cost-effectively, and fairly is another matter, of course.

Newmania said...


Is this a word ?

Johnny Norfolk said...

I am sure a permanent venue could be found at much less cost than this. But they never consider the cost of what they spend only what we do. It all part of the gravy train. Something has to give.

Anonymous said...

re chris whiteside's post
1 we have a collapsing economy -alright inflation not yet at zimbabwean levels but watch this space
2 functioning democracy when government rats on promise of referendum - and the opposition sit on their hands
3 punish the poor (10p tax anyone?) but the taxpayer to pick up the tab for party conference security and pay to maintain mp access to subsidised troughing and swilling at westminster.

Anonymous said...

Must be a news free morning.
Skip @ July 23, 2008 12:55 AM has it quite right.

In a couple of years time if in Govt. will you be questioning the security costs of tory conferences?

Btw. Who pays (and for how many years) for the protection of ex Prime Ministers?

neil craig said...

I absolutely disagree with you here Iain. A major problem with western politics is the hollowing out of parties because individuals, correctly, believe one can have little influence on the process through party membership.

Conferences, though their power is much diminished & the Tories are notorious for never embarrassing their leadership, are still as close to internal democracy as parties get. To get rid of them, nominally because of the threat of terrorism, would be unconscionable.

The cost is miniscule compared to the billions wasted on so many other things & a small price to pay for a semblance of democracy. It is also right that the security costs of the governing party will be higher than the opposition because that is who will be the primary target.

Anonymous said...

Chris Whiteside gives the most sensible response. Quite a lot of other people need to grow up a bit. This is a complete non-story and the Conservatives should be careful about turning things like this into an issue. If, as I am sure many contributors here (and of course the author of the blog himself) wish, they form the next government, what will the figures look like then? Possibly the other way around?

Anonymous said...

No one is forcing them to have a "political" conference. They should pay for their own event policing costs just like every other major event has to. Obviously the security services should be free to advise them on security measures and threats. 'High risk' ministers would still get their free personal protection.

Anonymous said...

Try cutting the police, then some nutter taking a pot shot at Brown. Then try winning an election in the aftermath against a sympathy vote. Cheap at the price.

Having written that, when I heard last night of the protestor who tried to glue himself to Brown with a handshake - I immediately thought of series three [I think] of '24' when a poison handshake was used on a US president.

Anonymous said...

And the anticipated attendance figure for B'ham is what exactly?
Nice bit of spin!

Anonymous said...

£6.5m to police a 4 day Labour party conference! someone is having a larrrf.
Is it possible to get a breakdown of these costs?
What hourly rate are the rozzers charged out at, something significantly above actual cost I would suggest.
They must be feeding the sniffer dogs fillet steak.

Ignoring the fixed / sunk / marginal cost arguments, assuming 200 coppers, worked 24 hours a day for say 7 days (allowing for pre conference search and venue security) =33,600 hours
Cost £6.5m = £193.45 per hour

What is the average rate of pay for yer typical plod?

AloneMan said...

On no account should we abandon political conferences just because the terrorists have made them "too expensive" to police. Do that and they've won. Freedom of speech and political assembly at any prioce for me.

Anonymous said...

Who pays (and for how many years) for the protection of ex Prime Ministers?

They all continue to have police protection, paid for by the state.

MI5 assess the needs of the individual. Thatcher has had the strongest protection. Callaghan had the least.

Heath had a police bodyguard right up to the time of his death.

Anonymous said...

At the Tory party conf in Bournemouth a couple of years ago I was the only one walking on the esplanade, in the rain, after a while I sheltered in an empty kiosk. A hundred yards further up I saw a policewoman step out of an amusement archade speak into her sleeve and duck back inside. Immediately a huge helicopter lumbered off the top of the cliff and clattered down to my level, standing off about 40 feet from the kiosk. I realised that I was being scrutinised, so with nothing to hide, I stepped out into the rain and showed my empty hands. I got a cheery wave and the chopper then clambered back up to its perch next to the conference hall.

That will have cost the rozzers a few quid. But at least they didn't get wet.

Chris Paul said...

Good to see that Walter has been promoted to Holocaust survivor. Born in germany he reached London in 1937 and his parents soon followed. Also worth noting that Walt was removed by stewards not by police.

The cost of policing these things is a little difficult to pin down is it not. It's accountancy and the same kind of recharge or allocation would have to made to something else if not to these conferences.

By definition the party of government has more MPs. And the reported 60% hike from 06 to 08 may well be related to accountancy rather than a real increase in fortification.

Anonymous said...

Chris Whiteside said...

"those who have gone beyond healthy scepticism about politics to despising all politicians may have difficulty accepting this, but if you want a functioning democracy"

The UK has been hijacked by the lib/lab/cons for their own purposes, mainly self-enrichment. When we get a functioning democracy politicians may not have to be protected from the bulk of taxpayers. When that happens the current snouts-in-the-trough can expect to repay what they have taken.

Now that the self-delighted James Purnell is reintroducing slavery into the UK a whole new area of punishments has become evident. The lib/lab/cons can can look forward to it. I am.

Jo Christie-Smith said...

Iain, to be fair, the Tory & Labour conferences may just be a 'set-piece four day party conference' but we at the Lib Dem use it to make policy!

Plus as one of your previous commenters said the majority of people are party activists and it's part of the democratic process.

As for who should pay...well it depends if you want a democratic process or not...

Anonymous said...

Cost increases are part and parcel of ensuring that, hecklers do not get to say a word and that anyone of a seditious nature gets booted out.
It is sadly, a reflection of the statist and increasingly domineering nature of politics and politicians that they demand an almost hermetic atmosphere to conduct business. Terrified that the public might see what a sad bunch they are; Worried that the public might get to hear about the shabby and seedy deals; and of course Paranoid that we might learn of the spending and expenses and peccadilloes.
If political parties want to have conferences, they either pay for the security themselves or take pot luck, and that incldes the incumbent party. I see no reason for tax-payers and local rate-payers to foot the bill and have their monies abused in this fashion. Add into that, the disruption that these idiots bring to local residents and business with their presence.