It was day two of the 2019 Conservative Party Conference. My colleague and I made the four-hour trip from London to Manchester to attend the long-awaited Tory Conference.
Except … there was one rather unexpected hiccup. At 8 p.m., my Saturday evening was interrupted by a peculiar email from the Conservatives’ Conference Team, telling me that my application for media accreditation has not been granted (view below). No reason was provided. Naturally, we decided to give them the benefit of the doubt — perhaps they made a mistake or maybe my application got lost? Mistakes happen all the time. So, we embarked on our trip to Manchester with a positive mindset that everything will be sorted.
For clarification, even before I received the email on Saturday, I knew I needed to pick my pass in person, which I initially found strange, considering that my British colleague received his pass in the post. Once again, no reason provided, but at least I was informed about this more than a month in advance. And to be truly transparent, I had to go through the same procedure at the Labour Conference in Brighton just a week prior. In Brighton, the security officer explained to me why I had to go through the checks — as a non-British citizen with an EU member state passport my details were simply not in the system. I was also told that having passed the security check at the Labour Conference, all I need to do in Manchester is simply pick up my media pass in person, and not go through the extra security.
At the accreditation centre, the administrator informed us that my pass has been cancelled, which is also my official status at the Conservative Party’s portal (picture below). I was then referred to the administrator’s superior, who made a phone call. They handed me a contact number, and on the other end of the line I was told to send an email to their press team and that’s that. A day later I still have no response, nor any explanation as to why my pass was cancelled.
Given everything that’s happened, I’m sure by now you can understand my frustration and confusion. Initially, I didn’t know how to react — having passed the security check already, clearly, there is nothing on my record that can be considered a ‘security threat’. Claims that we are a small organisation and that for this reason we are only allowed one media pass also don’t fit the scenario. Both my colleague and I had no problems the week before, nor had Shout Out UK experienced a similar issue in 2017 and 2018 when two representatives of our organisation attended both the Labour and Conservative conferences.
So what’s left? You guessed it — being a non-British citizen from an EU member state, trying to enter a ‘Get Brexit Done’ conference.
So what happened next?
When something like this happens, I am a firm believer that all of us need to know about it. So, we turned to social media. This alone helped me learn plenty about the current political environment in the UK, my host country’s attitude towards foreigners, and how fake news and disinformation spread at lightning speed. Here’s what I ‘learned’ about myself in the space of a few short hours:
- I am ‘hiding’ something about my personal life.
- I have to go back to my own country.
- I am a pro-EU activist.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, first of all, these claims were labelled as ‘facts’, even though the people mentioning them had no proof. And yet, the certainty with which they stated their arguments and explanations of the situation, despite not being there, was inviolable. Any attempts to paint an alternative — uncomfortable and more dangerous, yet more truthful — picture of reality, were automatically deemed as ‘fake news’ and hence, utterly discredited. Remind you of anyone?
Some might say this is freedom of speech. But are we truly justified in relying on this respectable argument given the current case? And most importantly, do we really know what reality is anymore if we surround ourselves by bubbles of the same homogenous views and information, completely disregarding other viewpoints? I think not. I think we have to do more to help the modern, ‘digital’ citizen recognise facts from fiction, before they begin forming opinions on issues they are passionate about!
Furthermore, we are undeniably slowly becoming desensitised to far-right, anti-immigration speech or visuals, rooted in a warped reality. We hear it every day from influential politicians, who utilise such narratives to mobilise a massive wave of support for their policies, regardless of what the empirical evidence points to. Remember Nigel Farage’s ‘Breaking Point’ poster? And need I remind you of Boris Johnson’s recent ‘surrender’ war-time-style language?
Bold statements like these disregard the full picture and instead set a new precedent — that it is normal to be exclusionary and to discriminate without having all the facts in front of you.
We should never forget that these political figures also serve as our role models; that people listen to them and become emboldened by them — making them predisposed towards imitating their views without doing the research for themselves. This is a lesson that applies to all, regardless of their political affiliations.
Amidst all the confusion, I am certain about one thing. Yesterday I was prevented from doing my job. I was stopped from informing myself and the larger public about the governing party’s future policy plans and stance. But most importantly, for the first time ever, I truly grasped the significance of media literacy, the power of words and the necessity to think critically. Because without this, we are truly lost in a storm of misinformation and anger.