Having joined the Green Party in October at the start of the ‘GreenSurge’ (more than just a really successful hashtag – says Natalie), and getting very active in my local party, I had been eagerly awaiting this years spring conference. This would be my first political conference of any kind, and I was pretty excited. I was not disappointed.
The feeling of being a part of something on the verge of something big (ish) started from Temple Meads station. I got the first available cheaper offpeak ticket. In a nice illustration of how economic determinants effect human behavior it seemed almost every Green in the South West did the same and our carriage was absolutely packed with Greens. It was quite surreal.
The context of the oft repeated booming membership combined with the highest polling ratings in 20 years (and the slow but steady accumulation of MEPs and councillors over the parliament); ensured the largest ever Green Party Conference met in extremely high spirits. 45% of the attendees where new members (‘GreenSurgers’ as someone suggested) the majority of them energetic and increasingly more radical Young Greens. With every reason to be happy the mood was incredibly cheerful and everywhere people where making friends over lively debates.
We were immersed in a rich program of speeches, fringes, workshops, training and debates. These were long days starting at 9am and continuing till 8pm, with few breaks and late night socials and drinking lasting long into the small hours. For financial reasons I was sleeping on two pillows with a thin felt like blanket over them on the floor of some else’s hotel – not ideal for recuperation – so got very worn out. What struck me most was the feeling of engagement whilst participating in the party’s democratic policy making process.
The Green Party has by far the most democratic structures of any of the major party’s (though it is not without flaws). Any member can submit policies, they’re then prioritised by members, and any member can then come and vote on them. With such a large number of attendees – many of them new and unfamiliar with standing orders and procedure – this can at times become ungainly. But the ability of its members to so fully participate in setting the party’s policy and direction is one of the party’s great strengths. If we want to empower ordinary people within our society we have to start with our political organisations.
Politics being an area of life that engenders such strong emotional responses many of the debates were extremely passionately held. But collective decision making under democratic conditions is consensus building, even if the vote doesn’t go your way. We past some potentially very important policy. The highlights for me include:
– Committing all Green PPCs to reject austerity budgets in any post election government (and to do what they can to remove the Conservatives from power whilst not entering any formal coalitions…). – The commitment to scrap tuition fees and abolish student debt (the chief goals of the student movement as expressed by NCAFC and others). -The adoption of the NHS reinstatement bill to restore public ownership to the NHS -The decision to lift the ban on joint candidates (especially in regards to The National Health Action Party) -The commitment to protect the independent living fund -The commitment to restoring legal aid and severely reducing (or even eliminating) the cost of taking an employer to a tribunal. -The plan to build more ‘rolling stock’ (train carriages) and electrify the railways. -The commitment to public and local cooperative control of energy supply and distribution networks. -The adoption of ‘Progressive Council Tax’ to fight cuts and inequality until a land tax can be introduced. -The Safe Space, Anti-harassment, Child Protection and Trans Rights policies. (Shockingly this was only the first ever time a trans person had been able to speak about trans rights at a UK political conference).
We packed so much in its impossible to mention it all. One particularly interesting development, outside of adopted motions, was the fringe on and establishment of a working group to look into implementing digital democracy (like what Podemos do in Spain) in the party within the next two years. This would allow members to participate in the conference and policy making process digitally from the comfort of their own homes, increasing access and democracy (and greatly reducing the cost – which was almost too much for me).
The sessions on Green Trade unionism and the Trade Union Group’s AGM were particularly encouraging. Despite being in ‘grave yard’ shifts early on Sunday and Monday morning, these were surprisingly well attended. The usual endearing elderly white males (who have been the stalwarts of trade unionism these past few decades) were joined by younger people, women and a generally more diverse range of people. These are the new people we need to get into the union movement if it is to survive and prosper, and be able to play its vital role in protecting our interests in the workplace. We in the Green Party especially need to get fresh blood into our union organisations if we are to further our relations with the unions and convince them to work with us, to our mutual benefit.
Of course all of our leaders (and many members of the floor) delivered fantastic and usually inspiring speeches. My favorite was Amelia Womak's making the case for a politics rooted in social justice and why we ‘will never make the most vulnerable in our society pay for a crisis of Capitalism’. My own MEP Molly Scott-Cato impressed me more than anyone with her masterful expositions of Green economics (will try and do a post on this later) and her demolition of Andrew Neil’s attempt to bully her and distort our policies:
Though I would have perhaps added to Neil that the majority of the money for the 500,000 Social Homes that comes from local council borrowing is paid off by the rent paid by the new tenants. Thus creating a new wave of secure social provision in the housing market at very little cost. This would have been obvious to Molly and Neil, but should have been spelled out for the benefit of viewers
Caroline and Natalie both spoke exceptionally well. You could tell Natalie had been working on her speech non-stop after her recent episodes of human error. Though maybe slightly over rehearsed she flawlessly made the case for the Green alternative to the economically illiterate and socially damaging austerity of the establishment.
To conclude, like almost everyone there I really enjoyed the Spring Conference, made lots of new fiends, and felt like I’d engaged more with the political process then I’d ever been able to before. I hope we can all take that enthusiasm back to our homes and campaigns and start building the case for a genuine alternative, sustainable politics. One based on care and compassion, instead of the limitless greed and selfishness of our current political establishment that is so impoverishing our communities and destroying our environment.
Yes that’s me right at the front in the middle in front of ACTION (sort of infront of the T) in the People’s Assembly Top and the colorful knitwear)