Monday, September 13, 2010

Green Party Conference: Dictators, Confusion, Darkness - and Light

Darkness
 
I am not feeling good.

The motion on Dealing with Dictators at Green Party Conference went badly.  I wrote this account immediately afterwards. I may have missed some points, because I was listening to the debate and also preparing my responses to the debate as it went on.

I did not sleep well on the night before the debate, partly through a continuing virus and partly worry about passing the C12 Dealing with Dictators motion. Self fulfilling worry. The motion was due to come up at 2pm, so I went out to get some more Vit C and zinc for the virus. Then a voicemail tells me that C12 was on, early, because scheduled business had been finished. Ran back (not as quick as was in the 1970s when I used to run in the same races as Dave Bedford, although I did not necessarily finish at the same time as him). Burst into hall, sat down, hurried consultation and  C12 came up - stuck into the last 5 minutes of the session. I should have asked for it to be at 2pm when it was supposed to be but there was a possibility that we might not be quorate then.


I introduced the motion by asking if anyone knew about the situation of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, which had been blocked from becoming accredited to contest the Rwandan Presidential elections, and whose vice chair had been killed in what was probably a political assassination.
Few had. Which reflects badly on the level of interest by GPEW in international affairs.
I told Conference that Frank Habineza, leader of the DGPR, had expressed support for the motion (see the comment from Africa).


Dealing with Dictators policy is a part of the Global Index of Human Rights Report that Peter Tatchell and I had drawn up and promoted in 2008 for the Green Party.


The international community currently has an ad hoc position on dictators. The big powers take the "He may be a bastard, but he's our bastard" approach to dictators, which assessment may change, as circumstances demand, to "He is the Devil incarnate, the Hitler of our times, and his country needs to be bombed back into the Stone Age". E.g. Hussein, S.




What this motion seeks to bring about is a framework of law, where untoward behaviour is met by specified disincentives (through a legal process) designed to prevent the slide into dictatorship.



The Chair then called for the workshop report, which usually gives brief details of the numbers present, and the votes taken on preferences of the workshop on the motion as a whole (5 for, 6 against, 6 abstain), for referring back, (11 for, 3 against, 6 abstain) and for taking in parts, ( I do not have the figures, but I think there was a clear majority for this). In this case however, the rapporteur chose to present a catalogue of opinions expressed against the motion, but left out the full replies I made to the objections in the workshop. The objectors had about 10 minutes in the workshop, and I was given one minute, but probably took 2, talking very fast.


He detailed:
  • An objection to use of the word "Dictator". Pass
  • The fact that the effects of the policy could equally apply to the US or Britain. Well, exactly.
  • The perception that the exact circumstances of a regime should affect the situation. Which is why there is a legal process involved, in the motion itself.
  • The objection that "luxury goods" had not been rigorously defined. A common alternative objection to policy is that it is too detailed.


Conference then began a confused debate on referring back, conflated with taking it in parts. Referral back was voted down, and in debating taking it in parts, speeches against this were in fact in favour of voting the whole thing down, because...I cannot recall anything substantive. One said it added nothing, another that it was trivial. Just vote it down.


Then, after more speeches against, and none that I can recall as for, the chair declared that we were to vote, and immediately put it to the vote.  I was engaged in preparing my response to the debate, and was so gobsmacked by the sudden move to a vote that I failed to shout for my right of reply to debate, which was my error, but it was also a failure of the chair to follow set procedure.


The motion was defeated.


I can accept the defeat of a motion in a fair debate, but this was not a fair and balanced debate.


I exited, a mass of frustration, hurt, fury, disappointment and confusion. This is the third time that this has happened in Conference for me.

I then realised that I had to take a fringe meeting on the Green Wage Subsidy.

Light
I entered the room an emotional wreck. Detecting this, the five assembled there - who had patiently waited for 10 minutes for me to show up - suggested attunement, which is our practice of starting plenaries with a minute of silence. We did, and then I stumbled, dry mouthed, into an explanation of GWS - my finding in Bills of Health of how unemployment destroys health, how I found 1-2 million jobs in the green sector that are available to be done, and the core proposal of enabling Unemployment Benefits to be carried over into jobs in the green sector.

Then a miracle happened. A member described her situation - mother and carer in an area of high unemployment where there had been a lot of suicides. Of how unemployment destroys self esteem, and even the will to live. Just that - her situation. My emotional chaos fell away. How could I feel sorry for myself for what was a transient and partly self caused state of frustration when here was a person whose frustration was existential - experiencing on a daily basis the madness of an irrational benefit system that gives an inadequate dole reluctantly to people on condition that they do no work?

An idea formed. I explained that I was going to contribute to Iain Duncan Smith's consultation on the benefit system, which does have the merit of recognising that there is a problem with the unemployment trap.  I was going anyway to suggest in my contribution that it should be piloted.
Would the member like to see if her community would be interested in being the pilot? Yes.

It is going to be a lot of hard work.

The feeling of gloom came back as I packed, wrote down the story, and took the train home. In these situations, you test out actions in your head. Questions swirl.

At the moment the predominant one is to cease from trying to develop Green Party policy. It's a bit pointless, anyway. I am assured you can find the product of our Conference labours, Policies for a Sustainable Society, on the Green Party website. Try it for yourself. See if you can navigate to it. It may be just a web development problem, but it is certainly not readily accessible, even to members.


I feel pretty certain that Birmingham 2010 was the last conference that I will attend, and it probably marks the end of my active engagement with the green party, although, like Jonathon Porritt I will stay a member. Unless, of course, they kick me out.

Self-doubt. Is it my fault? If I want to emphasise a point, I tend to sound angry. Are my ideas just stupid? Should the Green Party really have no UN policy at all? Or should we just leave the Policy Committee to develop policy? Is it all a pointless waste of time?

The mood continued on the train as I typed the deleted bit above out.


Then the guy opposite said "Excuse me, are you from the Green Party? Could I ask your view on a marketing problem?"

Turns out he was with a large, already highly ethical corporation. We launched into a long conversation about his problem for a while, covering all sorts of aspects of economics and finance, the threat of a DDRecession, and even wandering into monetary policy. I came up with a suggestion for his problem, one which could also benefit the homeless lads that John Marjoram and I met last night. He found my suggestion useful. So the second time, engagement with another's problem stopped the problem arising from engagement with Green Party policy. This happened also once before, after I had persuaded Conference to engage with the campaign against the Blair Governments insane stamp-out policy for foot & mouth disease.  Then, despite winning over the intense, and equally irrational, resistance of the conservatives in the party, I was exhausted and crushed until I went to a meeting with farmers. Their real problems restored my spirits then. Coincidence is trying to tell me something.


I always say that the Green Party is magnificent when it engages with the world, but pathetic when it engages with itself.

There is just one last thing I would like to change in the Green Party: for the chairs to be taught how to conduct a meeting. Chairing has got better since we have so many elected members, who learn what to do in Council meetings. But it is not good enough yet.

Sorry this is a long boring post.

There is a coherent and constructive discussion of the actual motion here.
Pity it didn't happen a few months ago on the lists.

29 comments:

Jim Jepps said...

I'm sorry to hear conference left you feeling so down.

DocRichard said...

Thanks Jim.

Shit happens.

It is probably to the good overall, as I have been pushing GP policy changes against immense resistance over the years - from Schumacher's Law, Foot & Mouth, Opium in Afghanistan, social contract with service personnel, Green Wage Subsidy, Index of Human Rights and now finally the Dictators thing.

It is really a stupid waste of energy to be pushing for modifications to the PSS, which is buried anyway. I might as well spend the time and energy pushing at Government directly.

I'm also thinking - after doing the IDS/DWP/GWS thing, I will do something I've been meaning to for ages - set up an NGO to take the index project into the UN. Interestingly, the UN has a tiny pilot Index running now, selecting 12 countries at random and looking at their HR.

So - good luck with your post - Something on GPEX isn't it?

Thanks again.

Cheers

Richard

Garrat Elector said...

Hi Richard,

Your post was not "long and boring" at all. Quite the opposite; I was with you all the way.

You would not be the only environmentalist who feels pushed outside the Green Party. Far from it. So don't feel that you've failed when it's the system that has failed you.

There are many committed people who cannot deal with the Party for many different reasons.

There is a world of interesting things to do out there that help other people and our fellow beings.

So don't lose heart. Life goes on in all its colourful variety ...

Jim Jepps said...

It is indeed something on GPEx.

It's as I said to you at the weekend - people can disagree with each other without being enemies and still being able to work together on the areas we do agree.

I hope you didn't get much stick about the election, I hope you don't burn your bridges - give it some thought and relax, you may well feel differently in a year's time, or sooner.

I for one hope to see you at conference again, even if not Cardiff.

Glenn Vowles said...

'...the Green Party is magnificent when it engages with the world, but pathetic when it engages with itself.'

Strongly worded but essentially correct and in tune with my experience of it over more than 25 yrs, on and off. But it appears to me to be more outward looking now...

'There is just one last thing I would like to change in the Green Party: for the chairs to be taught how to conduct a meeting. Chairing has got better since we have so many elected members, who learn what to do in Council meetings. But it is not good enough yet.'

Absolutely!! I even got into hot water in a meeting once, a good few yrs back, merely for suggesting that we should stick to reasonable time limits for agenda items and that we should prioritise them! I have other examples. Things have moved on since then, thank goodness...though I still find that the way some meetings are run drives me nuts.

'I feel pretty certain that Birmingham 2010 was the last conference that I will attend, and it probably marks the end of my active engagement with the green party'

Oh no - I hope you heed and follow Jim Jepps excellent advice on time, thought and relaxation Richard - we need experienced people of great good sense such as yourself.

All the best for whatever avenues you decide to pursue.

Grauniad Loser said...

Sorry to hear about the dictators / human rights policy problems. Sadly though, I can't honestly say that I am surprised. Too many politicos take the attitude that a human rights abuser or dictator is not that bad if they're on "our side" - an attitude I disagree with. Sadly, I have found this to be the case among plenty of Green Party members too. This is the reason why I am not a member.

Though I do not agree with many of the things you say, you strike me as a thoughtful chap. Such people often find the internal machinations and cliquism that are an inherent part of party politics unpleasant.

Whatever you decide to do, please keep blogging. Some of your ideas can even make a cynical and (prematurely) aged environmentalist such as myself feel that not all is lost.

Jim Jepps said...

Needless to say Grauniad Loser the Green Party did not vote the motion down because they "take the attitude that a human rights abuser or dictator is not that bad if they're on "our side"", nor do I think Richard is arguing that.

I don't want to go into it while Richard is still smarting but essentially party members disagreed with the approach, not the idea that dictators are a bad thing and we should deal with them where we can.

Anonymous said...

The Green Party has achieved very little in terms of influencing government policy. You'd be better off with an NGO

DocRichard said...

Jim
"people can disagree with each other without being enemies and still being able to work together on the areas we do agree".

Agreed absolutely. I had a friendly pint with the second most consistent opponent of my initiatives, the one who successfully blocked the Green Wage Subsidy, which is arguably the biggest missed opportunity for the GP in this recession. I had seconded his motion on the GND. We disagreed amicably but totally on Afghanistan: I pushed GP policy, which is to buy the opium, thus stabiiising the regime and Afghan economy, and relieving untold suffering in Africa - and he, although ex-policy supremo, seemingly disagreed with that policy, and had a nihilistic laissez faire attitude to Afghanistan.

I didn't get much stick about the election. Just a bit of body language.

DocRichard said...

Garrat Elector
Thanks for the kind words.

DocRichard said...

Glenn,
Thanks for the helpful words.
If this sorry affair generates anything positive, it will be proper instructions for the chairs, with an algorithm sheet on the table in front of them.

Chairing - and hence Conference plenaries - frequently used to be chaotic, and it is noticable that it has improved greatly since more members have experience of Council, EP, SA, and now HoC procedures.

This is not unique to the Green Party. NHS meetings are in my experience similarly chaotic and useless. Here's a link about meetings:http://greenerblog.blogspot.com/2010/06/meetings-schmeetings.html
Here's a link to Roger's Rules of Order: http://www.robertsrules.com/

Thank you for your good wishes. If this were a single episode, I might be wrong to end my attendance at Conference, but it is clearly a consistent pattern of irrational, totalistic rejection of my contributions. I fully accept responsibility for my part in this: like most inventors and creatives, I lack administrative and managerial skills - indeed, we tend to be allergic to them. This is a typical case of exclusion of the Belbin Lightbulb from group process.

It occurs that this discussion is in a bit of a vacuuum, since I have withheld the account of what happened. Basically it was an unbalanced debate: I proposed, and then the Chair called a solid series of speeches against the motion, then rushed to the vote without a right of reply. That is the issue.

I am going to take advice on whether to publish the account here.

DocRichard said...

Grauniad Loser

"Too many politicos take the attitude that a human rights abuser or dictator is not that bad if they're on "our side" - an attitude I disagree with.
Sadly, I have found this to be the case among plenty of Green Party members too".

I think a lot of activists within and outside of the GP, use this formula for their international thinking: "What is the US doing? Then we will do the opposite".

Instead of this formulaic approach, I believe we have to take a systems approach. At present world political affairs are chaotic and unstructured, so come down to realpolitik in the UNSC. I have been trying to invent a framework of rules for the UN.

The irrational rejection of and refusal to consider such a framework is not unique to the GPEW. I get the same reaciton from the UNA hierarchy - although it is interesting that the rank and file of the UNA (United Nations Association) is more open to persuasion than I got on Monday. They have slightly more ordered debates, but then the centre has the ability to redraw the conclusions to suit its own perceptions. In the GP, the centre is just burying the product of Conference , the PSS, deep in the website.

"Some of your ideas can even make a cynical and (prematurely) aged environmentalist such as myself feel that not all is lost".

Thanks!!

DocRichard said...

Jim
"Needless to say Grauniad Loser the Green Party did not vote the motion down because they "take the attitude that a human rights abuser or dictator is not that bad if they're on "our side"", nor do I think Richard is arguing that".

I don't want to go into it while Richard is still smarting but essentially party members disagreed with the approach, not the idea that dictators are a bad thing and we should deal with them where we can."

With respect, Jim, insofar as the objections expressed in the debate had substance, they were answerable, but the answers were suppressed in the workshop report. The contributions from the most influential members were not substantial, merely pejoratives that described the motion as "trivial" and "adding nothing".

DocRichard said...

Anonymous, I think you are totally wrong to say the Green Party has achieved very little in terms of influencing government policy.

I recall Jonathon Porritt did a paper on GP policies that have been adopted. They are substantial. Do not be misled by the deliberate marginalisation of the GP by the corporate media.

The problem is that the GP is always, when it is right, decades ahead of its time. If govt had adopted GP energy conservation policies, we would not be facing the acute Peak Oil and AGW crises that we now face.

"You'd be better off with an NGO"

As I say, I hope to be able to set up a small NGO to campaign within the UN. Even big green NGOs are not infallible. Greenpeace for instance failed to support C&C - interestingly an idea originated by a independent creative mind, the excellent Aubrey Meyer.

Mark Walmsley said...

Just to say thanks for the fringe on the green wage subsidy. As a new party member it was just part of a hugely informative and inspiring conference. I hope something substantial comes out of your contact with our friend from Bridgend.
As far as your demotivation is concerned - as I'm sure you know - these things come in cycles. I look forward to your contributions in future.

DocRichard said...

Thanks Mark.
I am going to get down now with writing the submission to IDS
Cheers

Richard

Jim Jepps said...

Richard, I agree that the session went awry and you weren't given your right of reply which is a shame because we did not lack time for it.

The impression that there was a solid series of speeches against is understandable, although less of a procedure issue, because it's partly because you had a motion to refer back by someone who didn't like the motion and a speech against by someone who wanted to vote down the motion (a for and against remitting that were both against your motion).

I'm not convinced there would have been anything you could have said to sway the hall with your right of reply, but you should have been given it.

Garrat Elector said...

Jim, you are showing your mindset here.

"... because it's partly because you had a motion to refer back by someone who didn't like the motion and a speech against by someone who wanted to vote down the motion (a for and against remitting that were both against your motion)."

This piece of gobbledegook would do credit [sic] to one of our dearly beloved local government officers.

Considering the treatment Richard has been through, which sounds like almost deliberate, certainly completely uncaring and callous humiliation, I would think he deserves better than this.

DocRichard said...

Garrat, thanks for your support, but I would rather debate here should not use pejoratives like gobbledegook, which could be taken as insulting, and could inflame the discussion. Jim's account sounds confused because he is accurately reflecting the confusion that took place.

Motions to refer back should have a right of reply by the proposer. I have suffered before from this problem.

I could have swung it with a right of reply. In fact, I was checking my reply to the substantive points made - such as they were - when the chair called a vote.

I think it would best if I put up my report on the vote itself.

Which I will now do.

Jim Jepps said...

Garrat, I'm sorry you don't regard information on what happened as anything other than gobbledygook but I used plain English to describe the actual events in the hall.

Someone moved that we 'refer the motion back'. They did so because they did not like the motion and wanted it rewritten.

The chair correctly called for someone to speak against refering it back for a balanced debate. The person who did so did so on the basis that they wanted to vote against the motion.

This is clearly not the debate Richard would have liked on his motion but it reflected the fact that most members in the hall were not minded to support the motion. The only reason we voted on the motion at all was because a section of the hall was determined to vote against it.

The two speeches were both perfectly in order and fair, but they helped create the (correct) impression that people did not like the motion.

Richard was denied his right of reply through a mistake on the part of the chair and that is wrong. What that says of my mindset I leave for you to judge as you clearly know better than me.

weggis said...

I'm expecting Judith to turn up any moment now.

Doc,
Your new approach is the right one for you. Be pleased that you have found your path.

In a recent internal debate someone said "It is Conference that decides policy and only Conference can change it".

That is not strictly speaking true. It is those members who turn up at Conference and vote who decide policy.

When we are a democratic party and all members get to have a say, then I might participate.

DocRichard said...

Weggis
Thank you for reminding us about Jidith and the Front for the Liberation of Judea Not to be confused with the Judean Liberation Front).

I know. Yes. On the other hand, political discussion is necessary.
Democracy is the name of the system we in the UK are so lucky to live under (compared with Zimbabwe, Burma or Somalia). In democracy, we, the people are the ultimate source of political power. We are like an elephant that stays in its stall, where it is told, and tied up with a bit of balin' twine.
We could break the twine any time we want. What stops us? Disunity. We can bring down governments if the popular will is sufficiently united about an issue - such as the regime should get out of the country. But it is very very difficult. Look at Iran.

So am I saying we have to persuade the man in the street of the rightness of motion C12? No. That is not necessary - although the INdex is useful to caroline when Paxo asks her (sneeringly) "So it was wrong to invade Iraq, eh? Well what would YOU do about a lowlife killer dictator like Saddam Hussein"?

Am I making any sense here?

DocRichard said...

Weggis

"When we are a democratic party and all members get to have a say, then I might participate".

No democracy is perfect. There are steps or layers to it, a hierarchy, like this, with power increasing at each step:
voters>
MP>
Government>
Cabinet>
Prime Minister>
Rupert Murdoch.

I said nothing's perfect. But at least in principle we can change the Govt. Grateful for small mercies.

Similarly in the Green Party, you do have the opportunity to draw and vote on policy. Your local party can instruct a delegate.

This process has created the PSS. I know some who have joined the GP on a reading. It has its flaky bits, and for me it is far too turgid and repetitive. Some policy wonks treat it as Holy Writ, PSS fundamentalists. (though they are also ready to criticise it when it suits them. One wonk is against PR as well as the Index. And against buying the opium.

All leaderships want to smooth out the opinions of the people. UNA does it another way.

Anyway, people have always debated what to do.

Cheers

ADam Pogonowski said...

My post not worthy of approving?

DocRichard said...

Sorry Adam, what post? Did you post here? If so, it didn't get through. Blogspot is like that sometimes, with me too.

Garrat Elector said...

Jim, I'm sorrry if I was unfair.

Nonetheless, describing those words as "plain English" is stretching the definition a bit for such technical jargon, to my simple mind.

But thanks for your later explication which was fairly clear.

Perhaps I don't spend enough time at conferences of this nature ... what did you call it? PSSing?

I'm rather suspicious that such abstruse and complex procedures must be excluding quite a lot of people who don't feel up to doing battle with all this, in favour of those more cunning intellects who, like lawyers, almost seem to enjoy this sort of gaming.

And as Weggis alludes to, there is also the danger that organisations involved in such activities will, permit me to be vulgar, disappear up their own arses.

Jim Jepps said...

You either want to know what happened at conference or you don't. Don't shoot the messenger.

The moving of motions at conference *is* a technical process, which means sometimes only technical language will accurately describe what happened.

Members should not be obsessed by these processes (and I don't think they are) but the absence of democratic processes would probably have meant Richard could not have expressed his views at all.

DocRichard said...

The whole formal debating process seems remote and technical to newbies, but it is the only way to get sensible decisions out of a roomful of proto-anarchists. We had frequent chaos back in the day, before the rules were followed.

A conference debate is not a conversation. It needs a set order: amendments first, then substantive motion. If a point of order like take in parts or refer back is put, chair shd immediately call for seconder, speech for speech against, and so on, then vote. Added complication is the need to try to balance gender.

My disgruntlement hinges on the fact that rules of debate were not followed.

Anyway. Back to the submission to the DWP. It's going well.

Richard Lawson said...

PS here is the submission to the DWP http://www.greenhealth.org.uk/GreenEconom_files/WSS.htm . It was accorded a complete ignoral by Govt.