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.
- 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.
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.