Friday, September 14, 2012
Green Party Conference Bristol 2012
The Green Party Conference was in Bristol was in good heart, not least as a result of media attention brought on by Caroline Lucas MP handing over the leadership of the party to Natalie Bennet. We have other reasons for optimism: the party is making steady progress in local elections, with the title “Councillor” now commonplace among delegates, instead of a thing to be marvelled at, as was the case 26 years ago.
It began with a handover speech by Caroline, one of the most fluent and confident I have heard from her. Practice does not make perfect, because nobody is perfect, but it certainly helps a politician to sound vote worthy. Practice will do the same for Natalie Bennet, who is intelligent, articulate and media savvy, as an ex-Guardian journalist. Cllr Will Duckworth was voted in as Deputy Leader, and I would rate him as the most bonhomous deputy leader in the entire UK. He positively oozes humanity, friendliness, and jollity, which is presumably what catapulted him into Birmingham councillorship a few years after founding the local Green Party.
Leadership formalities over, most of the cameras and the journalists cleared off, because the Green Conference is working conference replete with substantive motions, amendments, points of order, and other procedures that always teeter dangerously close to the cliff edge of the chaotic version of anarchy if the chair does not know what s/he is doing. Accidents are less frequent as the number of people with experience on local authority meetings goes up.
Being excluded from taking part in the political process by the archaic electoral system, and excluded from the political debate by the whim of editors and producers, the Greens have devoted their 40 year history to creating a large amount of detailed policy – the Policies for a Sustainable Society. This year, the major work was on a review of the Disability Chapter of the policies. There were also votes on Economic Democracy, International Law on Ecocide, End of Life Palliative Care, Animal Racing, the Aarhus Convention, Nuclear Waste, ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) and Libel Law Reform.
As if this were not enough, there are Emergency Motions (EMs) on topical subjects designed (but generally failing) to attract the attention of the media. These are usually voted through unanimously, because although internal party matters may attract intense debate, there is usually good agreement on what needs to be done in the world outside. For instance, my EM condemning the Coalition’s recent criminalisation of squatting drew on existing policy on Land Value Tax and Empty Property Use Orders to redress the ridiculous problem of homeless people coexisting with empty houses.
Aside from the policy work, Conference is a place where old friendships are renewed. Breaktimes are deafening with discussion and argument, as theories and hobby horses get expounded and tested. There is a general atmosphere of openness and friendliness. Evening entertainment tends to be of the open mic variety, as you might expect, with some musicians of quite a high standard, usually in the blues/folkish end of the spectrum. And there were intriguing little side shows, such as a fringe on Dragon Sexing from a historian who noticed that dragons, at least in their Western manifestation, tend to be female.
Relaxation also takes the form of listening to experts. There was a panel on energy with Jonathon Porrit putting the boot into nuclear power (total waste of money) along with Paul Steedman from Friends of the Earth and the CEO of Good Energy. It is a sign of how far we have come that the CEO of a major company would be there to speak. There were panels on Right to Die, and a well attended seminar on population. (And before anyone says, yes, over-consumption is very important, but taking that into account does not mean that the mathematics of doubling series can be set aside). I was pleased to get a positive response from the Population Matters speaker to my suggesitnog of a Social Contract More on population here.
There were a couple of discussions of economic growth, one with Neal Lawson of Compass, and another set piece with Molly Scott Cato, the party’s economics speaker, Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation, James Vaccaro - Head of Investment Banking in the ethical bank Triodos (who began with the memorable line, “I am proud to say that I am a banker”), and Michael Crichton of the Schumacher Institute. The impression that I took away from these meetings was that while the vision of a decent, rational economy working for the interests of the common people and of a sustainable healthy environment was much in evidence, that vision hovered tantalisingly about a meter from the ground. It was all vision and no protective goggles.
This is not quite fair, because the Green Party has been calling as loudly as it can (from its position of being locked up in the cupboard under the stairs of Westminster politics), for a Green new Deal that would create a million new jobs in energy conservation and renewables. However, at the same time it has proved itself singularly reluctant to engage with immediate, practical reforms to the benefit system that would enable a further million to find jobs in the green sector of the economy.
Still, nothing’s perfect, least of all a political party. The struggle continues, and hopefully Caroline Lucas will be able to push the Green solutions to recession forward in Parliament, but at least the Green party is in good heart after its successful trip to Bristol.