Having just returned from the Green Party Autumn Conference in Brighton, I would like to reflect on some of the highlights and key moments for me.
One of the ways in which the Green Party is unique in UK politics is that all the Party’s policies are debated and passed by the democratic vote of party members at Conference. With a broad range of people within the Party, this makes for lively debate and some largely healthy controversy. It can also lead to some occasional contradictions.
Contradictions within the constitution and standing orders meant that my conference got off to a lively start at the GPRC and SOC Report workshops. The contradictions within the disciplinary processes had allowed GPRC to expel Cardiff member Anne Greagsby for her alleged defamatory accusations against Wales Green Party Leader, Pippa Bartolotti. The problem is that the provisions for a tribunal within the constitution had not been used. SOC therefore deemed the expulsion unconstitutional – and this was ratified by Conference accepting the SOC report. Where this leaves the whole unseemly mess remains unclear at this stage, but natural justice would seem to demand that Anne be re-instated, but perhaps remain suspended, until such time as due process is carried out.
After this rather depressing start, Natalie Bennett’s opening speech was, thankfully, appropriately rousing:
This was followed by a workshop on one of my pet topics – Education. I spoke in support of a review of Education policy in the face of Gove’s comprehensive reshaping of the education landscape, and the need to be more explicit about the Comprehensive vision that I have spoken and written about for many years now. (See the education chapter of my book) It was also pleasing to hear my visions of a truly Comprehensive education system being advocated by the headline speaker at a panel meeting on Free Schools – Tony Benn’s daughter, Melissa Benn. Unforunately, the motion fell – being squeezed into the last 5 minutes of a session and failing to get a proper debate – I was frustrated at not getting chance to speak! C’est la vie. http://melissabenn.com/campaigning/
So endeth day one – to be followed with a fish and chip supper and copious amounts of Brighton’s local ales in the company of Green Left friends and colleagues. Doug and I battled through the stormy weather to the crash pad at midnight and settled down before the deluge of Young Left – and some not so young – crashed in at 2pm. Simon Hales ensured a fitful night due to his extraordinary bursts of snoring that sounded like the death throes of a water buffalo! It was nearly the death throes of a watermelon!
Which brings to one of the more extraordinary aspects of this Conference. A couple of people went out of their way to distribute their anti- Green Left rants in print. One went under the name of a new Green Party forum, wittily entitled “The Kiwi & Lime” – playing on the name Green Left’s established ‘Watermelon’ conference magazine. It is unclear who the author, who appears to want to go by the moniker of Guru Nick, is targeting. His front page asks “Who are the people that may trouble the Kiwi & Lime supporter?” It proceeds to anticipate trouble from the right and the left!! Perhaps his apparent dislike of most people explains why he seems more obsessed with animal rights than human rights. In fact, the most trouble he found was with plenary session Chairs, several of whom had to shut him up for his inane ramblings. All very entertaining!
If this attack on Green Left was impossible to take seriously, Mike Shone’s effort was far from funny. He appears to want to shut down criticism of some of Brighton Council’s decisions and paint Green Left as ‘wilfully distorting’ things and ‘self-serving misrepresentation’. Serious, some would say defamatory, allegations. And I have already pointed out how seriously GPRC takes defamation! And if this were not bad enough, Shone had gone to the trouble of printing his vitriol in an 8 page A4 booklet that had 3 completely blank page, a near empty front cover, with 4 pages of well-spaced large font (size 18?). A shocking waste of paper, even if you regard him sharing his thoughts in this manner as a worthwhile exercise. This flagrant wastefulness alone deserves some form of censure.
Mike Shone was conspicuously absent from the well-attended Green Left fringe meeting on Saturday evening. He may have found cause to retract if he had. The meeting was attended by a group of Brighton Councillors, clearly at odds with the Kitcat administration to to point of clear and obvious distress. There was also a local anti-cuts activist (not in any political party) who painted a very poignant picture of the impact of Brighton Council’s decisions to date. She acknowledged that these had been modest to date – if you can call taking £3 a week Council Tax off people with barely £12 a week for food and transport modest. Given that any ‘efficiency savings’ have now been used up, the budget for next year will be a crucial watershed for all concerned. Whether Shone likes it or not – it is clear that it is not only Green Left members that are a little short of trust in Kitcat doing the right thing. It includes people a lot closer to things than him.
For me, the Green Left fringe was the highlight of the whole conference. It gave me real insight into the Brihgton situation and pause for thought as to what our priorities should really be, and despite the overt criticism, makes me even more committed to the principles that Green Left believe in.
Plenaries over the weekend saw important policy decisions being ratified – to nationalise the railways; to take steps towards eradicating debt-based money supply and fractional reserve banking; to do what we can to remove the threat of land grabs by big corporations around the world; important improvements to our mental health policy;and the banning advertising targeted at children. There were emergency motions condemning the badger cull; condemning the bedroom tax; condemning the PO sell -off; and reaffirming our steadfast opposition to fracking. The most important organisational decisions were probably regarding having two deputy leaders in future and adding a Trade Union Liaison Officer to GPEx.
Saturday night involved more beer and conviviality followed by another Simon Hales snorefest. This isn’t Simon, but if you turn your volume up full you will be getting an idea: http://youtube.com/w/?v=LtBQARqeK9M
I started Sunday with that hardy perennial of controversial issues at the “Population matters – or does it?” fringe meeting. This, you may recall was the one Ann Were urged us from Wales to attend due to the strong Wales involvement. This amounted to Ann Were chairing and Cardiff’s Seb Power being the panellist attempting to take on PM’s Roger Martin. Seb gave it his best shot, but it was an uneven contest in terms of numbers in the audience and the efficacy of the arguments presented. He made some basic errors such as presenting lots of incontrovertible scientific facts, but claiming they proved a hypothesis to which they were completely unconnected. As soon as he realised he was losing the argument, he reverted to specious claims of racism and staring at the ceiling. He is smart enough to learn and come again – but he needs to realise that the issue is not quite as black and white as he thinks it is. (Damn, that’s not a racist pun, is it?)
Maintaining the Welsh involvement, next up was Pippa’s Wales Leader’s speech. After what happened in Nottingham, rumours abounded that Pippa had bottled it and wanted someone else to deliver it (Chris Were and Natalie Bennett were mooted), but Pippa is made of sterner stuff than that and gave it a good go – sticking to safe ground and themes largely covered in the other set piece speeches. I am pretty sure, however, that it didn’t mention Wales at all and it is little wonder that there continue to be questions from senior party members about the merits of its position on the timetable. It may well be asked to make way for target region lead MEP candidates next conference (which doesn’t include Wales, just in case you were wondering).
This emerged in the Elections Committee meeting that Ann Were and I attended. This revealed that we are not as far behind other regions in getting our Euro campaign together as I thought – but did also offer to good ideas in terms of messaging and priorities. It will allow me to take the initiative in the absence of any useful support from the Wales Election Officer to date. This will be further helped having attended Mark Cridge’s excellent digital campaigning fringe. I have a long ‘to do’ list!
I final catch up with people like Romayne Phoenix; claiming my now traditional raffle prize off Pete Murry; and a final meal with the Green Party’s version of Sarah Millican – the multi-faceted and very funny Iris Ryder – and I was on my way home.
I am looking forward to the next one already.