Conference review Autumn 2013

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:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?list=UUGN-NVD_FT_Kyv_VdUxzc7A&v=mc50KVL0QJs

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.

18 thoughts on “Conference review Autumn 2013

  1. Cllr Will Duckworth

    Were you too hung over to get to my speech or was it just not worthy of comment (or is this punishment for missing the GL fringe?

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    1. Bridgend or Swansea Green Party - South Wales West Post author

      Sincere apologies! You were certainly conspicuous by your absence at the GL fringe. Pure oversight on my part re your speech – I hereby urge all to view it themselves:

      Incidentally, it was a real pity you couldn’t make it to Pontypridd for the PAAA meeting tonight, but it went pretty well with Owen Jones and Leanne Woods starring and Pippa doing ok.

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      1. Cllr Will Duckworth

        Thank you. Balcombe and Aylesbury went well. My apologies for the GL fringe. I got dragged away to talk to an express journalist. Sorry!

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  2. Nicholas

    As gurunick himself I perhaps should comment. Firstly, I should explain that the name comes from a time when I ran an alternative fashion boutique, it was an ironic take on the idea of a ‘fashion guru’.
    Having said that, if you understood the politics of the right and a left you might see that they both depend on pleasing the crowd which means consumerism and as someone else commented, there are many in the Green Party who do hold species protection dear. Animals don’t vote, ergo everyone in politics can ignore them? I am glad India has now given rights to dolphins, following their tradition of a vegetarian life style. I hope the trend continues and Caroline Allen who is Green left to some extent supports animal rights and stands a good chance of being elected in London and ought to be a deputy leader, so perhaps if you don’t accept the animal/species protection lobby in the Green Party you should consider going over to Left Unity in November if it gets off the ground. Your attitude reflects the Daleks mentioned in the Kiwi and Lime newsletter, i.e other species can be destroyed in the name of the rights of Daleks. Green Left is in danger of being accused of creating a human version of their philosophy, which inevitably destroys other species as population growth and the desire to exploit resource grows. Someday way in the future, Green Left members may arrive on an another planet, what are you going to do then? Immediately declare yourself superior to the creatures already evolved there and therefore insist that humans are entitled to exploit the planet even if it means destroying the species of that planet. That is why Avatar was mentioned in the Kiwi and Lime newsletter. You are turning people from compassion toward the attitude of the military commander in Avatar. Is that what you think leading the Green Party should be about. The better future just for humans. I am a peaceful Buddhist/Darwinist believing in compassion and evolution but I worry someday that I will boil over at such arrogance.

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  3. charles gate

    Nicolas – there is plenty of convergence between green left members and support for the GP’s animal rights policies and suggesting other wise is misleading and ingenuous.

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  4. Chris Padlley

    Andy,

    There is a need for some even handedness in the way we all handle criticism within the party. You feel free to be sarcastic about Nick Hale, Kiwis and Limes, etc, but take exception to criticism of Green left. There are real and valid differences of opinion that deserve taking seriously on both sides. Your piece comes over as high handed and holier than thou where you deal with criticism of the left position within the party.

    By contrast, sometimes robust criticism is called for, and you have then acted as apologist for genuinely bad behaviour. I’m not sure how old Sebestian Power is, but he’s well past childhood and old enough to take other people’s arguments seriously in a public debate, not resort to the behaviour of the primary school playground when he loses an argument fairly, which is essentially what you report, Saying he is young enough to learn is like saying “ah, bless!”.

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    1. Bridgend or Swansea Green Party - South Wales West Post author

      You misquote me Chris – I said Seb was smart enough, not young enough. As much as I respect Seb’s passion and commitment, he does have tendency towards petulance – which he desperately seemed to try to restrain in the debate, but didn’t quite manage. I mean this as constructive criticism, as I firmly believe Seb has a lot to offer, and I am sure he will indeed learn a lot from these experiences and go on to be a leading light in the Party. Kudos to him for taking on the challenge in the first place.
      As for the criticism of Green Left – if you have read the Kiwi & Lime nonsense, then I am guilty of no more than ridiculing the ridiculous. The man has form. As for ‘holier than thou’ – as an ardent atheist, that stings! I will try to address that in future. Thank you.
      I am not sure what genuinely bad behaviour you think I have acted as apologist to, but as far as Shone is concerned, it was not the criticism that I objected to (water off a duck’s back), but more the atrocious way he went about it. Defend that if you like.

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      1. Nick Hales

        It is not nonsense to me. It defines me as a person. In my view it is nonsense to believe that, if Green left took over the world in every country, (by popular vote naturally), they would support any attempt to preserve a species with financial assistance if a human pleaded poverty and a need for those funds for themselves. As the poverty line bar is raised, (as societies quality of life increases), it seems impossible to me that there will ever be an end to human needs outbidding ‘species conservation’ for funds until we run out of resources at which point it may become a dog eat dog society we are left with. The only way forward that would take me along with you is to establish ground rules on species conservation first and then I may follow.

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  5. Mike Shone

    I’ll let people decide for themselves whether it is Green Left smearing and “vitriol” towards our first council: Brighton or what .. Here is part of the observations I gathered over the last two years:The Campaign against
    Brighton’s Green Council
    by some Green Left activists

    1. Context: Brighton and Hove Green Party Administration

    Just over two years ago the Green Party became a minority administration in Brighton and Hove (with 22 out of 54 councillors).

    Though predominately inexperienced councillors they have responded exceptionally well to the massive cuts from central government in finding genuine savings and efficiencies. They have many achievements including:

    • Instigating a living wage for council staff
    • Allocating an extra million pounds to the budget for homelessness
    • Maintaining funding for the voluntary sector
    • A social housing building programme

    However, they have been subjected to more than average opposition from the other political parties (bitterly so from the Labour Party) and the principal organ of the local media, the Brighton Argus, has regularly sniped and engaged in unbalanced attacks in its efforts to portray the Green administration as ridiculous to the Brighton public.

    In addition to coping with the fast learning curve, extensive responsibilities and external attack, they have been under internal attack from Green Left, a faction inside the Green Party of England and Wales, which has been visibly trying to discredit the administration in the eyes of Green Party members.

    2. Green Left’s response to Brighton’s handling of government cuts

    Green Left’s leadership believes the Green Party should refuse to continue as an administration in the context of government cuts and that Green Brighton and Hove councillors should resign from the leadership of the council rather than administer reduced budgets. They believe that the councillors should just campaign against “austerity” because as one of their Co-chairs, Romayne Phoenix, stated “if millions” take to the streets “everything can be tackled” (Nottingham, February 2013).

    Peter Allen, a principal spokesperson on this for Green Left, outlined this position further at the spring 2013 Nottingham Conference, stating that Brighton councillors should declare that they are not going to run the council. “Will this be a position which will be discredited?” Peter asked, and in replying to his own question maintained “No I think this is a position which will be enormously respected across the country. I look forward to Jason’s resignation speech. Perhaps it will make a splash. Perhaps he will be interviewed on Newsnight or even on the main news.”

    3. Green Left’s behaviour to Brighton’s Green Council at GPEW Conferences

    The vocal and harsh criticism of the Brighton Cllrs.by Green Left at the 2012 Green Party Spring Conference at Liverpool came as quite a shock to many GPEW members. The Councillors were subjected to constant censure by Green Left including accusations of having “sold out”.

    The 2012 Spring Conference should have been an occasion to celebrate our first Green Council, highlight their achievements and learn together about the problems and difficulties they were facing. Though the Brighton Councillors had succeeded in mitigating the effects on the public of severely reduced government budgets, Green Left, however, was intent on discrediting the Brighton Councillors, accusing them of “implementing Tory cuts”.

    I left this conference feeling Green Left had behaved disrespectfully to key frontline members of the party, members who had made themselves available and accountable to the wider party at two conference sessions.

    At the next two conferences, Bristol, September 2012, and Nottingham 2013, Green Left brought out editions of its magazine “Watermelon”, with stories accusing Brighton Councillors of persecuting an octogenarian woman for non-payment of council tax, “choosing bullyboy tactics employed by Tory and Labour parties” in dealing with council staff and generally suggesting that Green elected representatives in Brighton and Bristol were no different from Tories.

    Whilst the GPEW welcomes open and honest debate expressing different political strategies and viewpoints, the wilful distortion and misrepresentation of the motives and actions of fellow Green Party members and the concentrated determination to discredit and undermine them should have had no place in the Green Party.

    4. Proposals for allowances and the response of Green Left

    Brighton and Hove is a Unitary Council comprised of a number of prior councils, each of which had its own schemes for allowances /expenses. The current negotiations are aimed at producing a common scheme for all, and are the final part of Single Status payment adjustments designed to ensure all employees are treated the same for work of equal value.

    The amount of money provided in the budget for allowances has not been cut and the claims that there is a general attempt to cut allowances are a falsehood. Because of the effects of job evaluation and payment for work of equal value, the Single Status allowances proposals (Pay and Allowances Modernisation) have resulted in proposals where there are winners and losers.

    Many of the winners are women; the bulk of the losers are men. Compensation for those losing is set at approximately three times the annual loss. For example, those losing £1100 pa will receive a £3550 payment. In addition, serious efforts will be made to create work rotas that enable the principal losers, the binmen and street cleaners, to have opportunities to earn more.

    Green Left has been very vocal in criticising the delegation of the negotiations to council officers, failing to acknowledge that the officers were reporting back to the political leaders of BHGG. Affected staff are being asked to sign a typical “compromise agreement” which in effect asks employees to forego any retrospective legal action in exchange for the new settlement. Green Left in their systematic misrepresentation has been presenting this as staff being bullied into surrendering employee rights.

    Green Left has chosen to disregard the effect that failure to reduce any allowances would have. In order to achieve the equity demanded by Single Status criteria, all other staff would need to have their allowances adjusted upwards. This would cost a few million pounds (the council’s legal opinion says £23m; the unions say £4m). Funding this would lead to a loss of jobs and a loss of services to the people of Brighton.

    Yet, nowhere in Green Left literature or publicity is there any acknowledgement of the serious loss of jobs and services which would result if allowances were not adjusted in the process of equalisation. Green Left has persisted in portraying the situation as a choice between “cuts to allowances for the binmen and street cleaners and no cuts”. Nowhere does it reveal the real issue as having been predominantly the choice between “cushioned cuts for the binmen and street cleaners, on the one hand, and large cuts to jobs and services in Brighton, on the other hand”.

    5. The creation of a climate of suspicion and mistrust

    The Green Left leadership has been clearly committed to negative portrayal of their fellow party members on Brighton and Hove City Council, a negative portrayal advanced via hearsay, self-serving misrepresentation and a determination to focus only on assumed shortcomings, never actual achievements.

    The Green Party puts great store by “localism”, which respects the right of local members to largely determine things for their localities. Green Left has by-passed “localism” and indeed not sought to engage in genuine co-operative dialogue or discussion, and does not seek to discover or understand the real situation on the issues they purport to report on at Brighton.

    One is bound to wonder to what extent the campaign that Green Left has waged has contributed to divisions in Brighton.

    Mike Shone strictly in the capacity of an individual member of the GPEW 2nd July 2013

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    1. Bridgend or Swansea Green Party - South Wales West Post author

      For those of you that didn’t see it at Conference, the above is what Mike Shone spread over 8 pages of A4 and stapled very nicely. He can probably supply you with a hardback edition if you ask him nicely. Judge for yourself who is presenting balanced arguments.
      Nobody in Green Left that I know would claim that the Brighton & Hove councillors have not had an unenviable and truly difficult task. I think most would also recognise that they have had some achievemnts that we we all recognise and can be proud of – such as implementing a living wage for all.
      This does not make them immune from criticism, and it is legitimate to ask if there are lines that should not be crossed in order to maintain our integrity and keep us as a distinctive voice in British politics, rather than just another compliant agent of Governmnt austerity measures.
      I pesonally believe the acid test will come with the setting of next years budget, as by common consent all acceptable ‘efficiency savings’ will have been used up. It is clear from seeing and listening to a range of B&H councillors that there are true schisms within the Green Party group – something that Mike Shone seems unable to recognise.
      And lest Mike missed it, even the Brighton MP – yes, our very own Caroline Lucas – recognised that the councillors had got it seriously wrong and joined the picket lines against the Council in its dispute with one particular group of low-paid workers. She said on her blog:
      “I want to make clear my opposition to cuts to take-home pay, and that I am very aware of the devastating impact that the potential loss of as much as £95 a week would have on council workers – especially those already on low pay.
      I’ve set out my position on this to the Council and made my opposition clear to the GMB union, who represent many of the workers facing changes to their pay and allowances.”
      So if the catstrophe of Caroline losing her seat came to pass (which I do not actually think will happen – in no small part due to the line Caroline took on this matter), I wonder if Mike Shone would want to blame Green left, or the actions of Kitcat’s team at B&H. What say you Mike?

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      1. Mike Shone

        As I re-enter Chyba Space , I congratulate you on being virtually the first GL member I have read or heard to acknowledge that Brighton’s Green Council have achievements that we & they can be proud of.

        However, you have not addressed the subject of my account which is the evidence of smearing and misrepresentation of the Green Council by some of your GL colleagues

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      2. Will Duckworth

        Hi Mike,

        I am a member of Green Left and I have praised the work of B&H Council to Guardian reporter, Express reporter, publicly to Conference as well as to Jason Kitcat and other members of B&H Council and B&H GP members (including the MP) personally and to everyone who will listen.

        I think your argument is with a few individuals and a general attack on a group to which some of those individuals belong is neither helpful nor constructive.

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      3. Bridgend or Swansea Green Party - South Wales West Post author

        This will be my last word on this thread. I have left Mike’s post re alleged smearing and misrepresentation untouched. Yet if you read it, he produces absolutely no evidence of anything. It is just the disgruntled rumblings of someone who doesn’t agree with a few things that have been said.
        And he still hasn’t explained or justified his obscene extravagance in how he chose to publish what could be seen as an attempt to smear and misrepresent Green Left. Because he cannot.

        THIS THREAD IS NOW CLOSED

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  6. Nick Hales

    It is also interesting that you talk about chairs having to shut me up for inane ramblings. In fact I stood up just twice at plenaries where a chair interfered, the first was Jo who ‘has form’ as you put it on this issue. She actually followed me when I left the party at the February conference and confronted me outside a lavatory, which I found a bit intimidating, saying I did not get it, but if you don’t say what ‘it’ is obviously it is difficult to get it. At least the Kiwi and Lime says what it is so you can decide whether you get it or not. The second chair incident did force me to not present an argument against the attempt to take the motion in parts but just say, ‘the motion is good as it is’, which point of view won anyway, so I am not bothered. You may also be referring to the incident when Seb was talking when I yellow carded him for racist language, trying to make out that all money was white. He did stop using the term after that so I think it was a legitimate intervention.

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