This Conference was the biggest and one of the the best Conferences of recent years.
Conference was at Aston University from Friday 5th September to Monday 8th. The venue was excellent, being the best example I have seen of a campus style University within walking distance of a city centre. It provided first class facilities for workshops, fringe meetings and plenaries, alongside good quality catering and on site accommodation in a hotel or student accommodation. It was highly regrettable that the the usual crash space provision was not provided, making it very difficult for many on low incomes to attend. I have usually used the crash space myself, as it has always been part of the Conference craic as far as I am concerned. This and the slow bar service are the only criticisms of the Conference provisions.
As for the Conference itself, there were a noticeably more ‘newbies’ than ever before and this gave the whole event an added buzz. In particular, it was great to see so many new Young Greens about, making tremendous contributions in all manner of ways, from their traditional hosting of the Quiz night, to putting on the most exciting fringe of the weekend – Get Organised – aimed at raising young people’s awareness of trade unions and encouraging them to join and get involved.
The keynote speeches hit the right notes, although some of the things in Natalie Bennett’s speech might need a little refining (e.g. £10 minimum wage; banning zero-hours contracts)
Caroline Lucas was a star turn as usual – truly inspirational.
And it was good to hear from the newly elected deputies, Amelia Womack and Sharar Ali. They are certainly going to broaden the appeal of the party in the coming months and years.
(I cannot find Sahrar’s speech – which is a pity as it was excellent; laying down the gauntlet for reaching out to wider communities.) (Addendum: link to speech on youtube in first comment below.)
Lots of important issues were discussed in various forums, including minimum wage/citizen’s income/wage ratios, restating of the Party’s ‘no nuclear’ stance, tackling gambling exploitation, and, perhaps most importantly of all, the fight against TTIP (I will blog about this separately soon).
As for Wales Green Party’s contribution, I am afraid it reached new depths of ignominy. Pippa’s speech was. at least, inoffensive and was well received by some, although it left many wondering about its relevance (she focussed on the No To NATO events that were not specifically Green Party events), but this was as good as it got. She had only been allocated 5 minutes, but rambled on for nearer 9 ( I was co-chairing the session at the time so running the stopwatch on it – we would have had to pull the plug on her at 10 minutes).
A little later in the same plenary, Ann Were presented a motion on ‘speeches to conference’. This was a thinly veiled attempt to ensure an automatic right to a speech for the Wales Leader at every conference. The Wales Leader speech had been pulled (along with the Deputy Leader speech) at the previous Conference in order to create room for our 6 MEP target candidates to have a slot and gain some exposure. This appears to have been deemed unacceptable to Ann and Pippa, however, the motion they presented was poorly put together, threatened gender balance in the speeches, and looked to remove the scope for Conference Committee to exercise discretion in the Conference itinerary. This in itself would have seen it defeated, but with many present still able to recall Pippa’s disgraceful rant at Nottingham 17 months ago, it was kicked out by a massive majority vote by the well attended plenary.
This could be written off as just one of those things – motions fall routinely enough – but there was no excuse for what followed a few hours later. The next plenary looked at the reports from the officers of the Party. There was a fair bit of disquiet about the failure of about half a dozen officers to submit reports in time to be included in the agenda for consideration by the membership. Pippa’s Wales Leader report was one of these. It was explained that some had not received reminders in time and this was accepted by most, because all, except Pippa, were present to give a verbal report in person instead. Votes are taken on whether to accept or reject the reports presented. All were accepted. Pippa’s disappearance so soon after the plea to have a speech enshrined as a right went down like a lead balloon and she received a near unanimous censuring vote in her absence. This is unprecedented in my time of attending Conferences. All being well, I will be able to redress the image and opinion of Wales Green Party in the wider Party over the coming months and years.
Despite this, there was no getting away from the the very positive air and sense of urgency and desire to get on with raising our game in the light of the the influx of new and active members across the Party. It is going to be a very interesting 12 months coming up in all manner of ways!