Monday, September 25, 2006

Green Left fringe meeting

Saturday night was time for the Green Left fringe meeting. I think this is the first time Green Left has made an official appearance at conference and it was pretty good in my opinion - certainly the biggest fringe I attended.

Green Left is an "ecosocialist" current inside of the Green Party (please don't ask me what ecosocialist means beyond being both ecological and socialist, I have no idea). This is not a Workers Spatula type affair, it's got the backing of key Green Party figures like Richard Mallender (National Chair) who chaired the meeting and Sian Berry (new Principle Speaker). You can check out their website here if you want. No pressure.

Leaving out the chair there were four speakers. Miriam Kennett of the Green Economics working group, Derek Wall, who's running for Male Principle Speaker and pops up everywhere, Penny Kemp, cough, and Peter Tatchell, who needs no introduction.

Penny Kemp began proceedings with possibly the least left wing speech of the entire conference, let alone the Green Left fringe. Telling us about low energy light bulbs, setting up a community shop, how big a vote she got and life styles. Um, this is Green Party conference - do you really think is moving the debate forwards at all? The one interesting thing she said was that mass movements were important because the elected representatives need them to get through legislation.

BUZZ - Wrong! Elected officials are there to support the movement not the other way round. Sigh.

Miriam Kennett was really interesting and she did make me think I should sign up for this Green Economics thing in order to bring myself up to speed. She talked about the difference between charity and doing nice things for people and bringing about change at a systematic level, but most importantly she started talking about the kinds of real contributions she felt the left could make to the green movement.

For her the left brings forward a high quality and coherent analysis - a class analysis, and that any study of neoliberalism had to start their, with an understanding of class. As the first green I've heard at conference talk about class struggle she gets the JimJay award for excellence. Congrats.

Derek Wall spoke very well I thought - despite his voice failing. I thought he was good on fundamentals like the fact that any attempt to save the planet from ecological disaster has to understand and take on capitalism itself. He also did some groovy name checking of Marx, William Morris and William Blake which was fleeting but pleasant.

Two things he said require further thought on my part.

Firstly he described the Green Left as a "comfort zone" which was the last thing I expected him to say. I suppose he was emphasising the fact that the project is genuinely not intended to be part of a factional struggle in the party, and I suppose somewhere where you can touch base with the ideas of class analysis and anti-capitalism. However, it does seem odd to me to describe something that hopes to promote class struggle as a comfort zone. Anyway.

Secondly, central to Derek's view of the economic problems we face today is about constant growth and accumulation - something central to most economists view of what a healthy economy looks like - but possibly moving towards the more hair shirted environmentalism that I feel less affinity to. I'm probably being unfair - as I say I'm keen to discuss economics a bit more just to help myself get my head around the issues.

Lastly Peter Tatchell spoke very well indeed and he was the first speaker, somewhat surprisingly for a left meeting, to place the emphasis on trade unionism and the workers movement itself. That was great and, I think, it helped raise the whole tone of the debate. He also laid out what he thought Green Left should be all about.

Firstly he said it was not there to "make trouble" (which may be a first for Tatchell, and obviously I mean that in a positive way) and that it was about strengthening the Green Party, something that has got to be the case, otherwise it's pointless. Certainly his views backed up what's I've been saying, that the Green Left has no real role in terms of ensuring policy moves left - it's already left, no question - although I'm sure GL can play a useful role in ongoing policy development.

For me I think it's about bring the Green Party into the trade unions, the anti-war movement, the climate change demo on the 4th Nov, et al as well as bringing those movements into the Greens. It's not that Green Party members aren't members of trade unions, or don't go on demos - but there does need to be a more coherent strategic approach, in my view, and it needs to go through the party from top to bottom rather than being left at the level of motions to conference or well intentioned initiatives of executive members. There's a gap between formal support and active involvement that really should be closed.

Tatchell talked about the cultural impact the green movement has had upon this country, to the extent that the mainstream parties are having to cope with and accommodate green ideas - but he also referred to the Green Party as the most successful left progressive party in the last fifty years - something that's pretty hard to argue with frankly, although historically those on the progressive left have not always seen the Greens as part of that movement.

That's why it's so important, according to Tatchell, that the Green Left help the Party as a whole appeal to trade unionists, to show the Green Party is the place for them and that those people from Labour or the hard left parties who are thinking of "making the jump" need that assurance. Perhaps that's what Derek meant by comfort zone.

Whether the left could cope with being in the Green Party I don't know. There would certainly be a culture shock - the tradition of centralisation goes deep, also the method of robust interventions and harsh political discourse certainly would leave any leftist unable to shake these habits pretty isolated in a party that has a decentralised, humanist ethic.

I was asked earlier whether Greens use the term 'comrade'. The obvious answer is no but there was a guy who used the word 'comrades' in a workshop and before I knew what I was doing I rolled my eyes and a load of people laughed. Oops - I hadn't actually meant to do that and the bloke who used the offending term is a good chap in my view - but image and how things come across is not really on his agenda. Thankfully I don't think he realised why people had laughed so his feelings were spared.

But this does beg the question what *do* the Greens refer to each other as? Colleague? Fellow party member? Elf master? I should really be told!


Ed said...

Did you see Tatchell's piece about Green Left in CiF the other day. It had its moments, but seemed rather repetitive, almost rant like in parts and suffered rather than gained from unnecessary attacks on the SWP.

Tatchell's presence in GL is quite an attraction for me - but I'm still not sure about joining

Jim Jay said...

I heard he had - have now read it here

His speech was much, much better than this - although it still contains some good points.

Three paras on Respect though - shame he did that - I don't remember him mentioning them in his speech, although i didn't reecord it so can't check. But he does define the greens as an anti-capitalist party which i thinmk is correct from what i've seen so far

Dave Riley said...

I'm interested in this project, Jim...I'll keep coming back for anything more you have to offer