Friday, March 23, 2007

Democracy at conference

Thursday: Having a, cough, "history" on the far left I've been to a fair few conference in my time and so one of the novel things about Green Party conference is the way in which it is actually organised in an open and democratically accessible manner.

Although some conference goers complain about this or that decision or allude to the Party becoming less accountable it always has to be seen in the context that these people are not only given ample space to debate and raise their points it is a norm of conference that delegates have a great deal of control over how it is structured.

Obviously this process starts well before conference begins but I'll just mention how this works on the first day of conference. SOC is the body that does the main organising and arranging of conference and it issues a written report to conference (which you can read online).

Delegates are then free to come and discuss this in a workshop lasting an hour and twenty minutes, and they do. They support, oppose, and attempt to amend the report - and consequently the way conference is run. No shadowy Conference Arrangements Committee with a commitment to call exactly who it wants to call and do as it pleases.

Thursday morning there were eight amendments to the report all of which were hotly contested and then brought to a full conference session later in the day. Conference as a whole then discussed at length the various decisions that had been made on its behalf and made decisions on whether they supported them.

So, some amendments had been ruled out of order the proposers wanted them ruled back in. We could all read what they were before hand as even these motions were carried in the conference handbook. We voted 54% to 46% to rule them back onto conference floor.

Three amendments to the report that SOC vehemently opposed were carried easily. Three others were defeated easily and a rather tricky motion on how we were to take the leadership debate ended up as 71 for 88 against and one abstention.

I'm not filling you in on the detail because I think these are all crucial decisions but to demonstrate how a conference can be run democratically using a minimum of conference time (although the discussion could have gone on for a week) and that f various positions put their point of view sometimes they win and sometimes they lose... what's to complain about there. The context of this decision making process means that every delegate has the opportunity to put in a lot, a little or no effort into how their conference is run - and that progressive politics has to have democratic structures at its heart.

The personal behaviour of delegates can, at times, be problematic but so far this conference has been mercifully political in its disagreements, rather free from hidden factions or dominating control of the central organisers, much to their frustration. Although, rather embarressingly, the soundman did have a strop at one point and turn off the mikes which was absolutely surreal - I couldn't even work out what he'd got angry about... but this was the exception, not the rule.


Daniel S. Ketelby said...

The personal behaviour of delegates can, at times, be problematic...

Give us some anonymous examples... ooh, go on... ;)

Jim Jay said...

oh - you're trying to get me in trouble now! When I get home I might... although it's been amazingly well behaved "The Green Party at its best" Peter Cranie said to me...

Anonymous said...

RE 'the sound man' - he is a member & a volunteer & he was defending his wife from the chair BTW, so it was with honourable intent.
And as Paul Ingram says - if we can't handle NVDA who can?

Jim Jay said...

He may be a member and volunteer - but he was also in an extremely responsible position. One member of conference should never take it on themselves to shut down the entire conference - if he had a valid reason he could have called a non-confidence in the chair or asked conference floor to over rule a decision. There was no valid reason and there was nothing to "defend" his wife from - apart from democratic process.

Incidently NVDA is about seizing democracy where there is no other avenue - not about taking democracy away from everyone else because you're having a strop.

No one supported him. it was extremely inconvenient - no one raised any concerns about the chair from the floor. In fact very few people indeed have any idea about why he did what he did as NVDA it was both ineffective and reactionary.