Saturday, March 24, 2007


Friday and Saturday: Derek Wall and Sian Berry, joint principal speakers for the Green Party, gave their first ever keynote speeches to conference in their new positions too which they were elected late last year.

Both are left-wing greens but both have very different styles and emphasis and it was interesting hearing their speeches - Derek on Friday and Sian on Saturday.

Derek spoke strongly and noticeably without notes, although I feel obliged to point out he was wearing the most extra-ordinary tie I have ever seen. It was clear from the beginning he had no intention of making a safe, inoffensive speech too bland to be worth listening to. He wanted to emphasis "disturbing thoughts".

He started his speech by immediately referring to 'catastrophe' and focusing on the problems facing the world and the green movement. In fact this was probably the most controversial aspect of his speech with a number of people I spoke to afterwards concerned that the Greens are too often associated with doom and gloom rather than positive approaches and solutions.

I tend to agree on the point, but Derek carried it off well and it was a good antidote to the patience and respectableness of those who perhaps are not fully engaged with the seriousness of the current global problems.

Again Derek was broad in his approach - denouncing imperialism, talking about the trade union freedom bill, calling for direct action against Exxon and Gordon Brown's budget asking us to work more, commute more, in fact do everything damaging more - and in essence deepen pour unhappiness.

He said "Brown may have commissioned the Stern report, but there's little evidence that he's actually read it." He also had a few good quips in there, I particularly liked the one where he described carbon offsets as planting a tree on stolen land whilst mainlining petroleum.

The second criticism of Derek's speech was that some people thought that it didn't feel like a speech just weeks before an election in which the whole party was supposed to be mobilised. I think that's true to an extent, but I also think taken together, as a team, where Derek provided some intellectual and well thought out meat, Sian gave us upbeat electoral ambition and enthusiasm. One of the advantages I suppose of not having a single figure head.

Sian emphasised how, at the ballot box, we're given alternatives between different shades of grey - but the mainstream politicians have begun to understand that green issues are good for votes. But as she said "green is not a sharp new suit you can wear" and if we wanted politicians who were committed to social justice and combating environmental destruction then we need the real deal - not someone whose focus group tells them to look green this week.

Sian, like Derek, wanted to start a debate in the party - but Sian's vision was about the party contesting each and every seat at the next general election in England and Wales. She compared the fact that at the last local elections we contested one in eight seats and the last general one in three. For her, if we are to be seen as a real national force that means giving everyone in the country the opportunity to vote for a Green.

As I say, this might be a bit electoral for some - me included - and she was setting the bar high - but that was what her speech was for. Whilst Derek gave us something to think about Sian was giving the Party something to do. I thought these messages complimented each other well, particularly when taken with Rhodri's speech on Thursday placing us firmly as a radical, progressive party - committed to working class people and addressing the real problems we face in our everyday lives.

After thought: Just a note to remind people that last year at Brighton there was a row about the election, which Derek went on to win. At the time I said that "any male principle speaker elected without Keith on the ballot paper would have no legitimacy and a decision of that nature could spark a civil war in the party" and I think Derek conference speech demonstrates that to be true.

There was a concensus that this was a good speech, even from those who did not vote for him - but how well received would this important key note speech have been if the members had not had the opportunity to vote for their prefered candidate? It's clear the decision that was taken was the best one for the party - and therefore totally correct.


Anonymous said...

Do we have a winning combination here?
Along the lines of Margaret Thatcher (set the bar high) and Keith Joseph (the thinker)?

Jim Jay said...

lol :)