Monday, March 26, 2007

What kind of party?

Saturday: The day of the big set piece battle. The previous couple of days had seen forces being mustered on either side and negotiations and maneuvering over the minor points and amendments to THE motion of the conference that everyone was excised about. D1: do we ballot the members on whether the Green Party should change it's structures to have a leader/deputy leader or co-leaders rather than the current system of principal speakers who have no vote on the executive?

I blogged on this before but to fill you in if you haven't read that post there is a long standing debate inside of the party on whether to have structures that the press can readily understand or pose ourselves as a party quite unlike the mainstream parties with their spin and undemocratic top down models.

Over at the New Statesman female Principal Speaker Sian Berry says that the current system is frustrating due to the difficulties the press have in understanding Green Party structures. "I come up against this all the time, and invariably find myself using up valuable broadcast time explaining the curious way I have to be described."

Derek, our other principal speaker (the one with the tie) on the other hand has a different view. He told the BBC that "the Greens should not be "sucked in" to having a figurehead like other parties... "I do think being called a leader has the potential to corrupt. I look forward to being replaced as principal speaker by someone better but I will mourn if speakers make way for old-style, ego-led political figures. I have no easy answers, I won't tell you any comforting lies but I know my history and I can recognise a trap however well disguised."

One of my concerns had been that this debate in particular would see tempers frayed and problems with delegates behaviour. However, it was one of the most fraternal debates I've ever seen in a political organisation when there are such deeply entrenched positions on both sides.

One of the reasons for this is undoubtedly a lot of work had gone in beofre hand to achieve concensus over at least parts of the motion. Also the motion was to consult, debate and then ballot the membership - not to change the structures from this conference. There were people on the "no to a leader" side who found this idea rather appealing as a way of popularising and discussing how the Greens do politics with people both inside and outside of the party.

On this I completely agree and it was the reason I ended up voting with the motion (which passed *reasonably* easily) without actually having to make my mind up yet on how I would actually vote comethe ballot. As an opportunity to discuss how its possible to do politics from the base up it becomes rather exciting, rather than a dry debate about internal structures.

The amendments, of course, were not so cut and dried. Some slipped through uncontesciously - like A3 inserting the sentence "We reject the hierarchical structure of leaders and followers." Which is a curious clause to have in a motion about adopting a leader, but I like it.

We also voted to scrap the list of inspirational figures, which I pointed out earlier was not well thought out. Motions to delay the ballot or raise the bar rather high (like having to have 3 MPs) were squashed quite unceremoniously although the consultation was lengthened which meant that there was both more time for a proper detailed debate and also that the process would not clash with the re-election of our current post holders.

A motion that the "leaders" have no vote on GPEx clearly fell with Caroline Lucas arguing that the leader can't be accountable if they are not responsible for any decisions. It seemed a good point.

The absolutely disgraceful amendments that you could only stand for these positions if you'd only been a member for ten or eight years (or that they already be an elected MP or MEP) found no favour with anyone at all and it was rather curious that you had people ostensibly arguing for a non-hierarchical structure that only a small elite could take part in. Hmmm. Of course it leads to the suspicion that it was a wrecking amendment designed to make the motion fall and rightly delegates had no truck with that sort of thing.

In the end what we had was a politcal debate where attempts to play silly buggers were mercifully small, and where they did occur they were given short shrift. People take their party seriously, and want to promote radical politics rather than engage in a prolonged faction fight. Excellent.

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