Monday, November 03, 2008

Green Party Internal Democracy

This post may well only be of interest to a few of you, but here goes anyway. A little while ago I was asked to write about various aspects of the Green Party, how it works, what's it like to be a socialist in the Greens and so on. I'm not going to address all of that here, but I thought it was well over due so I'm going to chat a little about how the Green Party does internal democracy, which I'm in an interesting place to do from since getting elected as the convener of SOC (Standing Orders Committee).

Green Party delegates take a voteSo the first thing to say is that the party looks to ways of organising in a non-hierarchical way exploring consensual decision making processes whilst also coming to clear decisions through our conferences and internal elections.

This means that we open those decision making processes to all members and ensure the space for dissent and discussion. The Party has numerous internal discussion lists where members debate policy, tactics, regional issues and ideas, additionally there's a members website with various bits of information and documents of use (although this could be improved frankly). Any member can attend conference and can even subscribe to any list, including the executive's if they should so desire (this is on a read only basis).

The various groups inside of the party attempt to bring together those with particular interests, expertise or roles to bolster the party's ability to contribute on any particular subject. It's not the party's role to fulfill the expectations of the groups, but the groups' responsibility to promote good ideas and actions and implant them into the party.

As a small organisation this is vital. There's no huge national office able to comment on every news story or launch campaigns at every other moment - that's the responsibility of the members. The national office is only as good as the broader party that supports it - feeding it well written press releases or providing reports of best practice that be used more widely.

At our conferences (which are twice a year) opportunities for discussion are maximised whilst ensuring there are focused areas where business is conducted efficiently. In the best cases, motions, which need the support of just four members, are the culmination of an attempt to reach consensus around the issue on policy lists or whereever is most appropriate. We need to get better at that, but the principle is certainly there.

Each motion, which is placed on the ballot paper according to an all members preference ballot, has workshop space dedicated to it to discuss the detail of that motion in depth, a discussion that is then summarised at the plenary where debate is conducted in a more formal manner (speeches for/against, points of order - you know the drill). That means that motions that some members don't think are vital will still have the maximum number of delegates taking part in that decision making process but conference is not delayed by too much by minutiae better dealt with by those passionate on the subject.

In addition to this any member can submit to host a fringe meeting, which will be part of the official program. Although there's no guarantees on those fringes getting into the timetable most requests do get through, which allows members to lead the agenda as well as simply take part in it. The overall effect is that the conferences are overwhelming shaped by the members rather than the leadership, although obviously they have a role - it would mad if they didn't.

That commitment to pluralism is something that was really refreshing to me. Where party events were not just about the leadership transmitting their ideas downwards but where members speak to each other in a far less restricted way. That base up democracy is extremely healthy and seems to work very well nationally - although it's more patchy on a local party level.

Lastly, the annual elections for the national executive (GPEx) and various committees are all conducted on an STV (Single Transferable Vote) basis and, for GPEx, involve postal ballots of the members rather than just the activists who get themselves to conference. We're working on upping the amount of involvement in GPEx elections and certainly the last two rounds have both had improved turnouts and have resulted in more a representative executive. Hopefully we can continue this trend.

It's very easy to stand for the committees and these elections range from hardly contested like Conference Arrangements (one of the hardest working and most thankless groups in the party) which had just one, very capable, person stand for it at last conference for a committee of five, whilst SOC, which should also be pretty boring and too much work had nine candidates for the five positions and a very well attended, controversial hustings.

The spare places get topped up at the next conference and can be filled by non-voting co-optees in the meantime. I'd like to explore ways we can improve involvement in the committee elections in particular as their low profile tends to hinder those less involved becoming part of the internal workings of the party.

For information purposes at the next conference committee places up for grabs will include four on conference arrangements, one on international committee (due to a resignation), two on SOC (one person has reached the end of his maximum term, the other took up another post which could potentially conflict), and also Green World editorial board (I forget how many)... actually I might have missed one there, correct me someone. This is quite a good opportunity for someone who's not been very involved before to dip their toe in the water and see how they like committee life.

Also to increase involvement we're trying to publicise diaries well in advance - so for the next two conferences, for example, the diary for motions looks like this;

15 November – Last date for possible feedback on motions from SOC
30 November – First agenda deadline
15 December – First agenda published
15 January – Amendment deadline
31 January – Final agenda deadline.
20-23 March - Conference (Blackpool)

31 May – First agenda deadline
21 June – First agenda published
15 July – Amendment deadline
31 July – Final agenda deadline
Beginning of Sept - Conference (Brighton)

I hope that hasn't been too snoring boring - but it was on my to do list so thought I'd get it out the way. Feel free to ask questions although there's no guarantees I'll be able to answer them.


Green Gordon said...

Ooh, thanks for the deadlines, added to calendar now... Out of wonder, how is the decision made whether to run an election in the Spring, or to co-opt another party member?

Jim Jay said...

The committee decides.

Usually it seems to be when the openning appears as to whether they bother. So conferences which only had one person stand, she coopted people kind of straight away - SOC who've just had an openning after our training, meetings, and we're into various discussions are unlikely to co-opt at this point in the cycle - partly because we're working well as a team and so a new person would be interesting for the mix - although I'd rather we had five than four for the conference itself.