For those who've been following these things there has been an ongoing "re-evaluation" of Green Party policy around scientific evidence. This came about mainly due to a few journalists helpfully letting us know that there was some deeply dodgy stuff in policy. It certainly came as a shock to many of us who had not thoroughly read our voluminous policy documents.
This conference saw the first swath of re-orientating our policy on a more science friendly footing. As one of the Party members who've been quite heavily involved in trying to change party policy the experience has been instructive and, I think because we were friendly and open minded in our approach - taking our time rather than just trying to crush anyone who looked like they were in opposition to us, the whole process has been quite effective.
I've already mentioned this but conference started well, as conference passed the motion on abolition of the science pledge. A policy so offensive to scientists and 'technologists' that it makes me wince just to think of it. Anyway, it's gone. Hurray.
This was quickly followed by the passing of the science chapter enabling motion which means that the party has officially endorsed a review and rewrite of our entire science and technology section of the PSS, our core policy document. That's going to take some hard work and we'll be looking for people both inside and outside of the party to help us with that process.
However, some of the key problem areas were in the health chapter which is why a review of this section was prioritised and we voted on this new document on Saturday and this morning. There were a whole number of improvements made and it's to the great credit of the health group that these went through relatively smoothly.
Many of the amendments to policy were on subjects like patient empowerment, the way private medicine feeds off the NHS and breast feeding but I'll stick to the science stuff for the time being.
The headlines in this are that we state that we "will not make judgements on individual treatments or medicines" as that is the job of regulators and scientists which replaced a very specific and somewhat rigid list of treatments we, apparently, like in favour of others.
In HE312 we have removed the idea that health research will have a "particular emphasis" on "holistic treatments" and "complementary therapies". We removed the statement that "vivisection is of questionable value and incompatible with ecological philosophy" replacing it with a section calling for "a thorough evaluation of animal tests" which seems difficult to disagree with as it happens already.
In HE314 we previously had the difficult situation where we appeared to state that alternative therapies did not require the same kind of regulation as more conventional medicines. Conference amended this to ensure that all medicines are properly regulated and subjected to the same controls "based on the best clinical evidence available". We also deleted a long section on "natural medicines", whatever they might be.
Importantly HE315 now states that "We recognize that the assessment of treatments... should be driven by clinical need rather than either political or commercial influence."
Bizarrely, we did have a policy that opposed some stem cell research (but not using adult stem cells) and appeared to be, and maybe even was, the sort of thing George W. might have approved of. This was also problematic because it clashed with our 100% pro-choice agenda on abortion.
Now the policy reads that we look to the "benefits to humans and other animals from stem cell technologies, using both adult and embryonic cellular material. These benefits include direct medical advances, improved non-animal testing methods for new medical treatments, and the advancement of knowledge." What a relief!
As a last part of this process this conference we also took a look at the animal rights section and although the motion, C9, that I proposed was not passed the animal experimentation policy has been improved by removing direct reference to "scientific" grounds for opposing animal experimentation and the rather blanket reference to "superior non-animal technologies" which implied all animal tests had an already existing superior alternative that did not involve harm to animals.
However, my ambition to strip out all reference to scientific grounds for opposition to animal testing was not approved by conference. I had hoped to stick to the ethics of animal rights within this section and leave the policy on the utility of animal testing to the health section, which seemed more appropriate, but I think members thought this was a step too far and they wanted policy to reassure them they were objectively right on a moral stance. I'm determined to see the positives of this but secretly I'm gutted at this (single) conference defeat.
The debate itself was conducted in a very friendly way and I'm grateful to those who disagreed with me (us) for the open, honest and political way they debated the issues as sometimes these things can get very fraught.
When push comes to shove the Green Party has made great strides forwards at this conference and the focus is now to pull apart the science policy and make sure it's strong, evidence based and relevant to a campaigning political party that wants to see progressive change. All help much appreciated.