Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Conference Report: Birmingham 2010

I thought better I'd round up Green Party conference so I can move onto some less Party orientated stuff. All in all I found myself rushing round like nobody's business with little time to reflect or take stock, and when I finally got back I had to go to yet another meeting. It's only now that I'm really getting to grips with what happened.

click to enlargeIt was certainly a good conference, the best venue in some time, well behaved party members and the most businesslike conference I've been to. It was a nice celebration of my birthday too, although if I'm honest I'd have rather the two things hadn't clashed. To make up for it you can see pictured Dawn Foster, myself and Adrian Ramsay giving thumbs up for conference (right).

Kate Sweeney described arriving in Birmingham "As usual, we caused a run on Guardians and soya milk in the local retail establishments, and the till guy in M&S said to me “You don’t want a bag do you? I know the Greens are in town” I should add that this was meant nicely."

We've already heard that Caroline Lucas and Adrian Ramsay won the leadership election - although with more than 25% of the vote on a good turnout Derek surprised some with the level of his support I think. The national executive elections found us with a majority woman executive for the first time since I joined the party, it also includes three Young Greens plus me.

The main conference opened with the leader's speech, Jane Watkinson said of Lucas' speech that "Remarkably, Lucas’s comments regarding the European parliament being a beacon of democracy and efficiently in comparison to the House of Parliament were particularly telling – the protocols associated with voting, debates and so forth are clearly detrimental to competent political debate and policy formation."

Adrian's speech, the day after, focused on the cuts. ""There's no doubt that these cuts to essential services will hurt those who most need help. But in the long-term they will hurt us all. Dismantling our public services is no way to build a fair society - and it's no way to build a strong economy."

Conference kicks off

First business as such was the various reports from internal party bodies which I wouldn't even normally mention but it was the first main session of conference I've chaired and we got through a phenomenal amount of business, so I was quite pleased with myself. Stephen Gray does point out though that "the only controversy being a point made about having signers at conference" so that may have helped.

Mind you, never chair Keith Taylor, our new MEP for the South West. Has he heard of time limits? Has he heck! Stuart reports on the motion Keith moved on the victimisation of the Roma in France. Philip was pleased with this as it fitted with the work with travellers that he'd been doing in his area.

Molly writes on the Living Within Our Means motion in which she says "The Green Party is struggling with an influx of socialists who are understandably disillusioned with the Labour Party. This is a small proportion of Labour Party membership but can become a significant minority of our party, and one which rapidly starts to weight us down towards one side of the left-right continuum that we really should be transcending." However, Joseph, who's no recent defector, thought the motion flawed.

Adam Ramsay said of the economic debates that "In the morning, the party passed an emergency motion to opposing cuts to public services. However, it later threw a sop to those who believe ecological destruction can be measured by GDP alone, and agreed to establish a working group to discuss whether there is a conflict between investing in building the infrastructure of the future and saving the future. We can only assume the working group will conclude that it doesn’t."

Other economic issues included shaking up the banks, NHS privatisition, and a publicly owned Royal Mail.

Fringes and other excitement

There were also a number of fringes on economic topics and Stephen Gray said that "an event organised by the Young Greens about the effect of the cuts on younger people. Like the debt meeting, this one covered a wide range of issues – about the effect cuts will have on public services for various vulnerable groups, and about the way the system has given younger people today a much rougher deal than their parents and grandparents had."

Natalie Bennett who moved the motion on prisoners rights (which means we now support prisoners' right to vote, when everyone was surprised to hear we didn't already) writes of the panel discussion where an ex-prisoner said “If you go to a man’s prison on visiting day see a line of buggies, women who are keeping the house and children going, paying the bills. You go to a women’s prison there is almost no one there – her life isn’t sustained.”

Darren Johnson writes on the education motion where he says "Thankfully, the Green Party has moved away from unquestioning support for both homeopathy and home education. At our conference last Autumn we finally ended up with an education policy we can be proud of."

Dawn Foster wrote of the job sharing MPs motion that was passed convincingly, and is getting discussed quite widely (also Rebel Raising), "Most campaigning bodies and workplaces (private, public and third sector) accept job sharing as a natural part of a functioning, inclusive organisation. That Parliament still doesn’t and is continuing to struggle against voter apathy is particularly telling. Lucas, in contrast to so many politicians, put her neck out and said “Now I know the Daily Mail and the rest of them will pour scorn on the idea and say it’s ideas like that which make us unelectable… Nothing would do more to open up politics to women”"

We also passed a motion called "update PSS on LGBTI and Other Equality and Diversity Issues" which, while well meaning, you may be able to get from the title that it essentially added a load of algebra into our policy documents. I really do wish people would write policy for the public not fellow specialists.

I had no objection to politics of the content though, unlike Stephen Gray who was disappointed that includes policy now has "a commitment that opt-outs from equality and discrimination laws by religious organisations will not be allowed. This has the somewhat ludicrous implication that religious groups will not be able to discriminate on the grounds of religion – so, for example, a mosque would not be able to require their imam to be a Muslim."

Then onto electoral reform

Paperback Rioter says "I attended both fringe meetings on electoral reform (can you tell I’m a bit obsessed?). Jim Jepps debated with someone from Unlock Democracy on whether the Greens should support AV in the Referendum. I was slightly disappointed by the arguments put forward by the Unlock Democracy representative. All she had to do was show how AV was a better system than FPTP, and then naturally follow from that that the Greens should support a Yes vote. This was never done... Another thing that griped was the constant interrupting of Jim Jepps when he was speaking. I’ve really enjoyed his blog for a while, and it was a pleasure to see him speak him person. His position – that AV would not benefit the Greens and they should therefore remain neutral instead and make the case for PR. It is an admiral, principled approach, and one that should not have been greeted with mild heckling and interrupting."

Spin Pitman says of the AV motion "The debate was pretty divided – resulting in me being less and less sure on my position as conference went on – yet finally being swayed by Peter Cranie’s speech on the failings of the pro-devolution movement in Scotland’s ’79 referendum."

In the end the party voted overwhelmingly to become part of the official Yes to AV campaign, but not to commit significant resources to the campaign.

Richard was disappointed that his motion on dictators fell which is a shame because I like to see everyone happy - despite the fact I voted against it. Also I think the movers of the motion for a 'Green Shadow Cabinet' were a bit surprised at how universally unimpressed people were with their motion and, as I predicted here, the motion was referred back as the movers had identified a problem but had come up with a hubristic and unworkable solution.

Darren Johnson, confident in his new beard, wanted a straw poll on the principle, which he ended up doing by bellow rather than through the chair. This was actually quite unhelpful as what would a yes or no vote mean? I think we need to improve the way we do spokespeople but I'd find it hard to be a member of the Greens if it had something called a Green Shadow Cabinet - it would simply be indicative of people with no sense of proportion or reality - anyway it fell. Good.

John Reardon praised the way we invite speakers from outside the Greens musing "My own experience suggests that the biggest barriers to cross party co-operation are large parts of the Labour Party, where tribalism is at its worst with many believing that no one else has the right to exist and must be destroyed."

Rounding off

Post worker union leader Billy Hayes spoke at conference saying that "The private sector caused this recession and now the government has unfairly chosen to attack the public sector. Our priority is to expand the economy out of recession and this week at the TUC congress our union will be seconding a motion to support the creation of a million new green jobs."

All in all, a very good, economics focused conference. My personal highlights would probably be the fringe on prostitution where we heard from a working street worker and someone from the English Collective of Prostitutes as well as the science fringe where Imran Khan, Frank Swain and Stuart Parkinson on "Science funding in an age of austerity". It's one of those times when I wish fringes could be longer than an hour.

Good stuff. I'm home now and I'll try not to write about the Party for a bit before I become a one track blogger. You can have too much of one thing you know.


Adam Ramsay said...

great summary Jim, as we've come to expect, though you missed gossip and tales of drunken moshing.

Jim Jepps said...

Thanks :)

Of course I actually *did* miss gossiping and drunken antics which is why it's not there... I'm an old man now you know.

Dawn Foster said...

The drunken moshing was disgraceful. As was the fact you deigned to forget my birthday coincided with yours.

Gary Dunion said...

This is how history is distorted. I was not drunk, I just really wanted a mosh. And it wasn't disgraceful at all, in fact I see it as a metal ballet.

earwicga said...

Thanks Jim, really interesting post and links, especially Natalie Bennett's.

I have a couple of questions leading from everything above.

1) Women are under-represented in local politics which *is* part-time so while I can see that a job-share role as MP would be great, how does this relate to other levels of politics?

2) What the hell does Molly's comment about ex-Labour people mean? I've read the post and am none the wiser. It reminds me of Sunny's 'pure' comment. Also of clones.

PS - please don't stop blogging about the party. I live in the wilds with no Greens local to me so I rely on blogs.

Rob White said...

Thanks Jim. I was at conference, but now feel far more aware of exactly what happened!

One small correction, Keith Taylor is the MEP for the South East not South West.

Stephen Wood said...

Really fascinating insight into the conference - really useful for those of us who weren't able to make it this year.

I'd be interested to hear over the coming months how the inclusion of activists previously within Labour or the Liberal Democrats into the Green Party affects our policy focus but also our internal culture. I'd be curious to hear your views on that as the year unfolds.

Much appreciated,

Jim Jepps said...

"1) Women are under-represented in local politics which *is* part-time so while I can see that a job-share role as MP would be great, how does this relate to other levels of politics?"

I asked Natalie this in my pre-conference twitter interview.

Me: It's my impression that a lot of grass roots or community activists are women - but the 'higher' you go in politics they start to thin out.

Natalie: Very much! Go to a local consultation & the people contributing time for free will be mostly women, the people paid to be there, mostly males.

Me: You'd have to pay me to go to some of those meetings... what can we do to make sure women are represented more fairly at a higher level?

Nat: Identify the many who'd be good at it. Ask them, ask them again, badger them, put the forms in their hands, take signed forms in for them!

Me: So your answer to gender inequality is to bully women? :)

Nat: You're beating lifetime pressures against stepping forward & like a reluctant woman rugby player I knew, they enjoy it once they've started.

Jim Jepps said...

"2) What the hell does Molly's comment about ex-Labour people mean? I've read the post and am none the wiser. It reminds me of Sunny's 'pure' comment. Also of clones."

I think she's wrong about this on at least two fronts. Firstly I think the left of the party is not a specifically Labour influx. I believe the reason she thinks this is because the party has become much more serious minded about economics since the financial crash and the recession - which I welcome.

It means that the experimental ideas from some of our blue sky thinkers have been sidelined in favour of economic policy that members can actually understand.

I'm actually going to be one of the people charged with taking her proposals forwards - and what we'll be doing is developing a clearer set of tools for members and activists to grapple with the tension between our long term and short term economic policy.

Molly says lots of good and interesting things - but on the left/right thing I'm comfortable to disagree with her.

"PS - please don't stop blogging about the party. I live in the wilds with no Greens local to me so I rely on blogs."

I understand and thanks! I just need to redress the balance a bit as I normally only blog about the party occasionally it feels like the last couple of months I've overdone it a bit.

I'm not going to stop blogging about the Party, but I don't want to end up boring myself and those readers who like the other stuff I do too.

Jim Jepps said...

"One small correction, Keith Taylor is the MEP for the South East not South West." Gah! Schoolboy error.

"I'd be interested to hear over the coming months how the inclusion of activists previously within Labour or the Liberal Democrats into the Green Party affects our policy focus but also our internal culture. I'd be curious to hear your views on that as the year unfolds."

Personally, so far, I think the new members have had an overwhelmingly positive influence and created a far more healthy atmosphere.

If I compare my first conference, where people were screaming in each other's faces, and expressing themselves in a way that only a small portion of the *party* could understand, let alone the public with this one where the majority of debate and discussion was conducted in a polite, well behaved way in an accessible language I'm very pleased with the way the party is going.

Politically I think this could well have an impact - generally to make our ideas more relevant - and I do think the party has a very different attitude towards, say, science now than it did ten years ago, which I'm happy about.

Natalie Bennett said...

Re your comment on local politics earwicga (and thanks for tweeting my women in prison post):
Being a councillor may be part-time, but many of the conscientious councillors I know (not all of them Greens) work at it almost like a fulltime job, even though the pay can be very small. So they've either got to have another source of income, or work part-time elsewhere as well, making effectively more than a fulltime load. Plus if you have, for e.g. caring responsibilities for an aged parent, that might unexpectedly take significant patches of time, that's difficult to fit in as a lone rep.

Greensen said...

Thanks for that Jim, fascinating read.

As for Molly's comment re the Labour influx - i commented on this on me blog last night;)

Molly seems to dismiss the "left" whilst at the same time claiming herself/pure Greens to be beyond left/right categories.

Reminds me of my old history lecturer. She was a Liberal party councillor and stood for parliament several times. She dismissed every piece of historical writing by marxists as "ideological" and "dogmatic". Like, hello!

Derek Wall said...

Yes many of us on the 'left' have been party members for decades, the party has though moved left. Obviously pluralism is good and the left does often need criticism, there are different dimensions to politics but 'neither left nor right' does not cut it.

Are we on the side of elites, are we instead going to support liberation or are we going to refuse to take sides?

Green is left!

From William Morris to EP Thompson Marxists have contributed strongly to green politics in the UK.

weggis said...

Still stuck in the old adversarial, conflict based politics, I see Derek.

That which our Leader has been complaining about recently.

Ideas, concepts and paradigms should be judged on their merits, not some outdated label. THAT is the Green Way.

Derek Wall said...

sadly we haven't quite got rid of that outdated concept of oppression....I hope we can move on but ignoring conflct does not remove conflict.

weggis said...

From "Make Wealth History"

"Nature draws no distinction between ideologies, and the world doesn’t fit into our political constructs. Something is either sustainable or it isn’t, and neither capitalism nor socialism is ‘the answer’."

modernity said...


please, please do blog more on the Greens, specially the issue of the committee on antisemitism and what happened to it....