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Taking a broader perspective…

Green Party Conference Review…

By Darrell Goodliffe and Jane Watkinson

Saturday

After checking into what seemed to be a hospital, getting lost due to the overrated Google Map directions whilst the heavens opened up on us, we finally made it to the conference venue. Our conference started with an introduction session from Caroline Lucas. As one of the fellow members (well Jane’s fellow, Darrell is Labour – and no, Darrell didn’t vote!) remarked in the comment/Q&A session after Lucas’s speech; Lucas had taught us more about the workings of parliament in five minutes than years full of political debate and knowledge inquiring experience. 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.

Lucas made some interesting points regarding pluralism but when it came to the possible inclusion of Zac Goldsmith within some kind of progressive movement she was going a bit far and maybe highlighted some political tension within the Green narrative. Although she said she thought he might soon realise he had made a mistake his voting record seems to indicate some contentment with his current position under the Tories big green ‘tree’. He has only rebelled once against the government and has voted for things like the increase in VAT, strongly in favour of Academy Schools and against the need for consultation about their status (which is particularly interesting in light of Murdoch’s plans to sponsor an academy) and tellingly, against the inclusion of Trident in the Strategic Defence Review.

We then made our way to the electoral reform fringe, where the pros and cons of supporting AV in an upcoming referendum were debated. On the pro-AV side was a representation from the Electoral Reform Society, whilst Jim Jepps represented the anti-AV side. It was clear then, before the plenary where the members voted for the Greens to positively endorse the AV campaign (more on this below – we are also soon to publish an AV myth busting article, and Jane is also set to write a piece on AV – so watch this space) that there was a clear sense amongst those present that AV is the way forward for electoral reform. As you will see from our future articles, we were on Jim’s side.

Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the CWU, opened the debate on cuts with a stinging attack on the governments proposals to privatise the Post Office and talked about the areas of common ground between himself as a Labour Party member and the Greens. Darrell felt that he was definitely welcomed by the conference and despite areas of political difference, firm grounding for common action and campaigns exist. This is the nub of the question; whether the Green Party can become a viable opposition and therefore attract more support and wield power both through weight of votes and how it engages with people like Hayes in common campaigning. In other words, the Labour left is a zone of engagement for green politics and furthering green political aims.

The night ended with a quiz hosted by the Young Greens. Our team name was the “Colour Blind Greens” – but our favourite name has to be the AV+ (who we think won, as we didn’t stay for the results because our stomachs were eating themselves – ask Cory Hazlehurst for confirmation).

Sunday

Our day opened with a very informative discussion regarding prostitution, chaired by Natalie Bennett, which sought to explain and highlight the reasons for why Green Party policy is to support the decriminalisation of prostitution. Something that neither of us knew, was that once you have received a criminal record for prostitution, it is there to stay forever. Now, this is a testament to how unbelievably illogical the current prostitution policy is. Women are told that it is illegal to work together in brothels, so any safety they have from working together is made near impossible. They are then told to get off the streets, but not before the police brand them with a criminal record, which makes it hard for the women to then get another job – and so, the law actually forces women onto the streets.

It is right that instead, women should be given the choice to work as sex workers, and that they should also be given the protection if they do so. Furthermore, we need to tackle the social reasons for why women get into prostitution, such as poverty, debt and drugs. The current ConDem economic policies however, will only seek to make this worse. Women need the Green party and other activists and political representatives to help further the case for decriminalisation. The attitudes of the police officers, especially in light of the new elected commissions, were raised as important issues to think about. In all, the debate was a clear contrast to the Compass fringe held on sex work, and in our opinion a lot better.

Following on from the morning session there was a promising-sounding session on ‘Eco-cohesion’ which failed to deliver on its potential. It’s quite clear that current economic debate is basically dominated by the supposed ‘choice’ between market-based solutions and state based ones and something new and invigorating is desperately needed. However, this session did not provide that and while the host was obviously well-meaning it is hard to see what fresh insight was offered beyond what most people would readily recognise as a Marxist critique of capitalism, alienation; so on and such forth.

A basic tension exists within the Green Party between its ‘ecologist’ and ‘socialist/social democratic’ wing. This isn’t fully formed and at the moment the Green’s are not that developed for it to have significant consequences but if the Green’s do grow then it will start to matter and manifest more clearly. Capitalism’s impact demands structural change and therefore the commonality between eco-economics and socialism is therefore self-evident and indeed this is where the possibility for synthesis exists.

Tensions of a different kind were on show in the second plenary which debated one of the central questions of the conference; whether the Party should lend its support to the ‘Yes’ campaign for AV. The difficulty of this decision was well illustrated by the fact that even the motion calling for this committed few resources and made the support of the Party essentially moral but not practical in nature. This reflects the fact that a sizeable number of Green’s are against the referendum. Adopting a neutral position would indeed have made the most logical sense because it is the lowest risk strategy and does not fundamentally divide the Party; in fact, it makes it stronger. What is noticeable about this debate are two broad patterns a) that supposedly reluctant champions of AV are being backed by their own position into ‘talking it up’ and b) its proponents are (and this relates to a) increasingly divorcing themselves from wider realities and sounding like electoral reform is the only thing that matters to them which will help the No campaign in the long-run.

In sum, the conference had a very strong democratic current running through it. Unlike parties such as Labour, the membership are trusted to decide the policy direction and organisational features of the party. This is crucial for preventing an oligarchical regime prevailing. There are signs however, that this may be undermined with the start-up of a shadow cabinet for example – we will have to see. But the procedure of workshops, reports and debates and then final voting is very unlike most mainstream parties, and clearly shows how the Green party are ahead on many issues.

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Filed under: Green Party, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 Responses

  1. […] 4 hours ago Facebook Jane WatkinsonCreate your badge Publications Broad Left BloggingGreen Party Conference Review… September 13, 2010By Darrell Goodliffe and Jane Watkinson Saturday After checking into what seemed […]

  2. “our stomachs were eating themselves – ask Cory Hazlehurst for confirmation!”

    It’s true!

    A nice round up of the comings and goings. You’re right about Caroline’s talk; a real eye opener.

    I await your articles on AV with interest!

  3. Ha! Thanks for that.

    And glad you liked the blog! And yes it was indeed.

    The AV articles will be asap, hope we can sway you slightly to question your own position.

  4. […] Facebook Jane WatkinsonCreate your badge Publications Broad Left BloggingGreen Party Conference Review… September 13, 2010By Darrell Goodliffe and Jane Watkinson Saturday After checking into what seemed […]

  5. […] the original post here: Green Party Conference Review… « Broad Left Blogging This entry was posted in Green Politics and tagged blind, environment policy, favourite-name, […]

  6. Jay Baker says:

    Thank you for providing us with much-needed insight into the Green Party and its issues, and for giving us some anecdotal perspectives as well. The Greens need more coverage, and more exposure, and it’s independent, alternative media forums such as this that need to be providing it. Thanks again!

  7. Thanks for that! Totally agree.

    Glad you liked it, and that it was informative for you.

  8. […] on public sector cuts, I met the lovely Jane Watkinson (who’s take on the day you can read here) and her equally lovely boyfriend Darrell, for an unsuccessful quiz and an (eventually) sucessful […]

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