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Taking a broader perspective…

Two replies to the #NotoAV camp….

Councillor Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter. You can view the original posts here and here.

This exchange between the excellent Jonathan Bartley of #Yes2AV and the spinning sneering smearer Charlotte Vere of #No2AV was on the BBC this morning.  As you’ll see if you watch it, in the course of a general swipe at ‘minor Parties’, Vere comes pretty close to suggesting that Green voters’ second choice is likely to be…the BNP! Specifically: The ‘example’ Vere gives of how AV is ‘unfair’ (!) to large Parties and partial (sic.) toward small Parties is of a voter whose first preference is Green and whose second preference is BNP and so on…

She’s a repeat offender regarding this sort of thing, as Greens know from her often-dreadful campaign against Caroline Lucas in Brighton, and as anyone knows who follows for instance the seemingly-endless string of misrepresentations on her twitter-feed in the course of this AV referendum campaign.

The truth of course is that there is very little demographic intersection between Green and BNP voters  (See Pat Dade’s work in Cultural Dynamics, for confirmation of this; the geodemographic profile of the BNP is, for illustration, quite similar to that of Tea Party supporters in the States – who are hardly like to be Green-leaning!.

Potential BNP voters are proportionately more likely to vote Conservative (or UKIP, or indeed Labour) than they are to vote Green. Not, presumably, the kind of fact that Ms. Vere, a Conservative, likes to broadcast… So, on live TV, she smears small Parties in general and the Greens in particular (perhaps she is still smarting at having been beaten by one?), instead…

A reply to William Hague.

Dear_________,

Without your help, Britain’s traditional voting system could be ditched for something that is unfair, expensive and allows candidates that finish third to win elections.

On May 5th, there’s a nationwide referendum on whether to replace the system of First Past the Post with the ‘Alternative Vote’ – or AV. The Liberal Democrats demanded this referendum as part of the Coalition agreement – but the Conservative Party are actively campaigning for a ‘No’ vote. Here’s why:

AV is unfair. With First Past the Post, everybody gets one vote. But under AV, supporters of extreme parties like the BNP would get their vote counted many times, while other people’s vote would only be counted once.

RR: This is nonsense. It is like saying that if you go to a restaurant, and find that your preferred dish is not available because it wasn’t popular enough, then you shouldn’t have the chance to have a 2nd preference. AV is STV for single constituencies: It could equally well be named STV. Each person has only a SINGLE Transferrable Vote. (It is also worth noting, seeing as Hague gratuitously mentions the BNP here to try to smear the #Yes2AV campaign, that the BNP are campaigning FOR FPTP and AGAINST AV. This isn’t surprising: because the BNP will suffer badly under AV, which is the worst of all electoral systems for extreme Parties hated by the majority of voters, as explained here.

AV doesn’t work. Rather than the candidate with the most votes winning, the person who finishes third could be declared the winner.

RR: Yes, of course, the person who finishes 2nd or 3rd ON FIRST PREFERENCES could become the winner – IF they get enough transfers from other candidates. That is exactly HOW AV works. So, for example, David Miliband got more 1st preferences than Ed Miliband in the Labour Leadership election. But Ed won more transfers, and so came out the eventual winner. What this shows is that there were a lot of people who _didn’t_ want David to win, whose first preference was for Balls, Abbott, or Burnham. If the Labour leadership contest had been conducted via FPTP, then those people would have been forced either to tactically vote for Ed (thus being deprived of the ability to express their actual 1st preference) or would have risked ‘wasting’ their vote. AV ends those kinds of painful betrayals of democracy, and facilitates people expressing what their actual preferences are. (It therefore also, crucially, allows smaller Parties over time to build up their 1st preferences until they become contenders to actually win. This is how the Green Party has grown in Australia – see my recent letter in PROSPECT magazine).

AV is expensive. Calculating the results is a long, complicated process, which would cost the taxpayer millions.

RR: Actually, AV would be barely any more expensive at all than FPTP: see here. The very small additional cost – basically, the extra staff time to count the more complex ballot papers on election night – is surely a price worth paying for democracy. (Of course, it would be much cheaper to dispense with elections altogether – this seems to be the ultimate logic of this particular ‘argument’ of the No2AV side…)

No-one wants AV. Even the ‘Yes’ campaigners don’t actually want AV – they see it as a convenient stepping stone to yet more changes to how we vote.

RR: Well, it is certainly true that there are a good number of Yes2AV campaigners who would in the longer term want PR, myself included. But the question before voters is what stance to take IN THIS REFERENDUM. The Green Party’s preferred policy is PR: but AV is our second preference, above FPTP!… Hague is trying here to make the best as we see it the enemy of the good. His argument fails: just because AV is not perfect is no reason to vote for a worse system (FPTP) on May 5th! Given the alternative on offer, I DO want AV. (Also, we need to bear in mind that there are plenty of ordinary voters out there, and some members of the Yes2AV campaign, who DON’T want PR, and who do want AV. The AV referendum is about AV – let’s not let Hague distract with irrelevant remarks about PR.)

_______________________________________________________________

Thank you,

William Hague

Foreign Secretary

Comment on William’s message on the Blue Blog

Filed under: Conservatives, Electoral Reform, Green Party

AV is a ‘game changer’….

Councillor Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blogand twitter. The below letter was published in Prospect.

To the Editor;

Peter Kellner’s piece (Jan. ’11) on how the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill badly underestimates the effect that AV will have on the composition of the Commons.

Because it puts an end to the main form of tactical voting and to the ‘wasted vote’ argument, AV changes the expressed first preferences of voters. For example, the rise of the Greens in Australia has been predicated on growing numbers of Aussies voting Green even if and where the Greens have little chance of winning; voters can affords to do this, because their second preferences etc will still count.

If the AV referendum goes through, expect much more substantial changes to British politics (than Kellner has woken up to) -including an accelerated rise for the Green Party.

Faithfully,

C’llr. Rupert Read, one of 21 Norwich Green Councillors

Norwich

Filed under: Electoral Reform, Green Party,

From alternative media to alternative vote….

Councillor Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter. This post was reproduced with the authors kind permission from One World Column.

I missed the major Norwich #Yes2AV organising meeting this week – because I was at the @OneWorldColumn party, which unfortunately was taking place at the same time…

To make up for missing the meeting, I am devoting my column this month to the reasons why I think it is so important, for democracy in this country, for the AV referendum, when it happens, to be won. This issue is very pertinent at the moment because, worryingly, the bill to provide for the referendum is still moving at only a snail’s pace through the Lords, due to ongoing and constitutionally-dubious delaying tactics by AV’s opponents. As the person who scooped the entire establishment media to bring the news to the nation of when the Coalition was scheduling the AV referendum for I have, naturally, been following this story more closely than many. I hope it will end happily. For our political system badly needs this referendum to be won.

Why?

Well, check out this poster. I think that this nicely sums up some of the central reasons for voting Yes in the referendum, and why it matters:

Now let’s consider some common arguments against AV, and see how well they stand up. People sometimes say, for instance, that AV maximises the votes of extremist candidates. This might well be technically true, in the sense that people are no longer discouraged from voting for the candidate of their choice, under AV, because AV eliminates the ‘wasted vote’ argument that is the bane of small parties under FPTP. However, relative to AV, it is FPTPthat maximises the seats that are gained by extremist parties. This is demonstrable for example in relation to Council elections in this country: there are many seats that the BNP have won under the present system that they would without doubt have lost under AV: for the second and third and fourth preferences of voters voting for mainstream/non-fascist parties would in very many cases have transferred against the BNP. In seats where it is not obvious who to vote for in order to stop the BNP, FPTP is the system of choice for the BNP. Which may well partly explain why the BNP, somewhat understandably, is calling the AV referendum a conspiracy against the BNP…

People sometimes claim that it is wrong that under AV votes transfer at full strength. Should a 5th preference really count as much as a 1st or 2nd preference? The answer to this is that if you allow some second preference votes to count for more than others, than you reintroduce into voters’ calculations, from the start, standard ‘tactical voting’ considerations – the very considerations that have increasingly deformed Britain’s democracy as we have moved away from being a political duopoly. AV cuts through all that, and abolishes tactical voting in its classical form. AV means that one does not have to shy away from voting for the candidate(s) who one supports, in simple order of descending preference.

Once one understands the reality of how the two systems work, then the choice between FPTP and AV is really a no-brainer: unless either one wishes for some unaccountable reason to keep mass tactical voting alive for the sake of it, or supports fascist parties such as the BNP….

But people say that AV won’t much change our political culture, because it wouldn’t much change our election results. But: this is to make the rash assumption that those who voted (say) LibDem at the recent General Election actually do have LibDem as their 1st preference, that those who voted Labour actually do have Labour as their 1st preference, etc. . In fact, this assumption is much worse than rash – it is manifestly false. It is falsified by the existence of large-scale tactical voting, under FPTP.

 

The big question about the effect of AV on election results is how the abolition of tactical-voting and of ‘wasted vote’ arguments (an abolition that AV very largely, thankfully, effects) and the drastic reduction in safe seats that it will simultaneously bring about will affect the first-preference votes of the LibDems and of smaller Parties. In some seats (notably, Labour-Conservative marginals), the LibDems are at present perceived not to have a chance; their first-preferences will go up under AV, in those seats. But this is unlikely to help them much at all in the short term – because, in such seats, they are in most cases far enough behind that they will still be eliminated before either the Conservatives or Labour. In many seats (including obviously most of the seats they actually hold), the LibDems currently benefit a great deal from tactical voting: in these seats, their first preferences will slump, under AV. It may well be that in some cases those first preferences (which will turn into 2nd or 3rd preferences, under AV) will slump so much that the LibDems will be eliminated before the 2 ‘main’ Parties – or indeed before smaller Parties, whose first preferences will in many cases leap up, once tactical voting and ‘wasted vote’ arguments have been eliminated by AV.

This is a reason for believing that the LibDems may, ironically, suffer in 2015 from AV, rather than benefitting from it. So, if you are one of those people who is worried about voting for AV because you don’t want to do the LibDems a favour, then I would suggest to you that you need worry no longer…

In the longer term, a great advantage of AV is that it enables smaller Parties (which the LibDems may well be again, after the next General Election!) that are not thoroughly disliked by a majority to build up their votes. This is how the Green vote has grown in Australia, for instance, to the point where the Greens have won seats in the Upper House (elected by PR) through being able to build up their first-preference votes (through AV) in the Lower House. And the Aussie Greens have now won their first seat in the Lower House, through second-preference-transfers under AV…

Thus AV, unlike FPTP, makes it comparatively easy for democracies to outgrow ossified Party structures – such as arguably we have in Britain, today.

To sum up: Because it puts an end to tactical voting and the ‘wasted vote’ argument, AV changes the expressed first preferences of voters. For example, the rise of the Greens inAustralia has been predicated on growing numbers of Aussies voting Green even if and where the Greens have little chance of winning; voters can affords to do this, because their second preferences etc will still count.

If the AV referendum goes through, expect substantial changes to British politics – including an accelerated rise for the Green Party. It is interesting to reflect on what might have happened in Norwich South in the 2010 General Election, had the Election been run under AV. The LibDems narrowly won, as a result of mass tactical voting for them, to get rid of Charles Clarke. Under AV, as the election may well be in 2015, would they still have won? Or might we have seen a Green MP, in Norwich?…

It will be good for democracy for small non-extremist Parties which are hurt by FPTP to grow, as AV facilitates. It will be good to end the nonsense of mass tactical voting. It will be good to create a momentum of successful political reform, which could lead on from AV to democratisation (at last) of the House of Lords, to…

And it will be good to give one in the eye to the BNP, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, and the other awful people who are ‘leading’ the #No2AV campaign…

For all these reasons and more, when the time comes, I’m voting Yes. I hope you will, too…

 

Filed under: Electoral Reform, Green Party, Liberal Democrats, Media,

Memo to Mervyn King: Pick up the phone and call Caroline Lucas….

Derek Wall is former Principal Speaker of the Green Party. He keeps a regular blog from an eco-socialist perspective at Another Green World whilst regularly contributing to the Morning Star.

Monetary policy is essential. Since 1997 the UK economy has been run primarily not by the government but by the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. Nine men and even sometimes a women meet monthly and vote whether to put interest rates up, down or on hold. It is never revealed what kind of coffee they drink but it is no secret that their grail is the inflation target. They have to achieve an inflation rate measured by the Consumer Price Index of 2% plus or minus 1, i.e they have to keep inflation within a band between 1 and 3%. If they fuck up, they must write a letter of grovelling apology to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This was quite scary when the incumbent was Gordon Brown, I suspect he would have taken out his glass eye and thrown it out them in rage, when the letter was delivered. It is doubtful perhaps whether George Osbourne or his likely Labour successor would get stressed when it was delivered.

Nonetheless, they have been writing a lot of letters of apology, virtually every month they miss the target and January’s figures of 3.7% were unexpectedly high. Their policy tool the interest rate no longer works. The golden age of monetary policy from 1997 to 2008 saw them stay on target virtually every month, they would nudge the interest rate up a letter to discourage spending by the public. Lower spending means lower demand for goods and services and pushes inflation down. Likewise if inflation looked to be too low, with a dangers of recession they would push interest rates down, we would collectively spend a little more and inflation would stay on target.

There are many criticism that can be made of the MPC, is it democratic that something as important as economic management via monetary policy is decided not by elected politicians but selected bureaucrats. Why is inflation more important than unemployment (answer it isn’t). However for eleven years by its own standards the MPC delivered but it isn’t delivering even according to its own criteria any longer.

The MPC didn’t spot the financial crisis and subsequent chaos. But now they are in perhaps even deeper trouble and if they want to sort things out, I believe that they should invite evidence or even direct instruction from Caroline Lucas, Britain’s Green Party MP.

If they push up interest rates they will almost certainly crash the economy (they seemed to have worked this out, unlike George Osbourne who is likely to drive the vehicle into reverse with spending cuts). Interest rates though are virtually irrelevant because this isn’t demand driven inflation but supply side. Oil prices are rising, food prices are accelerating, clothes are going up dramatically in price. Yes this caused in part by a falling exchange rate that makes imports into the UK more expensive and the earlier rise in VAT has affected the figures.

Mainly its oil and chaotic weather patterns. Unless we become less dependent on fossil fuels, rising oil prices are going to cause sharp rises inflation. Climate change is going to lead to more crop failures, more fires like the ones in Russia that have pushed up wheat prices, more floods like those in Pakistan that have pushed up cotton prices. More climate chaos, less supply of cheap commodities, result inflation and negative growth, stagflation (stagnant economy + hyper inflation, it hasn’t got anything to do with deer).

We need to produce more of a food sustainably in the UK and we need green energy. Such policies are outside the remit of the MPC but unless we green the economy the economy will wither and die.

So Mervyn King, pick up the phone, call Caroline and ask her how a Green New Deal can be used to fight inflation.

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

#No2AV meltdown…

Councillor Dr. Rupert Read. Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter.

The #No2AV campaign appear to be having a bit of a crisis… 

Last week they published a list of 114 Labour MPs.  Within a matter of hours it emerged that at least one MP on the list had not given them his consent. By yesterday, the count was up to 5.

it turns out that Barry Sheerman MP, far from being a No supporter, is an outspoken Yes campaigner. 

This of course comes after they wrongly declared that Michael Gove was a supporter.

They do seem to be in a mess about this. While yestofairervotes.org are, it seems to me, going from strength to strength!

Maybe the problem is in part that the No campaign are in fact run by a bunch of right-wing nasties from the Tax-Payers Alliance and the Tories. Maybe that is why they have no accurate idea about what is going on inside Parties such as Labour and the Greens in terms of AV, and why they therefore not-infrequently, deliberately or as a result of cock-ups (as seems to be the case in this case), spread misinformation about the matter…

Filed under: Electoral Reform, Green Party, Labour, , , ,

Why the left should take the AV Referendum seriously….

Keith White is the leader of the Labour Group on Dacorum Borough Council and blogs here.

One thing is certain there is going to be a referendum on whether we should replace the current First Past the Post voting system (FPTP) for the House of Commons with the Alternative Vote (AV) so for activists in the Labour Party and on the left to claim it is unimportant (campaigning against Tory cuts is much more crucial) and to try to ignore it is not only pointless but also a political failure – the left has as much of an interest in the future of democracy as anyone if not more.

A familiar argument against changing from FPTP is that alternative systems, such as AV, benefit the smaller parties disproportionately and that the so called centre ground third party will be the major gainer. This argument is based on the somewhat flawed assumption that all votes cast under FPTP would translate to first choice votes under AV, whereas in reality the weaknesses and distortions of the current FPTP system in many areas influences voter choice.

Since the mid to late 1980s, in particular since the 1987 and 1992 General Elections there has been a significant build up of willingness to vote tactically in many constituencies, and a growing advocacy from political parties for tactical voting where it is perceived to benefit them. Hence, the “It’s a two horse race”, “Labour/LibDem/Tory (delete where applicable) can’t win here” leaflets; all seeking to convince the electorate that if they don’t want one political party to win they must vote in only one alternative way. This style of campaigning has fuelled the negative view of politics that it is all about saying how bad the opposition is rather than what the party in question is actually going to do. In this climate it is much easier to justify the “their all as bad as each other” reason for ignoring elections and voter apathy increases alongside the perception of a lack of choice. The ultimate result of tactical voting, FPTP and negative campaign fuelled voter apathy is the 2010 General Election result.

The electoral dynamic created by both the FPTP voting system and ‘anti-party’ campaigning, which if anything is more prevalent in marginal seats than any other, is to increase the influence of the compromise party. Why vote for your first choice party if they have no real prospect of winning, why not ensure your vote has influence by voting against the party you don’t want to win by voting for the perceived ‘middle ground’, the other ‘anti’ party?  The Liberal Democrats built most of their appeal by presenting themselves as an ‘anti’ Conservative party that could win in seats where Labour could not and in some areas by being an ‘anti’ Labour party that could win where the Conservatives could not. They built support as a ‘safe’ protest party precisely because of the distorting effective of the FPTP voting system. The nature of the FPTP voting has meant that as this ‘alternative anti’ and/or ‘safe’ protest they have gained votes they would not otherwise have received, often on a perception and without any real scrutiny of their policies or what they stand for.

On this basis it is arguable that the Liberal Democrats will lose first choice votes through a switch to AV rather than gain as, over time, people return to casting their first choice vote for the party and candidate they identify with most rather than against the party and candidate they don’t want to win.

Equally as candidates campaign for first, second, and in some constituencies, third or even fourth choice preference votes they will be forced to campaign positively. On what they will do and what their policies mean. Minor parties will start to gain influence, not through protest voting but through policy challenge as major parties frame an appeal to attract transfer votes from their supporters. Here for the left the way Labour addresses the concerns of the Greens will be crucial. Just as interesting will be the influence UKIP transfer votes might have on the Tories, will it strengthen the hand of the Euro-sceptic right?

And what about the Lib Dem surge that will come from being everyone’s second choice?

There is no longer any reason to think that they are. The prospect of them being the automatic second choice of Labour voters has been largely burnt following 2010’s General election and the actions of the Coalition Government. In any event the benefit of them being ‘second choice’ only works in constituencies where they can gather enough support to be in first or second place when all other parties have dropped out and their votes transferred. Without the pressure to tactically vote enforced by the FPTP system there is no reason to believe that the Liberal Democrats will achieve this in any more constituencies than present. Given the current state of party support in the polls it is much more likely that in seats that Labour won in 1997 but fell to third in 2010 that Labour would find it easier to bring back lost votes and move back in to the top two. It is here that Ed Milliband’s appeal to Liberal Democrat votes is important. In an AV election the size of a Liberal Democrat vote transfer, second or third choice votes, could make the differences in many seats. Electing Labour MPs through a progressive left policy alliance building a positive policy platform that is attractive to Labour, Green and left of centre Liberal Democrat voters.

Supporting AV may well be the best way to prevent another 2010 General Election. It may also be the best way to renew progressive politics and build a new debate across the broader centre left. Tribalism may well be forced in to history, but not because coalition government is the inevitable consequence of shifting from FPTP but because open positive debate between parties might be the only way to convince the electorate and to secure the first, second, and third choice votes necessary to win the seats and therefore the election.

This might just be our best chance to make politics real again.

Filed under: Electoral Reform, Green Party, Labour, Liberal Democrats, The Left

Is Labour’s policy review going to challenge the pro-growth agenda?

Councillor Dr. Rupert Read. Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter.

Major Policy Reviews announced by Labour  include some in unconventional “areas” such as ‘Time-poorness’ and ‘Loneliness’. This is a dramatic development; it partly explains why Miliband’s team came out in favour of Cameron’s stuff about ‘quality of life’ the other day.

Labour’s tentative sidling away from its standard pro-growth agenda is an opportunity for the Green Party: For it speaks to ‘our’ issues; it puts us in a good position once again to show that we are the Party that has been ahead of the curve here (in terms of work-life balance, the well-being agenda, relocalising and so building community, etc), and that we are the Party to trust on this issue. It is good to see Labour starting finally to catch up with us a little bit on this…

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

The fees disgrace – blame Labour

Councillor Dr. Rupert Read. Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter.

Let’s be very clear. It was Labour who opened the floodgates to the university tuition fees debacle that is now being imposed on our country.

The LibDems have allowed it to happen; the Tories made it happen; but it was Labour who commissioned the Browne report, and it was Labour who set the whole thing up in the first place, by imposing top-up fees. As soon as the argument had been made by Charles Clarke that it was right for students to pay a substantial amount toward their higher education, and that higher education free at the point of delivery was going to be a thing of the past, then full-scale marketisation became inevitable. It was only a matter of time. I made this argument at the time, as did Ian Gibson. We have, sadly, been proven right by the news that the ConDems are going to bring in variable fees of up to £9k.

It is LABOUR who need to take the blame for having created the conditions for this dreadful outcome. (And it is only the Green Party (and the Nats, etc.) who come out of this with clean hands: see http://twitter.com/#!/TheGreenParty)
So: come the next election, let’s all be clear about that. If you want to punish the LibDems over this, then there is no point in voting Labour.

Filed under: Education, Green Party, Labour, , , , ,

“Why don’t they start with the bankers?”

Adrian Cruden is a senior manager in the charity sector and also a former parliamentary candidate. He blogs at Viridis Lumen and this post is cross-posted from there with his kind permission.

The British Government has announced its programme of cuts in public spending last week. Carefully crafting a wide range of substantial reductions in spending so that the average cuts per Government department come in at 19% over four years rather than Labour’s planned 20%, the Con Dems betray the essential unity of the three main parties around a monetarist, free market agenda. Their little school boyish prank may make waves in the Westminster Village, a bit like waving condoms about in a Prefects’ Room, but the impact on a wide range of poor and vulnerable citizens will be even worse than feared, with £7 billions more than expected off disability payments – £50 per week taken from people on Incapacity Benefit for more than 12 months – and a 50% reduction in the social housing budget. At the same time, precisely nothing is done to tackle the massive tax evasion and corporate tax exemptions that plague Britain.

So amidst the gloom, it was good to see in a video made by the Green Party leader (see my blog)Caroline Lucas MP railing passionately against the cuts as socially damaging and economically illiterate – worsening the crisis of the deficit rather than tackling it. Clearly angered by the Chancellor’s approach, she calls for action on investment in sustainable jobs and action against tax evasion. Government led spending on a range of activities such as improving public transport and developing renewable energy would pay dividends in a multiplicity of ways – generating jobs and tax revenue, cutting the deficit, reducing our dependence on foreign energy and cutting our carbon emissions.

This type of Keynesian economic theory,on which the “Green New Deal” is based, used to be the economic orthodoxy that worked for a coherent society. By contrast, Monetarist theory adopted by right wingers in the 1970s onwards changed that – placing economic objectives above social ones and seeking to reduce government involvement in the economy and socirty as a whole. As Nigel Lawson, Thatcher’s Chancellor, explained on BBC Radio 4 last night, “I wasn’t much bothered about damaging solidarity and social cohesion.” All he was bothered about was creating space for tax cuts for the wealthy and a chance to flog off the national assets.

As the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats contemplate the biggest sale of public assets ever, as well as cutting deep into the welfare state, the Con Dem regime is emerging as one of the most avowedly ideological governments in British history, rolling back the shrinking public sector further than Mrs Thatcher ever dared imagine.

At least, hearing Caroline Lucas’ speech, there is clearly a voice in Parliament showing that there IS an alternative to an agenda that turns citizens into numbers and shuts its eyes to real human suffering. Let’s hope it keeps getting louder. And heard.

Filed under: Economy, Green Party, Labour, , , , ,

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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