By Jamie Penston Raja
If I am to bring one thing from the Green Party Conference I attended last weekend, it is that a member-led conference is essential to any party that wishes to call itself truly democratic. Not only does the conference floor become a hotbed for debate and discussion before key votes on policy, governance and strategy motions, but the focus moves from leaders giving rousing speeches to the lay members setting out their view of where their party is going.
Our Deputy Leader Shahrar Ali emphasised the impact of this well, affirming that when we pursue these policies that conference has decided on, “these aren’t off the peg, follow-the-leader policies for us, they are in our heart, in our head, in our bones”. Perhaps it’s less interesting to an outsider than conferences with big policy announcements that no member has voted on, or even agrees with, but instead it gives the membership a sense of purpose, a role within the party that secures our trust that such a party will stay stable, consistent and passionate about its core values.
The highlight of the conference didn’t come from a selfie with a politician, it didn’t come from a leader’s speech bringing a tear to my eye as it brought back faith in politics. No, it came from the speeches from the conference floor that Natalie Bennett and Amelia Womack (our Leader and Deputy Leader) gave. They were not treated as above us. They were not even certain to speak. They had the same influence on the conference’s decision as it would have had I spoken. This is the sign of a truly democratic party: a party where each member’s voice is equal and influential.
A conference should not just be a meaningless exercise in the democratic power of the membership however, it must also be measured on what it achieves; and this conference achieved a lot. From passing emergency motions instructing our MEPs to take action on the VW scandal, to raising almost £2,000 in donations for the Calais refugee camp – alongside tents and bedding, we have shown our ability to act on the crises unfolding all the time despite the challenges imposed by the lengthy policy development process. From securing a mandate to campaign for an ‘In vote’ in the EU referendum, to a discussion on how to fix our flawed copyright policy, last weekend saw us set the agenda with which our party will move forward over the coming years.
Whether we’re celebrating our current talents in Caroline Lucas, and Sian Berry, our candidate for Mayor of London, or creating the opportunity for new talents to emerge in the ‘Generation Green’ campaign to develop the young talent in the party, we’ve created the conditions for continuing the growth that has come from the ‘Green Surge’.
All of these choices have been made against the increasing threat that climate change poses to our society. With fringe events dedicated to training in divestment campaigns and action at the climate talks in Paris, and panels dedicated to highlighting the action that must be taken to keep living within our planetary means, the underlying current of environmental protection was firmly felt. The current government’s subsidy cuts for renewable energy were roundly condemned, and our pursuit of sustainable, environmentally friendly housing for all was outlined in our support of the passivhhaus housing standard, alongside a ‘housing first’ approach to homelessness.
But what is being recognised more and more is that we cannot win by being just the ‘green’ party. The environmental crisis is serious, but it does not happen in a vacuum and it cannot be fixed on its own. Without policies to tackle the social and economic crises this world faces, we cannot hope to fix the environmental crises either. Where we recognise the importance of this, other parties are still to learn.
Whether it is through pursuing more democratic input from the membership that keeps their party afloat as this conference did so well; or by recognising that those fleeing Syria are refugees not migrants, and require our help; or on the condemnation of Shell’s exploratory drilling in the Arctic, the Green Party has often led the way. It is the refuge for forward-looking, social, economic and environmental progressives, and this conference highlighted this once more. “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good Greens to do nothing!”
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