Tuesday, 10 March 2015

It’s not a surge it’s an awakening - A member's thoughts from conference

Language is important. Hundreds of column inches have been written about the Green party “surge”.

I for one have never liked the phrase as for me it’s tinged with military association, however for the party it’s been latched upon and suddenly we have been preoccupied with numbers as if there is some kind of digital counter that running at Party HQ. Of course numbers count in our financialised world. Numbers also mean more money for the Party.

However, surge is totally the wrong word - it’s an awakening that is taking place.

The awakening is taking place within the party as well as outside. Suddenly the discourse in the party is one of “historical moments”, being on “the cusp” of change that will turn politics as we know it on its head.

The awakening in the party is the growing coalescence that is taking shape around the idea of a post capitalist society. Admittedly neither Caroline Lucas nor Natalie Bennett used the C-word but the deputy leader Amelia Womack did and got applauded for doing so.

The awakening inside the party has been taking shape slowly over the past two years but for the first time in Liverpool there was clear coherence that centred on inequality, redistribution and its linkage to environmental justice. The first two elements are of course the old coat that old labour wore and has discarded under Blair and then Brown and will continue to do so under Miliband.

The awakening outside the party has however still got a long way to go. We are working in a context in which as George Monbiot wrote in 2008, “politics is broken”. In such a context the increase in membership does not really count for much as we are still just reaching the “usual suspects”. The increased presence at Liverpool was simply more of the same demographic in the room.

Political parties succeed when their version of reality corresponds and finds echo in the sentiments of the majority of voters. We as a party have a long way to go to capture the mood of the majority but what this election is showing is that there is growing awakening to the message that we are projecting.

However, during the campaign and perhaps more importantly after the election we have to widen our target if we really want to make the break though that is needed for all of us and our planet.

The three constituencies that we need to address are: Students, which we are doing and a great deal of the surge is linked to this category but our appeal has failed to move beyond the university student to those being chewed up and spat out by our broken and failing post school further education system.

Secondly we have to reach and speak on behalf of the millions who are unemployed, underemployed, occasionally employed, precariously employed. The destruction that has been allowed to reshape the labour market .This is not just about zero hours contracts, it’s more fundamentally about decent/meaningful work and decent pay.

Thirdly, we have to reach and engage with trade union members. There are still 7 million and their allegiance to the corporatist structures that Trade Unions have created are growing increasingly fragile. Sadly there was not a word about this at conference.

I believe that we will never be able to really secure a solid foothold in these three constituencies simply through a strategy for election success within a broken and corrupt system. As we have seen the media will chew us up. That is not to say that we should not campaign and play the game, it will undoubtedly raise our profile but we need to think beyond the election and prepare a strategy for wider engagement.

In the best scenario possible we will have three MP’s in the next parliament. Already the talk is of coalition but there is the real problem. If we enter into a confidence and supply arrangement with Labour we will simply shoot ourselves in the foot as it will mean supporting austerity and the underlying neo liberal dominant paradigm. So that means coalition with SNP, and Plaid Cymru. This will work but it will not give us the leverage to block what happens over the next five years.

We need an extra parliamentary strategy that forms solidarity with the three key groups we have to win over. The time for that has arrived given  that the fragmentation of the post second world war political order is visible everywhere and this has resulted in a growing dissonance between the reality painted by the mainstream power holders and the feelings and experience of growing body of people.

The task we face is however difficult. As it became clear in some exchanges during the conference, our message is still very much against the grain. How do you promote a low consumption culture when 90% of the population under 40 have spent their formative experiences in shopping malls where you enter by a vehicle, where nothing is produced but where things are consumed? How do we promote a message which ultimately is about saying what was OK for our generations will not be OK for future generations?

Written by Haroon Saad of Waltham Forest and Redbridge Green party and London Green Left

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