Tuesday 31 October 2017

English Green Party Conference Report – Sparsely Attended, a bit Bleak but Not Without Controversy

Written by David Taylor 
I thought that Green Party conference in Harrogate, Yorkshire, might be a fairly low key affair after the 2017 General Election but it turned out to be the most sparsely attended of the seven Green conferences I have been to. One motion was passed by 84 votes to 81 with no more than 200 present; at times people had to be summoned back from the refreshment bars as conference had become inquorate. 

This compares with 2016 where there were well over 1,000 people in the hall at times. The social scene was a bit bleak with less of the traditional shindigs. No disco, young greens music night or open mic. night - although the Big Green Quiz survived.

Klina Jordan addressed conference the next day as co-proposer, with Caroline Lucas and other notables, of a motion which became controversial. Part of it “welcomed” the fact that many Constituency Labour Parties had signed up to Klina`s Make Votes Matter campaign for proportional representation. 

An amendment was moved to replace “welcome” by “noted” - after all, nothing Labour members did could possibly be welcome, could it? It is ironic that the very next week the Young Labour conference declared that fossil fuels must be kept in the ground if the planet is to avoid the worst climate change scenario. They passed a motion calling for all public bodies to divest their funds from fossil fuels and reinvest in renewables as part of the Just Transition industrial strategy to decarbonise the economy while ensuring jobs for workers in affected industries. A welcome move.    

Green Party Governance

Much of the Green Party`s structure and processes date back to the mid 1970s and for many years there have been proposals for both procedure and policy making to be more inclusive, straightforward, efficient, up to date, democratic etc. A Governance Review Group was set up a few years ago and, as I understand it, was due to come up with some proposals about now. However, this body seems to have bit the dust after conference passed a motion backed by the party leadership saying that “further consideration” of proposals be suspended.

There is now to be an “Urgent and Holistic Review of how the Green Party operates”. The Executive Committee and Regional Committee have been instructed to establish a Commission, chaired by “a respected member” of the party and appoint ten other members selected for their skills and experience. 

They will conduct a complete review and submit their report to conference urgently. Some members have said that the whole thing seems a bit “top down” but the final decision on their proposals will go to a referendum (oh no!) of the full membership. 

Interesting and Inspiring Fringes

A well attended and informative fringe called jointly by Green House think tank, Lucas Plan Just Transition Group, Green Party Trade Union Group, Green Left and PCS asked - How can a low carbon economy create new employment? It was pointed out that there are over 31 million workers and they all have a stake in the transition to a low carbon/low energy economy – not just those in the obvious sectors. 

Sam Peters, from the civil service union PCS, outlined the union`s thinking on the transformation of the economy by a future radical government and some of the nuts and bolts involved. These included a Ministry for Jobs, Skills and Social Protection with a positive role for Job Centres working in partnership with and having democratic input from the local community. A National Climate Agency would ensure that environmental costs and benefits were factored into all projects.

Deputy Leader Amelia Womack chaired the panel discussion “After Grenfell”.  Everyone on the panel agreed that the leaders of Kensington & Chelsea council had treated their tenants with contempt over many years; little imagining that a tower block tenant would prove to be their nemesis. Joe Delaney lived in the next tower block to Grenfell, and only 25 metres away. 

He described how he woke up in the early hours to see a raging inferno outside his window. Now a spokesperson for the Grenfell Action Group, Joe told us how he had been going through a difficult period in his life “it doesn`t sound good” he said “but the fight for justice for the Grenfell victims and their families has given me something to live for.” 

Unfortunately for the council Joe is not only articulate and determined but his previous career was in the housing and legal departments of a large council in the north. He is an inspiring speaker and received a standing ovation.        

Another charismatic speaker was local solicitor Jennifer Nadel, who gave us a brilliant picture of election night in Kensington when the Tories lost one of their safest seats. She had seen from early in the day that masses of people from the estates, including Grenfell, were turning out and queuing at the polls – mostly people who never usually voted. 

As night fell and news of a recount spread, people began to gather outside the town hall, the crowd soon swelling to several thousand. When the news of a Labour win was announced everyone was ecstatic and started the singing and dancing that made it seem like carnival for the rest of the night. Jennifer said she was deeply moved and although she had been a Green party candidate said “that night the people won”. 

Two Motions Lost

The Trade Union Congress, often depicted as a lumbering carthorse, is not noted for its lightning speed in grasping issues and tackling them before you can say knife. So the unanimous decision to pass a Climate Change Motion at their 2017 conference is a historic step. The motion notes “the irrefutable evidence that dangerous climate change is driving unprecedented changes to our environment...” and they advocate various measures for transition to an environmental sustainable future for all. 
An emergency motion to the Green Conference, although recognising that the TUC motion did not go far enough, welcomed their new stance and called upon the Green Party leadership to work with the trade union movement and their political representatives to campaign for a just transition. This motion was lost. This reflects the composition of the 2017 conference as the motion would have probably have passed at previous conferences. 
A motion which advocated emphasising the “environmental dimension” to all issues and bringing ecological themes into topics “not normally associated with them” was generally understood as being an attempt to move the party back to the “good old days” of the Ecology Party. This motion was also defeated. But only by the narrow margin of 129 to 112. 

A Difficult period ahead for the Green Party

Jonathan Bartley gave a rip roaring address listing all the reasons he was so proud of the Green Party and so proud to be a member. The reasons were many and each one received a thunderous round of applause. Jonathan was proud that we have never failed to live up to the new Green Party slogan “Speaking Truth to Power” and we never will, whatever others may do. The Green Party had the second best General Election result in its history in 2017 and he was pleased to see Theresa May lose her majority but disappointed with Labour.

All is not doom and gloom. The Greens still have Caroline Lucas MP. We are still winning council seats in some areas. The party has three times as many members as a few years ago and has held on to 65% of people who joined in the Green Surge. Our members are at the forefront of the anti-fracking movement and other campaigns on the ground and as the effects of global warming become more evident the party is bound to attract new support. 

But these positives cannot disguise the fact that the political landscape has changed and there is the realistic possibility of a Corbyn led Labour Party with a radical agenda forming a progressive government. The Green Party is bound to be squeezed electorally.

Paul Mason has said “Many Labour people, including myself, want to see a strategic alliance of Labour, the progressive nationalists and the Greens in place, even if Labour were to win an overall majority”. That, along with PR, is the stuff to give the troops. Rather than retreat into a glorious isolation we can campaign for Green Party policies while also working for the election of a Corbyn led government. 

David Taylor is member of Bridgwater & West Somerset Green Party and a Green Left Supporter


  1. To be fair, there was always going to be a touch of "After the Lord Mayor's Show" following on from the Liverpool Global Greens conference in Spring.

  2. It's the Green Party of England & Wales, not the English Green Party.

  3. Yes I know it was short hand for headlines purposes.

  4. Not a great reason to leave a whole chunk of membership lifelines. That is quite possibly the last straw for me with this party.