Friday, 17 July 2020

Can the Green Party be Saved from its Leadership Clique?



Written by Dee Searle, who is a former member of the Green Party of England and Wales. 

Earlier this month the widely respected campaigning journalist and writer Bea Campbell left the Green Party, citing bullying, authoritarianism and narcissism among radical transgender activists.

Campbell’s description of the impact on the party of what she calls the “extreme trans dogma” that transwomen are women; transmen are men - at the expense of women’s rights and safety - is pretty shocking. Unfortunately, it’s just one aspect of a much wider and deeper crisis in the party. 

The party claims to do politics differently but in practice acts pretty much the same as other political parties. It is riven with internal tribalism; allows key decisions to be taken by small groups of well-connected members; prioritises electoral success over radical environmental campaigning; has a dysfunctional, partisan disciplinary system; engages in some questionable employment practices; and has become a platform for those with political or professional career ambitions and/or who want to advance a particular strand of identity politics. 

Most Green Party members bask in Caroline Lucas’s speeches and/or focus on local activities, oblivious to machinations at national level. However, in my four stints on the Green Party Executive from 2015 to earlier this year, I’ve witnessed the party become more ruthless and less tolerant of genuine discussion. In addition, as an ordinary, elected, Green Party Executive (GPEx) member, I was powerless to make any real difference because the big decisions are taken by the Administration and Finance Committee and/or a group around the leadership and Caroline Lucas’s office. 

This is why I took the sad decision to leave the party in June, after almost seven years of active membership. In addition to GPEx membership and almost daily involvement in national or local organising, I’d spent three years as Chair of Camden Greens, and stood for the party in local council and London Assembly elections, and in Tottenham during the 2015 General Election, when our small, last-minute scratch team achieved our best ever result there. 

Many of the Greens’ troubles stem from the decision taken by the party in early 2016 to prioritise winning local council elections under the Target to Win (TtW) system. The rationale was that we desperately needed a second MP to support Caroline and the way to achieve that was to first win control of a local council as had happened in Brighton. The flaw in this logic is that Brighton is atypical of pretty much anywhere else in England and Wales. Plus, there is only one Caroline Lucas! 

At surface level it makes complete sense for a political party to focus on winning elections. However the underside is that pretty much all of the party’s resources were devoted to developing and maintaining a national election machinery, with no funds left for issue-based campaigning. 

Field offices were established and regular “campaign” schools (in reality elections training) held to enforce the rigour of TtW. Local parties selected to pursue TtW must work only in target wards, with activities limited to door knocking and repeat newsletter deliveries (no street stalls allowed). Newsletters and other publications can only include material on local issues and not cover wider politics, such as the climate emergency or Brexit. 

This concentration of resources on elections goes a long way to explaining why the Green Party is often missing from the big political debates. It’s not just that there are few of us and the media is biased towards the big parties: we actually don’t have much substance to contribute. 

At an internal review of the 2019 snap General Election manifesto, it was revealed that genuinely radical climate mitigation policies developed by the party’s Climate Change Policy Working Group had been removed by a small group around the leadership team and Caroline Lucas’s office because they weren’t vote winners. Yet the election was being held against a background of almost daily revelations about the gathering pace of climate-related environmental calamity. A squandered opportunity to step up campaigning pressure if ever there was one. 

The creation of the manifesto was a microcosm of so much that is wrong with the party. GPEx Publications Coordinator and Policy Coordinator (both roles elected by the membership) were excluded from substantive input, which is slightly odd for a policy-heavy publication. The manifesto was finalised by the group that had removed the climate policies. Green Party Regional Council (which was the body with official sign-off responsibilities) was given around 24 hours to approve an 88-page document. This enabled the leadership to insert favoured commitments (such as transgender people being able to change their legal gender based on self-identification, which is not Green Party policy) and weaken inconvenient ones. 

The party has not published a full internal review of its 2019 General Election campaign, despite the fact that it spent far more than on any previous election (£409,475, according to the Electoral Commission) but was still way behind its best showing (2.7 per cent of the vote, compared with 3.6 per cent in 2015) and didn’t achieve its stated aim of winning a second seat. 

Of course, it’s not unreasonable for a radical political party to underachieve in elections nor to avoid washing its dirty linen in public. What is more worrying is that these unaccountable actions have become the norm for the Green Party, where even those in elected governance positions are unable to hold the decision-takers to account. Instances where GPEx members have been blocked from raising concerns range from the use of social media election ads quoting comedian Jimmy Carr (notorious for tax evasion and a stage show that includes rape jokes) and a woman posing in bra and knickers, to a staff member being summarily dismissed and denied access to union representation, and a court finding of race discrimination in recruitment practices. 

The Greens are supposed to stand for a better kind of politics, based on transparency, integrity, decency and, above all, selfless campaigning to protect our planet’s natural and human resources. The party has no monopoly over environmental politics. Following success by Europe Ecologie Les Verts (an environmentally-focused green party) in France’s local elections, some Extinction Rebellion groups are looking at setting up their own political wing to fight the London Assembly elections and beyond, and there are rumblings elsewhere of setting up a new ecological party. 

This may all come to naught. But if those taking the decisions at the top of the Greens have misjudged the wider mood, they risk leading the party into oblivion. A salutary thought for candidates in the forthcoming leadership and GPEx elections.

36 comments:

  1. I was very sad to see you leave the Party, Dee. I could see that you were one of the soundest minds in the Party. And that soundness is reflected in the piece above.

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    1. Thanks for publishing this, Mike Shaughnessy and Dee Searle. I too was deeply saddened when Dee left the Party, more so because I had worked with her on a street stall in Tottenham at General Election 2015 and recognised there her commitment to socio-economic justice.

      I had been a member of Green Party of England & Wales (GPEW) since late 2005 and as a very long-term claimant of Unemployed Benefit/Jobseekers Allowance AND VOLUNTEER. I had also transferred my membership from Camden Green Party to Haringey Green Party, as in my experience in the more then more 'twee' ward of Highgate in LB Camden, benefit claimant issues were largely sidelined. I had also worked on 'Writing off Workfare: For a Green New Deal, not the Flexible New Deal' (Green Party, 2008) with 2010 Green Party candidate for Tottenham, Anne Gray.

      I can sympathise with Dee's previous reticence about 'whistle blowing' on GPEW HQ discriminatory practices within GPEW earlier. I was faced with similar issues when I was national Disability Spokesperson in 2007, but as a much slower and largely under-resourced activist, chose to focus on combating the neoliberal drive to turn disadvantaged people into sanctions fodder that has emerged more fully under post-2010 Government.

      In closing, I note that Dee's posting above has attracted far more comments than other postings on this blog tend to receive. While my own commitment to GPEW is on the wane, a driving force for that disillusionment is the low priority given by GPEW leadership and even Green Left membership to disability equality issues and addressing the inhumanity of neoliberal 'welfare reforms'. I guess that part of the latter stems from the overload placed upon or Work & Pensions Spokesperson Jonathan Bartley while he is a Lameth Cllr. He is also GPEW Co-leader with Sian Berry who was one of the two GPEW Press Office workers in 2008, and Sian had shown lack of enthusiasm for publicising 'Writing off Workfare' and related Conference Motions that had been passed.

      Alan Wheatley

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    2. "...the low priority given by GPEW leadership and even Green Left membership to disability equality issues and addressing the inhumanity of neoliberal 'welfare reforms'"
      is an excellent point. Why is it that the Green party is still widely seen, after nearly fifty years of existence since its inception as the Ecology party, as a single-issue party? If the Greens - who won't allow me to be a member - want to progress beyond being an ineffective, niche group, they need to develop interests and expertise in a complete range of political issues, including disability equality and welfare. But as most Greens are still well-off, white and able, that seems unlikely.

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    3. I would add to my reference to overload of interlocking electoral offices on one person, that it so greatly upsets the 'work/life balance' that links elected politicians with their electorate.

      Before Jonathan acquired any elected roles as a Green Party of England & Wales member, he stood out as parent of a severely disabled child. I know from my research that the Department for Work & Pensions before GE2010 published statistics that were then promoted by Gingerbread One Parent Families, indicating that parenthood of disabled children was a factor in marriage collapse in a socio-economic 'climate' that makes a mockery of disability access.

      As millionaires, the Camerons did not have such problems. There are also perks ('per requisites') that come with public office that would get in the way of Green Party leaders in public office might gauge minimum standards for a Basic Income.

      What time does a Party Leader or Co-Leader with public duties to perform also, have for parenting?
      Alan Wheatley

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  2. Thanks for a very well detailed report on the nature of Green Party of England and Wales internal politics at the leadership and Executive level. It reflects my own observations through my involvement as a GPRC Co Chair for 4 years 2011 to 2014, which involved attendance of GPEX meetings and ongoing conflict with what I term as a Leadership Cabal which seeks to Groom and promote the chosen successors of the Leadership using what can only be described as Machiavellian tactics. The atmosphere within GPEX was toxic and calls by myself and others to treat each other with respect and kindness were met with laughs from our then sole Leader Caroline Lucas and I was advised by a GPEX Chair that I had to develop a Mental Carapace to survive in the rough and tumble of politics. as a direct results of my observations of both the political weakness and the ruthlessness of the Political leadership of the Green Party I lost confidence in the GPEW as a vehicle for progressive political change I left the Green Party.

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  3. I have to agree with Dee's analysis as a former GPEW Parliamentary candidate and member who left some months ago --- it has become 'over-electoral' but without the capacity to get results and at cost of factionalism and favouritism, and somehow contriving to remain marginal to the struggles of working people

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  4. It is so tragic that at the precise time that environmental policies should be at the core of campaigning the party has become embroiled in identity politics debates. I feel quite sure that with proper democratic input from members the focus would unequivocally be on saving the planet!!

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    1. I suspect that, given the demographic of the professional-managerial class which forms almost the entirety of the Green party, environmental policies will continue to be the sum total of how the public views it. That's not good enough and it'll continue to prevent the Greens from progressing into a real political force. A single-issue party on climate change is not a political party but a pressure group. The Right don't make that mistake; that's why they're in power almost everywhere.

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  5. Happen to us locally, long story, but we were kept in the dark and deceived at the last election. All our hard work locally counted for nothing, we were given 48 hours warning of a hustings, one ready and waiting candidate who would immediately step down, I put a fly in the ointment by standing and saying I would not stand down if selected, why' it would have been in favor of former Tory turned Lib Dem Sarah Wollaston , she had publicly stated she would not help us in regards to a huge land issue campaign .We share a parliamentary boundary, there was engagement with one local party only,I had never heard of the candidate they had selected and have never heard of him since, he had little local knowledge, ironically their local party has now collapsed.And we have been left thinking why should we put up being treated so badly, we can fight the land issues and support the local community without the burden of undemocratic procedures. The GP can not afford to lose good hard working solid Greens but that is just what they are doing, I am hanging in there, waiting and hoping for change of leadership.

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  6. As a former Green party member and election candidate, I chose Labour in December's election mainly due to the Greens' obsession with defying the democratic vote to leave the EU and because Jeremy Corbyn's policies were, overall, superior. If there were an election tomorrow, I'm not sure who I'd vote for.

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    1. What democratic vote?

      The rigged vote that excluded three million tax-paying residents?

      The vote won on lies that were cheerfully discarded the very next day?

      The vote won by assuring people that nothing much would change, we would still be in the single market and have all the rights to free movement we did before?

      That vote?

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    2. To write, in July 2020, of a democratic brexit vote beggars belief. I can only endorse the sentiments voiced by Tim in his reply.
      So, the EU is not perfect? So, your kitchen is dirty? Do you sit in your room, sulking at the task or, even better, simply move out, to avoid your share of cleaning-up duties; pitching a tent in the freezing garden and hoping 'they' will still talk to you after 'they' have finished a substantial festive meal, back there in that nice warm, 'not-so-bad-after-all' house...

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  7. As a former GPEW employee, I very much agree with Dee's observations. The tribalism and the spite expressed towards fellow party members who volunteered their time and energy to help the party progress, were painful to witness and experience. The two-tier system of the privileged and "in-power" tiny minority opposed to the well-intentioned but powerless and largely ignored majority was very notable. The CEO whom the party appointed in 2016 was a servant to the minority and a bully to the majority. The very unpleasant working atmosphere led to almost all established staff resigning, and the most talented and dedicated volunteers at the national party quitting, many left the party too.

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  8. Whilst the world is in crisis and the one party to speak out about it is entrenched in gender ideology. We have no hope to do anything about climate change. Fuck your selfish identities, they will mean nothing when we have an uninhabitable planet. Focus on what's happening now not just your personal "feelz"

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  9. thanks to Dee for blowing the whistle on autocratic behaviours among a few people who have been bypassing democratic structures to the detriment of both campaigning on climate change and building public support in elections. its a pity this situation was not known earlier by ordinary members. Perhaps the rot could have been stopped.
    i had no idea this was going on.

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  10. As another former activist member, who also sincerely believed the Green Party was genuinely different, I find Dees article is very sadly spot on.

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  11. When a so called progressive party chases after the Liberal Democrats you know they have lost their way and much else follows on from that. It looks like the GP are going through a new David Icke phase. Hopefully GP members will vote for Shahrar Ali in the up coming election and hopefully drag a lot of former Corbynistas into the party to ensure a leftward move, to challenge all three of the Tory parties in the UK - the Tories, the Fib Dems and the new Tories (again) the Labour Party under Starmer.

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  12. I've been a member on and off since 1980. Ran for leadership against Caroline and Jonathan. Came distant second. Offered to help on economic/financial questions was told hey didn't need any help. I have stood for election locally and nationally. So I have really tried to do my bit. But like Dee and others who have commented here I feel the party has been hijacked. The party is led by globalists and is part of the problem now, rather than any part of the solution. I'm still a member because I really believe we must have a radical and green party. But how long I can remain I don't know. I would LIKE to be part off a different green party. A non globalist, non-identity obsessed, financially and economically radical party.

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  13. Like many I'm aware of, my membership hangs by a thread. Dee is spot on in her analysis, and the party is no longer the party I joined in 2006.
    I'll stay and fight to get back to the open and democratic Green Party.

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  14. For over a year, I was the victim of institutional bullying at the hands of the Disciplinary Committee (DC), GPRC & a former member of staff, who is worryingly, standing for a position on GPEx.
    I had two vexatious complaints made against me, the first of which was handled really badly & neither of which should have been referred to the DC by the Complaints Referral Group (CRG). With the first complaint, GPRC suspended me without bothering to talk to me or my regional party, London. They lifted the suspension after I'd apologised & deleted the comment which had provoked the conplaint, but they did not forward my apology to the DC, which should have stopped them taking further action against me, although knowing them, it might not have. To date, the GPRC Co Chairs (who are still there!) have not answered my question as to why they did not do this. In fact, one Co Chair never replied to a single email & the other one was very late at replying to emails & only replied once, & he would not reply on this matter, even when I met him face to face at conference.
    The DC flouted several clauses in the Standing Orders & Constitution, processing a complaint by a non member, not bothering to investigate the complaint, & then expelling me after an unfair hearing & having ignored my regional party's attempt at mediation. My appeal was upheld & I was reinstated, only for my expulsion to be reinstated a few months later, because a member of the DC wasn't happy that they hadn't been consulted & sought a ruling from the Standing Orders Committee. Apparently, the Appeals Committee hadn't followed procedures correctly in not contacting the DC, never mind that the CRG & DC hadn't followed procedures correctly throughout! One rule for the Appeals Committee & another for them. Had procedures been followed correctly, the complaint would have been thrown out at the outset, or my expulsion annulled! I had to appeal all over again & was reinstated again, but in the meantime, was stitched up at Scarborough conference by the GPRC Co Chairs & a certain former member of staff (who is standing for GPEx) who suddenly barred me from the plenary sessions on the basis of complaints which were not substantiated & actually denied (I have emails from the alleged complainant contradicting the false allegations). When I challenged the decision, I was physically evicted from conference. A third, temporary Co Chair, also had a part in this as she relayed to the others that I was planning on saying something against the DC at a plenary. I suspect this is one of the reasons they did not want me there.
    A second complaint was made against me for pointing out biological facts in a workshop (that women, men & transwomen have different medical needs) & for my conduct on being thrown out of conference, which was a case of blaming the victim. The aforementioned member of staff submitted a report which was full of false allegations against me which were contradicted by four emails from three people who aren't my friends.
    I wasted another six months of my life on this complaint & after all that, the DC didn't rule on it as I was technically not a member at the time!
    The Disputes Resolution Committee tried to set up mediation between myself & the DC, & GPRC Co Chairs. The chair of the DC declined, & the GPRC Co Chairs wouldn't cooperate. They obviously had something to hide. I wasted several months working with the DRC who have now said they can't do anything & have dropped my case, suggesting I wrote to the CEO, which I have.
    The complaints process has been weaponised & bodies in the party don't follow their own procedures. I'm still waiting for an apology. Sadly, I'm not the only victim of this & some people have been wrongfully expelled & others have resigned, while those responsible still hold positions of power or are seeking them. There have been developments but I won't say what they are at this stage.

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    1. I thank you, Deborah, for having 'hung on in there', and your supporters for helping you.

      You are far too dynamic to become a drone within a party machine, and your being involved serves as a testimony that the Green Party can be dynamic with everyone playing a part that does not have to involve playing 'follow my leader'.

      I believe that together we can help save our 'leaders' from that game, too!

      Alan Wheatley

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    2. Thanks Alan. I've only just seen this. I'm currently waiting to hear back from the Complaints Manager & the CEO regarding my complaint about the way I've been treated. I'd rather not say any more here just yet as this is public. I'll try and remember to email you.

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  15. I get the impression that all main parties get infiltrated by disruptive influences, taking them off course. The sort of disruption can be around seeking progressive alliances, or around identity politics. We hear loads of allagations of elitism, or vicious and egotistical behaviour from the leadership clique, but no real details. If you repeat allegations without citing detailed evidence, the mud eventually sticks. Same thing with anti-semitism in Labour.

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  16. TTW got results in Lewisham in the 2019 GE. Andrea Acrey Fuller (Lewisham, Deptford) retained her deposit, whereas in 2017 John Couglin did not. Lewisham has been a one-party borough since May 2018 but we showed that effective targeting could help us in the 2019 GE and also the May 2019 Evelyn by election.

    I am aware many disagree with TTW; indeed, I have been asked by some members in my role as coordinator to spread leaflets more widely, notwithstanding money has to be spent wisely and seats won first in order to build credibility and to get more resources for wider targeting

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  17. My membership is also hanging by a thread as a result of all this recent policy hijaking about "gender" rather than focus on environmental campaigning.

    I have been a member since 2014. I stood as a candidate in the 2019 GP, they tried to get me to stand down in a pact with the FibDems, which almost ended my membership there and then.

    Since then it's all been focused on winning local elections and the environment comes way down on the list of priorities.

    It's a party that's turning into all the rest, and is such a clique: you're either in the cabal or they don't even know you exist.

    I've already said I'm stepping down as PPC as I cannot in my heart represent the Party in its current form. I and my local team have worked damned hard since I became
    PPC 2.5 years ago and
    the GP couldn't care less.

    To say I'm disillusioned is an understatement. If Bartley and Berry are returned as co-leaders then I'm quitting.

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    1. If you don't want Bartley and Berry to lead again, do you have any idea as to whom you may prefer out of Rosi Sexton and Shahrar Ali? If so, maybe campaign for them, spread the word, and so on. I can't yet choose between them but I have watched more of Rosi's campaign videos so far

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    2. Personally, I'm going with Shahrar.

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    3. He has been my first choice in previous elections. I remember when he was joint deputy leader with Amelia Womack

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    4. Do you really want the Greens to be focused on 'environmental campaigning'? That's the work of Greenpeace, FoE et al, not a political party aiming at power. The Greens, like any other party, need equally effective, well-thought-out policies across the panoply of political issues, such as criminal justice, the arms trade, industrial policy and disability rights. Being a single-issue party has long been a stumbling block for the Greens.

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    5. For Greens the environment is not a subset of political issues; it is the foundation and context of every issue. Politics and economics can only be rightly understood on the basis that the economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment, and not vice versa.

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  18. to This Wreckage writer.
    Far from favouring a 'single issue', most Greens recognise the interconnections between policies on austerity, structural inequalities in income, housing and health, food and eco-farming, as well as the major role played by the capitalist system in damaging both societies and the environment.

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    1. I'll add that "everyone knows" the Green Party have the best environmental policies of all the UK political parties but that most of the public put other issues higher up. We therefore have to write newsletters and talk on the doorstep about local matters in order to get elected and save the planet

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      Roy said...
      Do you think the problems with the culture in the GPEW is lot about trying to please certain good but people when instead they should speak their minds instead - saying NO is good sometimes!

      And also 'certain People' need to have good arguements - not using loyalty to twist arms - this absolutely was the case with the Holistic Review in Bristol and bad for the party.
      We should start again - and deal with the Ltd issue as a stand alone issue.


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  19. Spot on Dee. After standing unsupported in a Camden wardIward myself, I became pretty disengaged to the point that I hadn't realised you'd left too.Having helped to write and produce GPEW Party Political TV broadcasts in late 80s and 90s, I'd say that the GPEW messaging
    was far clearer at that time. It seems bizarre that the get elected at all costs policy, runs with single issue based politics that in reality enthuse a lower percentage of the electorate than are naturally attracted to vote for the party. My own views have always been around mutual aid and there being 'No State, Like the no State, so I will remain apart and possibly stop voting altogether (Sir Keir has a 36k majority and my vote is worth 0.17 of a vote under FPTP).

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  20. Thanks Dee for a very valuable expose of things which are mostly hidden from the membership. And very sorry to see you go. I have long thought TtW was misplaced for not working enough within social movements and trade unions, and that the transgender issue had rather taken over, as well as feeling generally discontented with the focus of the party conferences on arcane issues which barely touched BREXIT, austerity, or racism in all its forms including anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic bias. Now I learn that the climate group was sidelined as well and the manifesto decided in a ridiculously clique-ey and hasty way. Not much point in attending conferences if they don't set the broad outlines of policy! (Notwithstanding the need for a good process to formulate policy on things that come up between conferences).But conference only represents those with time and money anyway, given the lack of a delegate structure.

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  21. My experience of the Green Party in my local district is that the Green councillors on the District Council have made a very real difference to a range of issues in the area including a move towards carbon neutrality, an increase in public housing and comprehensive food waste and recycling collections. The focus on electing Green members onto parish and town, district and the county council (we are a political party after all) has meant tangible and real changes for good in the area where I live. I would therefore absolutely reject the idea that a focus on getting Greens elected is a sideline issue to what the Green Party is all about.

    [On another issue, it is deeply worrying that on a Green blog gender issues are put into quotation marks - what is that all about? Gender issues are not mutually exclusive to other issues of environmentalism, equality and social justice - they are key and there is the space to include them within the Green Party - they are by no means a distraction.]

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