I feel like a bit of a dilletante at this Spring Conference - I've already been and gone, despite only living in Oxford! A lot was crammed into one short Friday, however - and what struck me most was the importance of the casual, short conversations in corridors and in between workshops. Increasingly, such 'catch up' meetings between Greens who otherwise work at seperate ends of the country seem to be the most important of Conference for me. For example, through such quickfire conversations I learnt what was going on in Norwich, Brighton, Lewisham, York and Swansea amongst other places - not to mention all the gossip on what had happened on Thursday!
Of course, I did also manage to do some of the 'official' conference business. Despite being a lazy sod, I managed to arrive in time for the keynote speeches by Sian Berry and Caroline Lucas. As has already been pointed out on this blog, there is no doubt that the campaign trail has honed Sian's speaking skills to an impressive level - and Caroline is always excellent. For me, the most intriguing part of Caroline's speech was her repeated condemnation of 'modern consumer capitalism'...but perhaps that is because my mind was already on the debate on anti-capitalism that I was scheduled to be taking part in later on...
After the keynote speeches, Conference got down to what it does best - arguing over policy in (often excruciating) detail. I wouldn't swap the extraordinarily impressive internal democracy of the Party for anything, but there were occasions during the more irrelevant contributions in plenary that I would have loved to be in control of the mike.....
Despite all that, though, we got through an impressive amount in one day - among other things, we passed a progressive policy on abortion, supported the boycott on Israel, passed an entirely new and updated energy policy, and even managed to improve all of these things through reasoned debate - something that is a dim and distant memory at the other Party conferences. I was particularly glad to be able to contribute to the shelving of a proposal for the Party to support the proposal for a massive solar power 'farm' in North Africa - something that I think needs to be MUCH better defined if we are to avoid it becoming simply another large, colonial grab of resources.
In between all of this plenary action, I managed to get to a detailed talk by the Electoral Commmission 'Enforcement Manager' (oo err) about donations and financial reporting for elections....mostly full of Party members coming up with increasingly bizarre examples of what might happen and how it might be reported ('what do we do if a Russian billionaire donates to us?' and 'when exactly does an underwriting guarantee become a loan for the purposes of reporting' were amongst the more thrilling discussions). And then, after some quick refreshment I went along to the fringe on 'Is the Green Party Anti-Capitalist?' organised by Jim Jepps, who also organised this blog. Busy man.
Lucky I went along to the fringe really, cos I was helping to 'frame the debate' along with Cllr Darren Johnson AM from Lewisham. And very interesting it was too, though rather frustrating for me, as ten minutes isn't really enough time to explain capitalism, why it is unsustainable, what anti-capitalism might look like, and how we might get there. In the best tradition of the Green Party though, what might in other organisations (particularly the far-left) have turned into a massive bunfight, was actually interesting, respectful and thought-provoking. Everyone in the room (probably about forty or fifty people, I guess) ended up reaffirming just how much unites us - a desire to restrain and ultimately break the power of multinational corporations, an agreement that a 'mixed economy' in which the private sector serves the people and not the other way around is important (though some of us would like to use that as a staging point for more radical change) and a complete opposition to the dogma of neoliberal economics. We also all agree, I think that the terms 'capitalism' and 'anti-capitalism' are alienating for the general public, and that we want to present a positive, forward looking agenda for change.
While I believe that change needs to go further than Darren does, I really enjoy being in a Party where a radical social democrat and near anarcho-communist can have a respectful discussion and end up having a drink in the bar!
It's certainly made me determined to write something in time for next Conference, going into more detail about just why I believe that capitalism needs to be abolished, not just restrained....
P.S. Those interested in further exploring capitalism and alternatives could do much worse than to visit www.zmag.org - in particular, a good short rant on capitalism here: http://www.zcommunications.org/zparecon/qacapitalism.htm