Sunday, September 14, 2008

The New Knife on the Streets?

A rather belated post from me on the RSPCA fringe on Dangerous Dogs at conference can be found on my blog. What Clare Robinson from the RSPCA and Sgt Ian McParland from the Met's Dog Support Unit said certainly chimed with experiences in my ward in Lewisham. Was really pleased that organisations such as the RSPCA came along to the Green Party Conference this year, and hope it will become a regular event in the party conference calendar for many more NGOs going forward.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Elections, elections, elections

So, I guess I should go through the results of the other elections before I collapse into sleep...

First the postal ballots for GPEx... (turnout 34.7%)


Jim Killock 914
James Humphreys 1,592
RON 34

Equality and Diversity...

Shahrar Ali 579
Maya De Souza 1,547
Linda Duckenfield and Lyndsay McAteer 396
RON 27

External Communications...

Tracy Dighton-Brown 1975
Richard Eden 505
RON 54

And the other election result I have to hand... SOC!

There are five posts for this rather important internal committee that essentially overseas much of the democratic process of the party. There were nine candidates of whom four were elected before RON kicked in.

The four were Payam Torobi, Mark Hill, Pippa Lane and Jim Jepps - which means only one of the previous five has continued into this year - and he has to step down in Spring unfortunately as he will then have been on the committee for three years.

A radical, feminist party

After a workshop with a guest speaker on the final day of the Green Party conference today, I asked the speaker (who had better remain nameless since I didn't ask her if I could quote her) how different she'd found it to other party conferences that she attended. "You're a lot more radical," she said.

And of course she's right. You start to regard such radicalism as "normal" after a few days at conference - and not realise how views about basic fairness and equality are still regarded as radical in the "outside world".

But sometimes it can be very pleasing. I moved, with the support of our new leader Caroline Lucas, among many others, the following emergency motion:
The Green Party conference notes that in October Westminster MPs will be voting on an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. It notes that women in Northern Ireland, through the rulings of the parliament in London, have suffered daily discrimination in having to travel to England to pay for an abortion. It notes that it is the poor, the young and the otherwise disadvantaged for whom this presents the most difficulties, but that for all women this means delay that results in abortions that are carried out later than would otherwise be necessary.
Conference calls on MPs to support amendments extending the same access to abortion that has been available to women in England, Scotland and Wales to the women of Northern Ireland.

That motion was not only passed by conference, but passed by an overwhelming majority, with only a very few hands raised in opposition.

It's not an easy topic to raise and get attention paid to. As soon as you mention any issues associated with Northern Ireland a great many journalists and political types roll their eyes and change the subject, and then if you combine that with abortion – a subject that tends to sink into conversations of uncomfortable silence – you're really fighting a battle.

But the Green Party is prepared to take on the difficult issues, the challenging issues - one reason why I'm involved with it, when I can't imagine being involved (and never have even previously considered getting involved) in any other party.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Age Of Stupid

As Sue mentions below, "The Age of Stupid" was shown last night at conference. It was a very impressive film. It will be released in early 2009.

It's time to start calling up the local arty cinema to get them to schedule it/look out for it.

The film stars Pete Postlethwaite as a lone archivist, in a platform in the midst of a raging sea, in 2055. The ark-ive contains the world's art, two of each animal, and the digitised knowledge of humanity in humming Matrix-hatchery-esque servers.

The set-up is a faux documentary, narrated by Postlethwaite asking why we didn't act earlier, which looks at six case-studies in 2008 (an aspiring medical student in the Niger Delta; a French mountain-climber mourning over glaciers; a wind turbine project manager frustrated with NIMBYs; Iraqi refugees in Jordan - the idea of climate wars; a retired oil worker who was a local hero during the Katrina aftermath; and a Indian Stelios setting up a low-cost airline).

What's also interesting is that the film was "crowd-funded" ... 280 investors gave between £50 and £5000 and each own a percentage of the film. This gives the filmmakers complete editorial freedom, plus control of the distribution. All profits will be shared between the investors and crew, who worked for massively reduced rates.

The folks to contact for more information about screening the film, and its widespread distribution, is Spanner Films.

Photo credit:

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Media Coverage of Conference

I thought I would start this post that others can add to, to analyse the media coverage of this conference, given that 'the media expect us to have a leader' and 'we will get more media coverage if we have a leader' were some of the arguments made by those in favour of moving to a leadership structure (myself included). I've not had chance to see much, but the BBC coverage seemed pretty reasonable, although I found myself more interested in working out what the people wandering around behind Caroline were doing in this interview. What other coverage has there been, and how does it compare to previous conferences? I realise that the real test will of course be over a longer time period.

New Deputy Leader in Women's Toilets Shocker!

There's a great story doing the rounds at conference about women washing their hands after going to the toilet, then looking up in the mirror to see a giant-sized Adrian Ramsay beaming back at them. The backdrop featuring Adrian on the elections stall was somehow bizarrely being reflected into the toilet mirrors. The offending backdrop was promptly moved around to avoid unduly alarming any more female conference-goers.

This is the first post I've managed this conference, mostly because as I'm on conferences committee and have been involved in organising this year's event, I've spent a lot of the time running around like a headless chicken. My main responsibilities were stalls, evening entertainment, conference guide (though Natalie did most of the work there) and organising the volunteer rota. As a result I haven't taken part in as many sessions as usual, though I did manage to catch Caroline's speech, the panel discussion with Ken Livingstone, Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson, which was v entertaining, and the excellent Green New Deal discussion today, which others have already blogged about.

I'm not aware of any major disasters so far at conference, although there have been a few things that could have gone more smoothly. The first three hours of registration were a hectic nightmare, as there was no time for registration before the first workshops began, and people were already queuing to register when we arrived at the building and were trying to set up front of house etc. Things calmed down by mid-afternoon yesterday, but not quite the stress-free arrival many conference-goers may have hoped for.

There was also a slight breakdown in communication between myself and the producers of Age of Stupid which was due to be shown Saturday evening - I thought it was confirmed, they didn't, so when I rang just to make sure they were on their way at 7pm and they weren't, there were a few frantic minutes, but they rose to the occasion and got someone round in a taxi to the venue with the film, so we were able to show it, albeit a little later than planned and with an interruption for a fire alarm (it never rains . . . ). Anyway, it was an excellent film, and I'd highly recommend it. Loved the clips in it of Green Party placards at the climate change demos too!

There's been an awful lot of guestimating for conference committee to do this time and financial risk if we messed it up (that's probably always the case). How many sandwiches should we order (we would have had to pay for any spares, in the event we needed a few more), would the lecture hall be large enough to deal with the increased attendance (mostly yes, though about a dozen members couldn't get in for Caroline's speech), would conference-goers manage to drink the minimum £500 spend at the bar or would we have to make up the difference (an emphatic yes, they can drink that much no probs), would we get enough people attending to cover the additional cost of the venue (hopefully yes).

One of the things that I'm most pleased about and think was a success this time is the stall area. We've had more stalls than ever before, with a wider range of organisations represented, than ever before.

I would appreciate feedback on the conference as I'm sure would the next conference committee - Scott has mentioned not liking the hall layout - we've had a mix of responses to it, probably slightly more than half positive. Personally I think I prefer it to the bingo hall layout - more focussed and less shuffling around. And yes, sorry about the sandwiches, but we do have Planet Organic and a number of other places near the venue, including a reasonable cafe in Russell Square, so do explore the surrounding area if you don't manage to beat the sandwich rush tomorrow.

And the beaming Adrian in the ladies loos? Conference committee would like to reassure conference-goers that this was purely accidental, at not a planned attempt at building any deputy-leader cult of personality!

Open Democracy article about Caroline's victory as Leader

click here to read it

Saga of a grumpy man

I am, it must be said, becoming a bit of a cynic about Green Party Conference in my old age (I reckon London 08 must be my 12th Conference....nothing compared to stalwarts like Darren Johnson or Elise Benjamin, but a fair few nonetheless). I was fully expecting to go along to SOAS and spend my time mostly whingeing, with a healthy side portion of grump.

I was pleasantly surprised! OK, so there are still a few people at Conference who would make you change train carriages if you met them in real life - but they seem to be getting less and less prevalent. And perhaps it was just the day I chose to attend, but the debate seemed to be radical, sharper and more focused than I can remember it being in the past. I suspect that part of this may be due to collective relief at having mostly passed through the storm of the leadership changes unscathed, and at finally being able to talk about 'getting out there' to change the world...but part of it also seems simply to be that there are more energetic and interesting people out there in the Party at large, doing a greater amount of activism than before. This, I think, is a good thing.

So as to lend some structure to my rambling discourse, perhaps I should lay out what I actually did today:

- Arrived bright and early at 10 am for the Reports from various internal Party bodies. Clearly I didn't arrive at 9 am for the workshops on this reports, that would be insane. As always, an intriguing insight into the inner workings of the Party bureaucracy - and useful to shine a light on them...for example, being able to press the Executive on the rather democratically dubious plans to set up a fundraising/donations Scrutiny Committee whose members will be entirely appointed by GPEX!

- A fascinating panel discussion on the 'Green New Deal' report, featuring a pretty stellar line up....Pettifor, Lucas, Juniper, Leggett and Hines. All of them were, as expected, very interesting - although I must admit that Ann Pettifor's response to my query about the need for anti-capitalist thinking was a bit perplexing. I don't think that Keynesiansim is revolutionary, although apparently she does! Intriguing nonetheless, and my criticisms of the report are very much on the margins...I agree with 99% of it.

- Then, after some quality mingling and catching up with people from around the country, it was Caroline's keynote speech. I must admit to my shame that I had been planning to give this a miss. After all, I thought, I have seen Caroline speak umpteen times by now. I'll go and have a nice cup of tea while everyone else is doing the standing ovation. Matt Follett, to his credit, hoiked me into the hall at the last minute...and I'm glad he did. Caroline was absolutely excellent, and the atmosphere was electric. She hit all the right notes, and I was reminded yet again of why she really is one of the most impressive politicians of her generation. She's got a big task - becoming leader of a Party with negligible infrastructure that often does not want to be led...but if anyone can pull it off, she can.

- Then, after the commotion had died down, some policy discussion...the most interesting of which was the minimum/maximum wage motion. I came into this genuinely undecided, with people I respected on both sides of the debate...but ended up siding with the (losing) maximum wagers. This was mostly because the arguments being put forward against the maximum wage concept seemed to be very flimsy pragmatic constructs to me. People arguing against the original motion had proposed an amendment for a surtax on the super-rich, and yet at the same time were suggesting that we needed to vote down a maximum wage because it would scare off disillusioned Tory voters. Quite what they will make of the surtax alternative in the shires, they didn't quite explain! Not to worry though...the debate was helpful, lively and respectful, and we ended up with a decent policy, even if it wasn't the one I would have ideally chosen.

By this time I was cheery, but also I stayed for the first bit of the hustings for GPEX (a few contested elections this year, at least) and then took my leave. Substantially less grumpy than when I had arrived, and buoyed up about the possibilities for the Party in the coming two years.

Make no mistake, we face an uphill struggle. Even standing still in the Euros will be a test, let alone gaining seats for the excellent Rupert Read and Peter Cranie. But before this Conference, I would have said it wasn't possible. After it....I dare to dream.

Matt Sellwood
(a grassroots member finally after seven years, and it feels good!)

Regional Tables, PR and Fundraising

- So far, grumble grumble, I don't like the venue for conference this year. I'm not going to say I hate it, since, well, buildings have feelings. But in past conferences, there's been a cafe with food in the building. And, in the plenary hall, we've had tables for people to meet others from their region, and we don't this year. The plenary tables seem to be, especially, a good way for Young Greens to network. Bring back the regional tables, and I'll turn my frown upside down!

- I had an interesting chat with the "Unlock Democracy" stall about PR. I asked if people who had more PR than England (i.e. in England, we only vote PR for Euro elections) favour PR for Westminster. He didn't know. It's something to look into. Their steering group has Labour, Lib Dem and Green members, but the Tories seem to show nada/no/zilch interest in PR. To secure PR in Westminster elections, or at least in all local elections (not just in Scotland), we're going to have to rely on the Lib Dems and a hung parliament (i.e. using a promise of PR in local elections to secure their support in a coalition government, whether that is Lib Dem-Tory, or Lib-Lab). PR in local elections in Scotland has led to 8 local Green councillors in Glasgow and Edinburgh combined.

- The report from our Treasurer was interesting this morning. Don't get me wrong. Khalid Hussenbux has been a star. But, due to some penetrating questions about the "Westminster Fund," it came to light that the party has hired a fundraiser as an independent contractor. There will be a five-person panel set up to scrutinise any donations proposed/accepted, but there has been (by whom?) a decision not to elect people to this panel, and the fellow is already employed without a panel put in place. The idea is to raise a substantial amount of money from people who are not currently members. This is a great idea! Our entire elections budget is the same as what the Tories spend in one target constitutency! We need more fundz to be able to secure 4 MEPs and 2 MPs over the next 2 years. But, there had been no detail in the entire report from GPEX and in the Treasurer's report specifically. Fundraising needs to be more transparent. Heck, if this had been more widely known, it could motivate grassroots members who feel the party needs more funds to compete on a more equal playing field.

Things I've not yet blogged about

The last two days have been a bit hectic and more importantly it's been difficult to blog - I'll try to sort that out. Just to fill you in on a few things I've not yet discussed;

- The leadership hustings (which seems weird to discuss now the election's over) including great speeches by Adrian and Caroline and a disappointingly... strange... speech from Ashley who hasn't quite recovered from telling the world on his blog that he wanted to have dinner with Hitler and his subsequent inability to explain why.

- Women only meetings. Almost the first thing to happen at conference was a dispute about two women only meetings that are timetabled for today and tomorrow. This is the women in name group (which is a caucus for women in the party) which starts in less than an hour and the launch of "Green Party Women" tomorrow afternoon.

Sharar Ali, well known face and dapper gent of the party, put it to conference that as an open and inclusive party the Greens should not be excluding members from any meetings it holds at conference. It was one thing to say groups should have a right to get together but another to say that a members conference was not entirely open to the members attending.

Rupert Read and Molly Scott Cato gave good speeches on the rights of groups to have their own space and organise separately at times - in the wider context of the wider party.

However I think it was Hazel Dawe who swung the crowd when she got up and argued that she had not got involved with the women's group precisely because she felt it excluded members. she felt that the "concrete ceiling" in society that presented a barrier to women's advancement did not exist in the Greens, who, in her words, "promote and enable women".

I surprised even myself by abstaining in this vote after hearing the argument and Shahrar (who is standing for the equality and diversity post in the party) won the day my a small, but healthy, margin. So today's meeting will remain women only - as that is established practice in the group - but the launch of the new group would not exclude men, particularly as their would be an associate membership category for supporters.

I still haven't convinced myself either way on this but I'm really glad the debate was raised.

- Much more importantly I was given a 9/11 truth movement leaflet on my way in to conference. It boldly proclaimed that if I dismissed David Icke I would be dismissing the entirety of quantum physics - which sounds like something I do not want to do. Actually, unlike the US party the UK Greens are mercifully free from this sort of rubbish and it really stood out that this was a lone leafletteer on the fringes of the party with no support or resonance among the members.

- Lastly I'll just mention Jean Lambert who I think is a massively overlooked resource in the party. Not just because she's a hard working MEP who does tremendous trade union and refugee work in particular, but because her speech opening conference praised Hugo Chevez, talked of the need for a global vision for a global city (in this case London) and denounced eloquently the "liberalisation" of public services, the arms trade, the BNP. Her whole approach was probably best summed up in the way she tackled GM.

She didn't talk about mutant plants or messing with nature she talked about GM being about corporate power and that we have to oppose them to both protect diversity and the livelihoods of the most vulnerable around the world.

What a star.

Progressive taxation: maximum wage?

There's been some really interesting debates taking place so I'm playing catch up here - but I'll try to get round to everything that others don't cover *eventually*.

Just come out of the first session voting on substantive policy (rather than agreeing end of term reports, conference agenda, etc.). Motions are prioritised by members' ballot so the items that most members are interested in discussing comes first in the agenda, it's part of a really interesting set of systems that allow members more control over their conference than any other party.

First motion was proposed by London's MEP Jean Lambert and was on trade union reps in the workplace. This is one of those motions that essentially has complete consensus and there isn't even a speech against.

Talking about the right of trade unionists for proper facility time it also describes the rights of workers to determine the policies and standards in their workplace - which includes the establishment of environmental reps who would have powers equal to those of health and safety reps.

With some unions going greener and greener it's important we find ways to empower those rank and file trade unionists in the workplace to make their place of work safe and environmentally sound.

Which brings us on the second motion in the batch and one that was slightly more controversial. The ominously named CO2 motion (in that it came second in section C) Pete Murray put forward his proposals for a minimum/maximum wage.

In fact the title does not do the motion justice as it also makes important points about the European working time directive and for the increasing of the UK's minimum wage in accordance with Europe's decency threshold - all good stuff and undisputed. But it's when we come to the concept of a maximum wage (or 100% taxation rate as the motion puts it) that there was more dispute.

Darren Johnson, one of our London AM's who won the backing of the FBU with his campaign for a decent living wage for fire station cleaners, put forward an amendment taking out the maximum and replacing it with a more general call for progressive taxation, ie a tough new top rate of tax that would levy perhaps 70 or 80% taxation on the highest earners.

There were good points made on both sides but personally I was in favour of the amendment. As Johnson said a 100% is completely pointless in that previous attempts have found simply massive scale avoidance that rendered the rate fruitless and brought in no revenue.

I had been considering speaking to this but in the end it wasn't necessary. If I had spoken, this is roughly what I would have said. That a maximum wage does nothing that progressive taxation plus judicious use of windfall taxes does not do more effectively. Whilst the Green Party certainly does need a clearer economic policy - and I think the Green New Deal is part of developing that - a maximum wage is a sledgehammer rather than a sophisticated tool.

It's actually simpler to use the formulation that if you earn more you pay a greater proportion of your income as tax. As a propaganda tool that can pressure the powers that be a maximum wage is pointless, a call for a just taxation system does not. When the row about the ten pence tax rate erupted it was because it was patently obvious that doubling the amount of tax the lowest paid in the country pay was completely unfair.

The work Darren and others have done in boosting the wages of the lowest paid is the best and most positive message to send out there - and an example we can follow right now. A maximum wage policy that would require a green party government to enact is simply abstract propaganda that wouldn't win over even one soul to the cause of fighting the corner of the lowest paid.

Having said that once the amendment passed (taking out the maximum wage) we were left with a very good and worthwhile motion which passed without any problem what-so-ever. Just to hammer the point home this was then followed by passing policy on the right to rent for those who've houses have been repossessed and free school meals that would ensure a "minimum requirement that all children are provided free of charge with a balanced, nutritious lunch including local and organic non-GM food, free from additives."

Good session.

Friday, September 5, 2008

"A Challenge to the membership of the Green Party of England and Wales..."

Conference attracts leafletteers. Some of these leafletteers are special. This from an anti-Lucas leaflet published by the "Whole Truth Coalition":
And before you simply dismiss David Icke (whom the Green Party "establishment" likes to demonise, please consider that in doing so you'd be refuting the findings of modern Quantum Physics and a mass of political and historical evidence, plus the collective knowledge and wisdom of the indigenous peoples around the world who have oral traditions going back thousands of years.
The leaflet, written by a disgruntled individual who left the party for fear of a leadership plot, warned members against the dangers of Lucas' "establishment" values.

I find this distinctly encouraging. Importantly, because it's written by an ex-member; the lunatic fringe has left the party. We've long had trouble presenting ourselves as a sane and sensible option for voters, partially because of conspiraloons like the Whole Truth Coalition. Now they're actively against us, it'll be easier to shed that image.

Leadership election results!

The results are in and the Green Party of England and Wales has it's first ever leader and deputy leader.

On a turnout of 37.9% (up from 20% for the principal speaker posts last year) of the 7,565 members I can announced that the results are as follows;

For leader;

Caroline Lucas  2,559
Ashley Gunstock 210

And for deputy;

Adrian Ramsay 2,785 

Congratulations to the candidates. In her acceptance speech Caroline spoke of the "honour and responsibility" leading the party in a period when there is "such a vacuum in the mainstream parties" who have no answers for the extra-ordinary problems facing the world today. 

Green politics she said was essential to counter "the politics of paralysis".

Ashley, conceding defeat gave warm praise to his opponent. He also described himself as a "Green Party member and will do my best to make the leadership work - but you never know I might be back."

Adrian Ramsay, accepting the post of deputy leader said that up until this point he had been concentrating on building the party in Norwich but we were gaining ground all over the country. Adrian left us with the thought that son we'd have seats in Parliament and the opportunity to put policies into practice.

Charles Clarke and Adrian Ramsay - watch Monday's space...

Has it honestly not occured to Charles Clarke that what is needed is not a change of Leader in the Labour Party, but a huge change of policy-direction?
Here in Norwich [from when I am setting off in 30 minutes for Conference...], in Charles Clarke's own seat, the Labour Party is in free-fall, in 4th place in the seat [at this year's local elections], while the Green Party is in first place. Our experience on the doorstep suggests that this is not because of Gordon Brown nor even because of Charles Clarke -- it is because voters are fed up with New Labour, and want a real change; so they are flocking our way.
Perhaps this is why Mr. Clarke has spoken out so dramatically: because he is now seriously worried that he will lose his own seat. But his prescription for how to save his own skin will not work: under any Leader, Labour is now a Party on the way out. It's the policies (as well as the economy), stupid...
All this adds a piquancy to Adrian Ramsay's acceptance speech as our Deputy Leader (assuming that he isn't beaten by RON - a safe assumption...), on Monday. I am reliably informed (i.e. by Adrian!) that a well-rounded and full-on challenge to Mr. Clarke will form a backbone of his speech...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Leadership's time comes

It's good to be back with a Green Despatch...

I concur with Jim's sentiments. This is a historic Green Party Conference; there's no other way -- no better way -- to describe it. [See my recent Total Politics post on the meaning of this Conference, here]

Those of you who have read my recent 'Daily Politico' entry on the Total Politics site will already be aware of how much this whole Leadership thing has meant to me... Now is our chance to start to make it work. I expect that the first-ever Leader's speech will be full-to-capacity, over-subscribed; when was the last time that that happened at our Party Conference?

There's something happening here, and what exactly it is will pretty soon become clear... I can't wait!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Historic Green Party Conference Starts This Friday

Yes, and we're blogging it!

From this Friday (until Monday) Green Party conference will be taking place in SOAS, in London for the first time in more than ten years.

That's not why it's historic though - it's going to see the election of the Party's first ever leader and deputy leader in its history.

There's also lots of other conference business of course fringes, voting, debate, plenaries and lots of discussions and mingling in the cafes and bars.

You can read the timetable and the agenda at the Party website.

Over the next week and a bit you'll be able to read posts here from members of the party attending the cofnerence. These include Lewisham councillor Sue Luxton (who's also on the conference arrangements committee so it wilol be interesting to hear the insider gossip), prospective MEP Rupert Read, LSE student leader Aled Fisher, and myself Jim Jepps - and many others - we hope!

Stayed tuned.