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 knackered....so 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.
(a grassroots member finally after seven years, and it feels good!)