Thursday, February 14, 2008

Reading Travelodge: living the life of luxury

Travelodge is probably the anti-thesis of living a sustainable, human scale life. However, the beds are very comfy. Life has conspired against me again and I have lost the notes I made during the day - however I wanted to make some general points about conference process.

Yes! You are right to be excited.

What has always impressed me about the Green Party is its unflinching openness of process allowing members access to every bureacratic decision and influence over how their conferences are run. When deciding what motions get heard first its the members who decide, not some closed committee; When Standing Orders Committee report it is thoroughly discussed in workshops and voted on on conference floor so any controversial or inept decisions are laid open for the members to see; Members decide what fringes occur at conference and they decide
whether they can be bothered to go to them too.

Coming from a more traditional left background this was a real culture shock to me at first - it just seemed crazy to allow members direct possession over their own conference, even when they are a bit silly. But crazy in a lovely, lovely way.

So that means when there is a fringe meeting on policing you get lots of really interesting people attending who feel it's their meeting - even if the person who called it is not *entirely* suited to chair the discussion. When we have a fringe on prostitution we get blazing rows, I mean heated debate, because the person who called the fringe opposes Green Party policy (which is for total decriminalisation) and favours the Swedish Model.

I think this is healthy even though prostitution is the one policy area where I'm utterly bursting with pride as we're the only party in the country to actually talk to prostitutes in formulating policy and have them take part in the writing of that policy. How radical! I've asked a member who's very eloquent on this to write a post for us which I hope we'll see before the weekend.

It's odd being in a democratic party, where members have more say than the executive - and even when it's a total pain in the bum I wouldn't change it for anything.

Focusing on the most vulnerable

I had been hoping to line up a star speaker for a session that I organised today on “severely disadvantaged children”, but both of the intended “stars” couldn’t make it, so I ended up putting together some material myself, and asked (at very short notice, Cllr Romayne Phoenix from Lewisham thanks!) to speak about her experiences.

This did, if I say so myself, produce some interesting discussion and debate, and bring forth from a number of Green councillors who attended some horrifying but illuminating tales of just what it is like to be trying to deal with desperate people – usually women with children – at your surgery.

I focused on three areas: children in detention, children in care (or “looked after” children in the all too ironic current parlance), and unaccompanied children asylum-seekers.
These were the short range of horrifying figures that I presented:
  • Since January 2002, six children have died in penal custody

  • Children in detention are 18 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population

  • Between 2004 and 2006 27% of boys and 19% of girls in detention had been physically restrained by staff
  • Between January 2005 and October 2006 100 boys were forcibly strip searched in five institutions

(Source, Howard League for Penal Reform)

And I pointed to just a few of the points made by Lord Carlisle in 2006 in his major report on children in detention:
• Physical force should never be used to secure compliance or as punishment
• Stripping children during searches should end

Of course some children in detention may be a danger to themselves or others and need to be restrained, but that it should even have to be said that they shouldn’t be subjected to violence as a punishment, in 2008, is horrifying.

Lord Carlisle added: “I am concerned that we did not see appropriate facilities or playing fields for outdoor exercise in any of the institutions we visited. The lack of exercise and daylight would seem to me to contribute to depression and conflict among adolescents.”

Children in care

Fewer children are entering care now than in 1994, but fewer are leaving care. A significant proportion of children entering care have serious and enduring family problems. The majority (62% of children in care) are there for abuse or neglect, a further 10% deemed to have been living in dysfunctional families – a complex interplay.

There has been a 100% increase in real terms in total expenditure of children in care from 1994-2005. Growing numbers of young people needing more expensive care support packages, higher staff ratios in specialist homes, and that might have something to do with how the money is spent...

Privatisation of GPs surgeries

Emergency motion passed unanimously just now on the privsatisation of the health service.


The Green Party is extremely concerned to learn that (as reported in the Evening Standard: 28/1/2008), a private American health firm (United Health Europe) has won control of three GP surgeries in London. We fear that this is the first step in an attempt to corporatise primary health care in the UK.

We believe that this is being done without any proper consultation with the citizens of the UK, who as stakeholders are the true owners of the National Health Service. We also fear that this paves the way to monopolistic malpractice and profiteering if it allows pharmaceutical and retail conglomerates such as Boots and Tesco to have any control over the salaries, judgements and activities of GP’s and other primary health providers

We pledge our full support to opposition this disgraceful step and any others like it by GPs, patient and pensioner groups, and trade unions in the health sector.

We call on Green Party spokespersons nationally, locally and regionally to promptly issue public statements condemning this coporatisation and call open the Green Party press office to give such statement maximum promotion.


Why I was late to conference: London Mayor Environment Hustings

I got to Reading just in time to hear the chair declare that the first session of conference was ending early - the first time in my experience that the Standing Orders Committee report hasn't overrun.

So I'm going to be a bit cheeky and blog about the reason I was late getting to Reading. This morning I attended the London mayor environment hustings hosted by Green Alliance.

First up was our very own Siân Berry, who made the following prediction:

"First I'll speak for five minutes and tell you about my ideas. You've heard them before, they're the Green policies - things that will build a London that is not only a greener place, but also a better, more affordable place to live.

Then, after me, these men will stand up in their suits and agree with me."

And she was right. Brian Paddick even went as far as to say that Ken's green policies are the result of the Greens on the Assembly. I'm not sure his LibDem colleagues on the Assembly will be too pleased with this.

Both Livingstone and Paddick agreed that Jenny Jones, current Green Assembly member and Chair of London Food, was the best person to reconcile the fact that the 2012 Olympics only allow food to be supplied by their sponsors McDonalds and Coke with the conditions agreed when the Games were awarded that food must be organic and locally sourced. Not sure that I could bring myself to eat a McDonald's veggie burger even if it was grown on an organic farm in Essex, but it's great that the other parties recognise that the Greens are the go-to guys for seemingly insoluble problems.

Boris Johnson was not on top form. His best moment was offering to give Ken one-to-one training in overtaking a bendy bus on a bike. But in the final analysis he didn't disappoint - while leaving the stage he managed to trip over his own feet. Unfortunately the cameras had stopped running by that point.

Keep our NHS public! Emergency motion at GP Conference

So, Conference is underway! I am blogging here live from just outside the Main Hall. The Standing Orders Committee report has just come to an end. . . Not very exciting... But then we had something much more interesting - an emergency motion against what may be the first serious attempted take-over of a doctor's practice in Britain by United Health Care, run (tragically) by my old mate, ex- Blairite health main-man Simon Stevens.
The Green Party is resolutely opposed to any privatisation in the NHS. (For more, see my recent post on OPEN DEMOCRACY: )
tHE MOTION PASSED -- With only one vote against... Good!