Ken Kimber – Green Party Autumn Conference Report: Aston University Birmingham 5-8 September
This was my first Green Party Conference, but I wasn’t alone: of the 750 delegates, some 40% were also attending for the first time, reflecting not only the increased membership and recent gains in the European and local council elections, but also that there is a real sense of momentum.
Caroline Lucas set out this position very clearly in her speech on Saturday morning. She was withering in her critique of the coalition government, and scathing about the Labour Party’s record either in voting with the government, or in abstaining, for example, on rail nationalisation. Indeed, she argued that it was the Green Party who are the real opposition.
I attended a couple of Plenary sessions in the Great Hall, in which motions are discussed, amended and voted on. Frankly I found the whole process fairly baffling (despite a really helpful fringe meeting explaining how Conference works for first time attenders), but equally fascinating. Whereas conferences for the main parties have become essentially media events, here national policy was debated and decided by party members.
However, it is often argued that it is in the Fringe meetings that you can really feel the pulse of the Party. There was so much I wanted to see, and people I wanted to hear. I attended a packed meeting chaired by Molly Scott Cato on ‘How the South-West was won’, discussing the ‘Green Surge’ in the South-West and outlining the successful European election campaign strategy. I also went to a terrific meeting on TTIP. John Hilary (Executive Director of War on Want) explained clearly and powerfully how TTIP would usher in deregulation, privatisation and the massive transfer of power to corporations. Blanche Jones (Campaign Director at 38 Degrees) spoke more optimistically about their success in raising public awareness and mobilising opposition to the trade deal.
A couple of impressions from this year’s Conference: Firstly, Natalie Bennett’s speech on the Friday signalled a clear shift to the left of Labour and the LibDems. But whilst the Green Party might want to position itself as the favoured party for disillusioned left-wingers, there remains some tension between those delegates describing themselves as ‘watermelons’ (green on the outside and red on the inside) who applaud the commitment to social justice and challenging anti-austerity policies, and kiwis (green all the way through) who are concerned about the loss of focus on environmental issues.
Secondly, Conference debated an amendment to the energy policy that proposed an energy system based on ‘carbon-neutral sources’, to include nuclear power. This was the one genuinely passionate debate I witnessed, with the arguments for and against the development of nuclear power split along generational lines, with (to put it slightly stereotypically) young techies reassuring us of the safety and efficiency of new-generation nuclear power stations, and veterans of the Peace movement lining up to remind us of Chernobyl and Fukushima. Conference reaffirmed its commitment to a nuclear-free energy policy, but I strongly suspect that this issue will return again.
I was only at conference for one day, but it was a very busy one. I enjoyed meeting delegates, talking to exhibitors and making new contacts, but above all, feeling inspired to build on the momentum and take the Green Party into the next election.