by Josiah Mortimer (@josiahmortimer), University of York Green Party
The Green Party of England and Wales’ Spring Conference looks set to be a radical one. In just a couple of weeks’ time – and on the Greens’ 40th ‘birthday’ – hundreds will gather to determine the direction of the party. The votes of these members could help establish the Greens as the party of the left at a time when the left – or at least large sections of it – is in complete disarray in Britain.
Why will it be a radical conference? The results of the ‘Prioritisation Ballot’ – the vote on how motions get ranked on the conference agenda (determining how likely they are to be debated) – are now in. Sadly few voted – just over 100 people, in fact. But the results are important nonetheless.
In policy, the top three motions are telling for how the party has grown to be a real force for progress in the face of a weak and ideologically vacuous Labour Party. The first, ‘Making Social Justice Central’ states ‘Green politics and social justice are fundamentally dependent – without environmentalism, the planet will become uninhabitable; without social justice, the planet isn’t worth living on.’
It proposes to alter the current ‘Philosophical Basis’ – the party’s core values statement, in effect – towards recognising the necessity of social justice as well as environmentalism in our politics, replacing the rather depressing and misanthropic current preamble, which begins: ‘Life on Earth is under immense pressure. It is human activity, more than anything else, which is threatening the well-being of the environment on which we depend.’ -with this:
‘A system based on inequality and exploitation is threatening the future of the planet on which we depend, and encouraging reckless and environmentally damaging consumerism. A world based on cooperation and democracy would prioritise the many, not the few, and would not risk the planet’s future with environmental destruction and unsustainable consumption’
A big shift, on the surface. But it retains the vital ecological focus, while at the same time demanding an alternative to the current economic system. At a time of global financial crisis, such a statement is more necessary than ever. Myself and a large number of other Young Greens proposed and supported this motion, after a similar item was passed at the last Young Greens Convention. Whether it will succeed is unclear – but it will open up an important debate nonetheless, at a time when we need to declare where we stand.
The second top-ranked motion is on pay-day loans – again a particularly prominent subject in this economic climate. Workers’ wages are stagnating while the loan-sharks use this as a chance to make a quick buck. The motion condemns the ‘morally unacceptable and economically imprudent’ pay-day loans system, and puts interest-rate capping and government support to ethical lenders into party policy. I have a feeling this one will be largely uncontroversial.
Next is monetary policy reform – not a hugely stirring topic, perhaps. But the motion is an interesting one, effectively calling for the nationalisation of the money supply, out of private banks’ hands – i.e. ‘control of money supply solely by the state’. The ramifications are significant, and plenty of debate will be vital. Nonetheless, it proposes a turn away from the dominance of multinational finance towards democratic control.
Further motions demand ‘community self-government over corporate rights’ and the anonymisation of job application forms to protect against racial discrimination.
The really radical shifts, though, are organisational.
The first, a motion supported by many in Green Left – the Greens’ eco-socialist wing – calls for the establishment of an anti-cuts councillor conference, and couldn’t come at a more urgent time. Council chambers across the country are currently setting their annual budgets. Following the founding of the new ‘Councillors Against Cuts’ initiative – so far Labour-dominated, but with steadily growing Green support – an anti-cuts councillor conference would enable cross-party discussion of legal challenges to the cuts, opening up the possibility of setting ‘needs budgets’, and encouraging direct action from below.
Building links with the unions has been at the core of Natalie Bennett’s vision since being elected. Her election speech encouraged the party to ask the unions – ‘what can we do for you?’ The motion on Green Party support for trade unionism is therefore a welcome one. In passing it, the party would declare ‘the Trade Union movement plays a vital role in defending the interests of working people’ and encourage ‘all its members to be active Trade Unionists’. Solid stuff.
Finally, G4S – yes, that lot who cocked up during the Olympics – have just been voted the world’s worst company for their role in the privatisation of warfare. This year’s Spring Conference could affirm that, in committing the Greens to oppose and expose G4S for the ‘illegal detention of Palestinians, profiteering from public sector privatisation & the neglect and mistreatment of refugees in the asylum system’ – among other crimes. It’s third on the ‘organisational’ agenda, and the Greens endorsement of the Stop G4S campaign would be cheered by campaigners word-wide, sending a very strong message to anti-war and human rights activists – we’re on your side.
So, this conference is set to be one of the most important Green Party gatherings in years – one which could solidify the party’s status as a party of the left, of social justice, and a party which stands on the side of those opposing austerity and war nationally and internationally. Watch this space.
Green Party Spring Conference will run from the 22nd-25th February.