#GPConf Autumn 2015 – A First Timer’s Take

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Written by Kylie Barton                                                                  

The sun shone on us Greens last weekend as we travelled down to Bournemouth in our thousands for the Autumn Green Party Conference, the first since the election, and the first since Corbynmania grabbed the nation. So there was plenty to talk about.

Bennett opened conference with a joke that seemed to go down well, despite making little sense about us taking seats from the Lib Dems, as they were in the same venue just the week before for their conference. We haven’t taken any seats from them quite yet – but her optimism was infectious. The whole weekend was one of positivity, inspiration, and resilience.

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Amelia Womack spoke of hope, Shahrar Ali of truth, Caroline Lucas of collaboration, and Natalie Bennett of activism. These four elements are what will help us continue the Green Surge. We do provide a beacon of hope in what are utterly grim times; we provide answers and solutions to the questions being avoided by the main parties. We speak the truth about the horrors of the world rather than avoiding them and covering them over with spin and swine. We reach out to community groups, the Third Sector, social enterprises and others that share our values to continue educating the masses as to what is required for the common good of us all. And most of all, we are all activists, we support activism on numerous subjects and we’re always at the heart of marches, protests, petitions, and campaigns. This is the Green Party with 2020 vision, and this is the Green Party which makes me very proud to be Green.

Part of the education process is making sure that there is a robust alternative media. There was a very dynamic fringe session of this topic with people from The Morning Star and Bright Green speaking about the challenges of writing an alternative hegemony in a media industry saturated with right wing capitalist propaganda. This was an incredibly busy session, discussing how to maintain some media that puts journalistic integrity over profit. Alternative media historically grows alongside the appetite for social change, and both are getting stronger by the day. Media is also a tool of organisation, a communication platform for activists to organise, and mobilise.

An example of this mobilisation, and a consistent theme throughout conference was electoral reform. We want it, UKIP want it, LibDems want it, and even some Labour want it. We need it to overthrow the Tories but as Caroline said – the Tories (who got into power with just 24 per cent of eligible voters backing) will not be the Turkeys that vote for Christmas and so we must collaborate. In a fringe on proportional representation (PR) one gentleman in the audience stood up and asked why we are not calling on our friends in Europe to help us get our democracy back – it is a human right after all? He had a good point, and got well applauded for it, maybe that is why the Tories want us out of Europe so bad? We must cease working in silos, it is madness, and there is a need to realign progressive politics. One questioner also reminded us that we must write to our MPs on this issue. It is too often forgotten that writing to your MP is 100 times more impactful than signing a petition, and there are letter templates out there for you to follow on this and many other issues.

One surprising divisive issue did arise however in an otherwise unifying conference; climate change. Bennett said quite rightly that social and environmental justice are indivisible and people are starting to get that. But unfortunately some in the party do not. There was a motion to refocus the Green Party back to the single narrative of Climate Change, thankfully the motion was not voted on due to being so discordant and it was shelved. We have only just got out of the green house and into the real game of politics and it would be a travesty for us to return. We know that sustainability and climate change issues run through our veins – through any other policy we discuss.

We must continue to be a big part of the discourse in these other policy areas, such as housing, transport, NHS, education, mental health etc. because they are the mechanism for us to open the public’s minds on climate change. We will not get the popular vote on a non-populist policy. All these problems in our environment and are society are not happening at the same time by accident. We must work to educate the masses on the links between sustainability and every other policy area, and ensure that Britain knows that all policies can be created both for social and environmental good. This is our place in politics, even more so with Corbyn bringing Labour to the left field once again (Corbyn was mentioned quite a few times this conference). We are The Green Party, the Green is in our name, it shall never be forgotten, or side-lined, but we must speak more broadly to get more people on board. This may have been the #climatesense conference, but the thing that makes #climatesense is to not retreat to being a one trick pony.

There was a neat trick hosted however by Fiona Brookes of the campaigns team this conference in the form of an ‘Art Attack’ style piece on the beach (see picture at the top of the post) to protest against the rejection of the Navitus Bay windfarm plans. Locals were concerned about the view when they would appear tiny on the horizon on a clear day, and invisible most days. They were also concerned with disrupting the wildlife when in fact the base of a turbine provides a great habitat for an array of wildlife, and the cables mean that trawling, which does disturb many creatures would be impossible. If only we were there before the decision was made huh?

Natalie asked all local parties to hold public events in the run up to the Paris Climate Talks, to ensure everyone is listening, and to make certain proper commitments are made. Womack said it loud and clear – the days of capitalist politics ignoring the environment which was born with Thatcher, will die with Cameron – we will not be silenced. It is safe to say that the current government will not give up their profits from fossil fuels without a fight, and resistance is fertile. In Paris, and after, the Green party will be at the heart of the fight to end the fossil fuel era for the good of all. The politics of the future must be a series of spaces where together people can change the world – this would be a true democracy. After all as expressed by Womack, are we going to be the generation that spent too much time monitoring our extinction rather than taking action to prevent it? Poignant point.

In a session on how to achieve a truly green Britain, the idea of having a carbon minister was well received. The idea being this person would oversee every area from housing to transport, planning to agriculture to ensure that all policy is in line with carbon reduction needs. In this session a ‘cowtax’ was also suggested – to increase tax on meat and dairy to compensate for the damage these industries do to our environment, and our health. The UN reported recently that if every person reduced their meat consumption to once a week rather than every day, there would be a significant impact on CO2 emissions. Vegetarianism and veganism are increasingly popular lifestyle choices so it wouldn’t hurt to nudge people in that direction.

As well as climate change, another issue that needs speaking about in broader terms is TTIP. People don’t get it. There was a great fringe on it but it was clear that we need to stop talking about how it will strategically damage the UK, and start to speak of the tangible effects it will have on our lives. It will effect everything from food prices, to bees. The dialogue needs to widen to stop excluding the majority, as that is exactly what the powers behind it want. We need to blow this shit wide open.

This way, we will be the many, and they will be the few, as Bennett said when congratulating activists who have been hitting the streets across the country as the Tory cuts get deeper and deeper. “Activists and campaigners need a place within politics, and their natural home is with us” said Natalie. Sian Berry, London Mayoral candidate thrilled conference with her speech, exclaiming “politically it is an exhilarating time – things we once thought impossible have become possible”.

The impending EU referendum was also heavily discussed. There are numerous crises which require a global strategy, and the EU is an important tool in that. From climate change, to the refugee crisis – we must work together as humanity to overcome these challenges. There was a plea to help free Europe from the corporate elitism it is currently plagued by.

The bottom line is, politics is something we should do, not something that is done to us. Truth is not saying what the public want to hear but saying it as it is even if this mean short term unpopularity. We cannot keep electing the wrong people, expecting them to do the right thing. After all, doing the same thing again and again is the definition of insanity, and we need to bring the people of Britain back off the brink of it.

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2 thoughts on “#GPConf Autumn 2015 – A First Timer’s Take

  1. I disagree with your stance over the place of climate change in the Green Party. Climate change and sustainability should be the core issues of the Green Party. I was incredibly disappointed by the Green campaign for the General Election this year, where climate change and sustainability were barely mentioned. These are the issues that make us stand out from all the other political parties. Instead, we came across as just another political party banging on about the same issues as the rest, and, unsurprisingly, the results were disappointing. There is nothing more important than dealing with climate change and developing sustainable economies. There is no time to go softly softly in making people understand these issues. Now is already too late to avoid significant climate change. We have to act to limit the consequences. If the Green Party is not ready to fight for this, then who is? The Green Party MUST lead the way in the fight against climate change and those who put profit over our future.

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    • I agree, as I said they are at the core of all of our policies, and this must always be the case. But the problem is we need to get elected to act on climate change, as no other party ever will. So we must talk about the issues that voters want to talk about first and foremost, and then link it all back to climate change. If we were to focus simply on climate change we sadly would never get into a position of power to take the steps we need as a country to combat it. I do completely agree with your sentiment, and it is what stands us apart, and it always will be. People know climate change is our core concern, no one will ever forget that. We are still thought leaders on the area, and among the brilliant group of activists fighting on the ground, and we always will be. To be taken seriously by the electorate we need to be seen as the party to vote for on housing, on education, on the NHW, and transport, as well as climate change – because unfortunately people do not see the immediate dangers like we do. We always lead the fight against climate change, but the smart way to fight it is to make people realise the links between it and all their immediate concerns. Afterall we need the majority of the population on board to make tangible change, and our social policies are the way to get that!

      Plus, focussing on other things this election lead to the green surge, which has got us tens of thousands of new members who are now learning about the importance of climate change issues. They were lured in by the rest, and now they are learning the links and seeing the importance of a focus on climate change.

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