Green Party conference musings

OK, the 40th Birthday celebrations were nice, but I came away from this GP conference more than usually pensive. Last week I expressed concern at the leftward drift of the party, as evidenced by the treatment of the pressure group ‘Population Matters’. It transpires that the trend has gone much farther than I thought. The new wording of the Philosophical Basis does not look like a major shift from the previous text. It places social and environmental justice as the Party’s foremost principle. But social justice always was one of twin basic principles. I have throughout stressed that neither social justice nor sustainability can be achieved without the other. The Party’s activist base has consistently been oriented towards social justice throughout the party’s existence. The change was not necessary. Its only effect will be to minimize the importance of the Party’s ecological raison d’ être. Why?

There is a widespread myth that the public still thinks that the Green Party is a single issue party – the environment. I can understand opponents who wish to hinder the Green Party’s progress putting this notion about, but publicity from Caroline and Natalie to the grass roots has consistently stressed both our range of policies and our left of centre ethos. I have pointed out in previous blog posts that when we were perceived as a single issue party, Conservatives voted for us in droves. That ceased abruptly in 1989, when we were given the opportunity to explain ourselves. It is of course true that the economic downturn has led to the general opinion that the economy is more important than the environment, even including climate change. There is a standard answer: the economy depends on the environment.

Last week I suggested that the large intake of disaffected Labour activists had inevitably led to the shift which concerns me. But I was especially heartened by what one lady said in the Workshop session on the Philosophical Basis motion (for those unfamiliar with conference procedures, all motions are discussed by a smaller, interested group before the formal plenary voting session). She said: “I left Labour and joined the Greens because of Tony Blair. At first I had no idea about, or interest in the Party’s environmental policies, but I have come to realize how important they are”

But my impression is that such people are in a minority. As I say, the party activists have always been recognizably ‘left wing’, and in many cases deliberately and proudly so. But the difference prior to the ‘Tony Blair’ intake was that there was a consensus on the fundamental importance of the Party’s ecological aspect. It seems that this is no longer the case. I am still shaky on my use of Twitter etc, so I cannot cut and paste material I would like to, but Adam Ramsay, a prominent Young Green (though not an office holder I understand) has been quoted to me as saying “We are stronger than them now. They will just have to accept that”. He has also been quoted to me as regarding any mention of population as being fascist. I will gladly apologise if Adam or anyone can tell me that these reports are inaccurate. But one of the more depressing aspects of this trend is that the Young Greens generally appear to be in the vanguard of a shift away from ecology, with an apparent reluctance to enter into dialogue.

To recap, my aims are:

1      Ecological – to achieve a sustainable world economy.

2      To unite those on the now redundant ‘left’ and ’right’ who want 1.

3      To prevent, or repeal the present government’s ‘workfare’ schemes.

I argue that the Citizens’ Income will facilitate all three. The first and second aims appear to be slipping away, but as my recent blogs stress, they can be ignored for the time being. The immediate task is to bring pressure to bear on Iain Duncan Smith’s hateful reforms. If the Green Party’s new emphasis on social justice is to mean anything, it should lead to wholehearted support for a measure that will do this. But if the new push for social justice is inspired primarily by an Old Labour agenda, then that would explain the otherwise strange fact that the same people who passed the Social Justice change overwhelmingly did not grasp the importance of my motion which began:

“Using the government’s own background briefing against it in support of the opposition to the misguided welfare reform plans.”

Dare I hope that two and two will be put together soon?

6 responses to “Green Party conference musings

  1. Hi Clive,
    First of all. There is a strong desire across the party to emphasise the social justice aspect and definitely not just the Young Greens.
    Secondly I don’t think for one moment that the need to fight climate change has been diminished by this motion.
    I think people are worrying unnecessarily about this. And I don’t think it’s the equivalent of a clause 4 moment either.
    Best wishes. Charlie

    • Charlie, there always has been a strong desire across the party to emphasise the social justice aspect. And the Young Greens are not monolithic. Some share my misgivings about where the party is heading.
      You say:
      >I don’t think for one moment that the need to fight climate change has been diminished by this motion.
      >I think people are worrying unnecessarily about this
      Obviously I disagree. Only time will tell which of us is right, but for me, the blizzard of straws in the wind is ominous. I have read the link to Adam Ramsay’s blog and the 122 comments in Alfie Stirling’s comment. I shall of course reply to Alfie, but the narrative confirms my worst fears. Adam’s world view, and that of some comments, is consistent with Old Labour, though they may be too young to remember the phenomenon, as it died suddenly as an effective force with John Smith in 1994. I regard that world view as lacking rather than not being in sympathy with it. But can Adam if he reads this, or someone who knows, tell me what his views on economic growth are? My view is that technological advances will probably allow growth to be possible from time to time, but crucially we must get away from a dependence on it. A recession will be a commoner, more prolonged feature of life from now on. The only question is whether we manage this reality, or let (nasty) ecological constraints do it.
      My blog features the Citizens’ Income as facilitating three aims. The first is acknowledging eco-limits, and the second is uniting everyone who wants to do that. My rely to Robbie Spence will elaborate on that, but another such straw in the wind was the conference motion urging closer links with trade unions. It is just another move identifying us more closely with one side of an outdated political divide. Of course Old Labour says that capitalism must be smashed, so the divide is even more crucial than ever. You will have to read my book for an answer to that. I just have a different strategy for a problem we all agree on.
      But the immediate need is to attack and destroy Iain Duncan Smith’s workfare. If the world view of which Adam Ramsay is a vocal representative really had moved on from Old Labour, conference would not have referred back in puzzlement my motion asking it to mount such an attack. I get the impression that the new intake of former Labour supporters is still firmly fixated on the need for full employment at a fair wage which I agree would be perfectly possible if we could rely on economic growth. They seem unaware of, or possible actually unhappy with our original vision of a sustainable society.

  2. Hi Clive,

    Thanks for this. Interesting read.

    One thing I don’t understand though is why being an old Labourite would make someone not want to join in opposition against IDS’s new programmes. Could you elaborate?

    Also, although the former quote from Adam Ramsey may be true, the latter certainly isn’t consistent with what he has published in writing. Take a look at this article and the comments beneath to get the words straight from the horse’s mouth.


    • Hi Alfie
      Absolutely, any Old Labourite ought logically to be attacking IDS hammer and tongs without any prompting. Some are involved in anti-cuts action generally, but I have elaborated in my reply to Charlie Kiss my hypothesis as to why they haven’t cottoned on to means testing as the central problem, and my recent blog posts explain this at greater length. Old Labour’s vision of social justice is grounded in full employment, which economic growth is assumed to be capable of delivering. Social justice recognizing eco-limits involves standing those assumptions on their head, hence the need for the Citizens’ Income.
      I confess myself mystified that you seem to think Adam Ramsay’s views are inconsistent with hostility to the GP’s population policies. He comes across as at best having no conception of the core Green Party tenet that we must heed the planet’s ecological limitations, hence (inter alia) the racist inference from the simple fact that this island’s ecological footprint is already far larger than its capacity. His passionate concern for Malians leads him to the preposterous inference that they are being condemned for population increase. On our side of the argument we believe that if a woman has confidence that her first two children will survive, and is given he power to decide, many will not wish to have large families.

  3. Do you have a reference please to your previous blog posts that “when we were perceived as a single issue party, Conservatives voted for us in droves.” Also, re “That ceased abruptly in 1989, when we were given the opportunity to explain ourselves.” – what event in 1989 are you referring to and surely our vote has gone up since 1989? Thanks for a helpful blog, btw.

    • Hi Robbie
      The post in question was on 16th November 2012 ‘An open letter to Zac Golsmith MP’. I would like you to read it fully, but in case you are busy, I have copied the relevant paragraph below. But I am puzzled by your query about 1989. We got 15% nationally in the European elections! No, our vote has most definitely not gone up as against that benchmark!
      In passing, I am fairly sure Zac read my blog.

      From blog 16th November
      My chief disappointment with the Green Party is its ’Old Labour’ consensus. You are no doubt well aware of the attitude towards you in the Green Party. You are rich and you are in a government which is widening inequality. End of. I remind the current Green Party membership that the pattern up to and including the 1989 Euro election was passionate social justice Party activists, whilst the Green votes were directly proportional to the Conservatives. In 1989 our best result in England was in Sussex (24.5%!), as was one of the Conservatives. Our worst and your worst – Tyne and Wear. This is brushed off by GP activists as ancient history. I point out that it is still the better off, free from more pressing worries, who can think about saving the planet for their grandchildren. After 1989 the Green Party was identified as left of centre, and the correlation with Conservative votes came to an abrupt end. But the droves of Conservatives who voted Green in 1989 who have been put off by the Green Party stance ever since, are still there, and they will identify with you. In those early days Conservative Green sympathisers would turn up at GP meetings, but the gap in mind sets was too great, so they did not return, and the left bias of the GP was reinforced.

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