The real party of opposition makes its mark

Looks like the Green Party of England and Wales is in for a good next two years. A huge amount of press coverage, an excellent venue in the amazing politically and environmentally charged city of Bristol, great attendance, and some of the most hard-hitting leadership speeches the party’s seen yet all contributed to a conference last weekend that set a positive tone for the leadership of newly-elected Natalie Bennett.

Natalie’s speech hit the mark. She spoke of the Greens being the ‘real opposition’ to the cuts while Labour simply offer slowed-down austerity – setting the theme of the conference. She made clear the Greens are the only major party fighting for the NHS, against academies, pushing for renationalisation of the railways and calling for an end to war. Reaching out to the unions was an excellent move – ‘we know that we need to strengthen and support our trade unions’ is a sentence you won’t hear Labour saying as they move ever further away from their roots.

The opening speech of incoming Deputy Leader Will Duckworth, was also inspirational. A working-class Black Country lad, he talked of the trials he’s faced after being a teacher and union representative for decades – including losing his job for it. It spoke to all in the party who feel we need to reach out to working-class people and those hit hardest by austerity.

He brought up the the case in his ward of a young mother in a council house with no working heating –the council’s failure of which to fix contributed to the death of one of her children. Following the death of her child she was deemed to no longer need help. Will, a Dudley Green councillor, helped get her heating fixed and keep her home. The story brought most members present close to tears.

It wasn’t all speeches of course. Party democracy passed some pretty radical policies and changes. In what’s been dubbed the Greens’ Clause 4, economic democracy – support for the control and ownership of companies, production and pension funds by and for workers is now party policy. Conference rebuked the Lib Dems and Tories for abandoning Lords reform, backed an international law on ecocide, vastly strengthened Green policy on disabled rights and voted to create a strategy to significantly increase the numbers of women standing electorally for the party up to and over 50%.

Organisationally, the Greens voted to pay our leader, giving working-class people at last a chance of heading the party. Indeed it was one of the main calls of the 19th century Chartists for MPs to be paid in order to stop politics being a rich-boys’ game. So the party has made some strong strides forward. The leadership team overcame nearly all reservations, and showed themselves to be confident and emotive speakers who also have their feet firmly on the ground with the grassroots.

Next conference looks set to feature big changes already. The first being one put forward by Green Party Women to modify the controversial gender balance leadership rules to allow women to hold both the leadership and deputy posts. It would be a step forward both for female representation and democracy.

The second (incipient) policy on the running for next conference is to update the philosophical basis to adequately reflect the party’s social nature – i.e. our belief in a massive shift in favour of working people and away from corporations. This seems to be the closest thing, short of a name change, to a statement that we are the real party of labour.

Most reassuringly, Bristol’s conference saw a huge number of Young Greens attending and engaging. Young Greens now sit on every party committee, and were some of the most active contributors to conference in the form of fringes, socials and helping out. In the aftermath of autumn conference, the Greens can be confident that there will be strong gains. Bennett’s ambitiousness will help that greatly – and a 1.3% swing is all it would take to triple our MEPs in 2014. The real party of opposition is on the march.

[Originally posted here at the Yorker]


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