It’s now been over a week since the Green Party of England and Wales passed what is arguably its most significant philosophical change for decades. Some good points have already been made on the move (see Left Foot Forward and Bright Green) – a move which has been described as the party’s ‘Clause IV moment in reverse’, in reference to Labour’s ejection of a commitment to socialism at its 1995 conference.
Last Saturday was, incidentally, the party’s 40th ‘birthday’. So a pretty good date to consolidate the Greens’ position as the party of social and environmental justice, then. If life begins at forty, the party has a good few years ahead.
But as attractive as the comparison to a reverse Labour Clause IV moment sounds, far from being an unexpected ideological power-grab, last week’s ‘Philosophical Basis’ change – which has finally and officially put social justice in the party’s core values statement – reflects the progressive development of the party over the past decade, particularly since the monumental election of Caroline Lucas MP in 2010.
As Salman Shaheen stated in his Left Foot Forward piece, ‘for those who have been immersed in Green politics for any length of time, this will only be a formal recognition of a much longer struggle.’ Many members at conference said the change was ‘long over-due’ and ‘about time’. Almost all opposition to the motion centred on the fact that not everyone had read or heard about the change before arriving in Nottingham for Spring Conference. Others picked up on a couple of contested words. But when it came to the vote, 71% of conference attendees voted for the change, an incredibly positive result.
The exact changes are, admittedly, fairly modest, but at the same time take the vital step of enshrining the Greens’ place on the left. The old preamble to the Philosophical Basis – the ‘core principles’ of the party – began:
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. Conventional politics has failed us because its values are fundamentally flawed.
With the new one reading as follows:
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.
Importantly, a new first clause has been added, which explains the inter-linked nature of the crises we face;
The Green Party is a party of social and environmental justice, which supports a radical transformation of society for the benefit of all, and for the planet as a whole. We understand that the threats to economic, social and environmental wellbeing are part of the same problem, and recognise that solving one of these crises cannot be achieved without solving the others.
Not particularly Bolshy stuff, but simply a shift which reflect where the party is today, with a young and vibrant activist base. As Peter McColl said in his Bright Green piece, the move amounts to a ‘realignment with those who will benefit most from Green politics’, presenting a ‘positive vision of Green politics as a radical force‘.
This was reinforced by other major motions passed at the conference – a unanimous vote to oppose NHS privatisation in England, new policy condemning pay-day loans, and overwhelming support for the No Dash for Gas protesters who face bankruptcy for direct action against energy giant EDF. And Green Party leader Natalie Bennett’s speech backed the on-going Sussex University occupation – an encouraging statement to those saying ‘no more’ to privatisation and outsourcing.
Last weekend’s conference was a telling sign of how far the party has come over the past decade, to become a serious party of social and environmental justice, in the face of a vapid and ideologically-vacant Labour Party. Looks like a progressive life for the Green Party has truly and officially begun at forty.
[Update – some decent coverage of the change is now also up on the Climate & Capitalism site here, an international online journal from across the pond]