Autumn Conference could solidify the Greens’ place on the left

[Cross-posted from my article at Bright Green]

The 13th-16th September will see hundreds of Greens from across the country descend on Brighton for the party’s Autumn Conference. And from the look of what’s made the final agenda, it’s shaping up to be an interesting and radical one, further entrenching the party’s position as a significant force for progress in British politics.

For those who aren’t involved with the Green Party of England and Wales, the party’s holds its conferences every six months, a necessity given that members make the entirety of policy from the conference floor – one member, one vote – and any member can turn up.

Members also vote on what makes the conference floor itself, unlike the usual mainstream-party stitch-up with executives deciding what will be given time (and what won’t). For this conference, nearly 200 people voted in the ‘prioritisation ballot’, almost double the usual average of just over 100. A small proportion of the overall party perhaps, but a sizable chunk of those who will actually be there in Brighton.

And in a city with some of the highest train fares in the country, the motion which came out on top may prove to be very popular. In time for Caroline Lucas MP’s new Private Members Bill on rail renationalisation, the item which tops the agenda, ‘C01 – Rail and Public Ownership’, reiterates the party’s ‘long-standing commitment to bringing our rail system, including track and operators, back into public ownership’ and ‘recognises the need to ensure our rail services are more democratically accountable at local and regional levels’. Proposed by London Assembly members Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones, the motion focuses on London’s local commuter services and calls on them to be handed over to Transport for London (which already runs much of the London Overground network).

Hot on its heels after being voted second on the agenda  is ‘C02 – Keep the East Coast rail franchise in the public sector’. No prizes for guessing what it might be. The policy puts it simply – ‘The government proposes to re-privatise this franchise before the next general election. The Green Party opposes this and believes that the East Coast rail franchise should be kept in the public sector’, noting that the publicly-owned East Coast service has contributed £640m to the exchequer over the past three years. Pretty uncontroversial stuff.

Not everything to hit the conference floor will be entirely uncontroversial however. Monetary policy, as dull as it sounds, has for some time been an ideological pivot-point within the party (along with population and, more recently, immigration), with one side associated with the monetary-reform campaign group Positive Money arguing that ‘the power to create money must be removed from private banks’ and calling for ‘a programme of banking reform’ based around reigning in banks’ lending power, and those on the more explicitly socialist side of the party arguing the problem is more systemic and requires more radical change,  insisting banks’ ‘lending power should be socialised’ alongside ‘social control [of] the financial sector’. The former group have proposed ‘C03 – Monetary and Banking Reform Composite’, amended by those on the left to state ‘a Green government would seek to bring all banking institutions into social control’, beginning with the transformation of one of the existing nationalised banks into a genuine ‘People’s Bank’. Watch out for which side comes out on top.

But in the wake of the ramped-up seizure of common land by multinational corporations across the globe, International Coordinator Derek Wall’s motion opposing Land Grabs may prove more immediately pressing. The policy asks that the Green Party ‘affirms its support for indigenous peoples, peasants and their social movement allies in opposing land seizures’ and back collective ownership of land. It states that in the case of land, ‘free market mechanisms should always be overruled by the principles of sustainability and social justice’ and demands the UK government act to prevent the destruction of common land ownership by multinationals. All calls that should go down well in the world’s first One Planet City.

There are plenty more fascinating and worthy policies to be debated, from the Green-led national campaign to ban advertising aimed at children, anonymisation of CVs to prevent discrimination, an elected head of state, the de facto reversal of last conference’s Philosophical Basis change (don’t get me started …), and proposals for a locally-implemented Progressive Council Tax to stop the cuts – made more urgent by the recent refuse-worker pay dispute.

Yet perhaps most important and most telling after Labour’s Falkirk scandal will be the presence of trade union figures at the conference, with National Union of Teachers leader Christine Blower speaking on education, rail union figures discussing Britain’s privatised transport system and the PCS having a stall – encouraging signs of a growing realisation in the union movement of Labour’s failure to challenge neoliberalism.

All this alongside speeches from Reinhard Butikofer (Co-Chair, European Green Party), GPEW leader Natalie Bennett, the freshly-released Caroline Lucas MP, council leader Jason Kitcat, Will Duckworth and others, in the home of the first Green-run council, Brighton and Hove. See you there, folks.

The final agenda for Autumn Conference is available here: http://my.greenparty.org.uk/news/final-agenda-autumn-conference-2013-brighton, and you can book your place here.

@josiahmortimer is a student, blogger and activist based in York, and will be hosting a Young Greens Skype debate on the 9th September for next month’s conference – https://www.facebook.com/events/698458290170926/.

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