conference

With Labour in open revolt against Corbyn, I’m sticking with the Greens

Originally published on the Norwich Radical

It’s now three months since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. For Greens, it’s posed some interesting questions.

For a start, Greens didn’t really know how to respond to the new political context. The party positioned itself as the left party for so long (and rightly), but few had thought about what might happen if the Labour Party actually turned left. Suddenly, the political space for the Greens appeared to shrink dramatically. And for a while, there was silence.

But when the time came, Greens welcomed the election of Corbyn – albeit in varying terms. Both Natalie Bennett and Caroline Lucas praised his election as a boost for progressive politics. Members were cautiously pleased.

There remain, though, some crucial distinctions. While membership fell back slightly, most Green Party members have thus far stuck around. Why?

  1. Greens are in it for the long game. It says something that it’s a truism, but few in the Labour Party think Corbyn will last the full five years. Even many in Corbyn’s camp think he’ll be out before 2020. The Greens are pretty solid on their feet – it’s serious business being in a party, and it’s a choice people don’t make lightly. Many in the Greens are adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach to ostensibly left-wing Labour. It seems like a wise move. Years of the Greens being socialist won’t be undermined by a few trembling months of a progressive Labour Party under Corbyn.
  2. Only the Greens are pushing hard on issues like democratic reform and environmental action. Labour has thus far remained silent on policies such as reforming the House of Lords, introducing proportional representation or keeping 80% of fossil fuels in the ground, as is effectively mandated by the science if we are to keep below catastrophic levels of global warming. Given these are policies that few in Labour – including Corbyn – appear to feel strongly about – and that they are policies Greens feel very strongly about – the lack of overlap is clear.
  3. The Labour Party machine appears un-reformable. Any attempts to deselect right-wing MPs will be struck down before they get off the ground. The 91% non-/anti-Corbynite Parliamentary Labour Party remains the most influential part of the Labour machine – after all, it is they who vote on our laws. So a shift there looks unlikely anytime soon. Just last week, the Labour right triumphed in the influential backbench committees of the PLP. They are not going anywhere. Talks of a coup are not even behind the scenes – Labour are in open revolt against their own left flank – and the potential upcoming vote on Syria will bring the crisis to the fore.
  4. Westminster Labour is not Labour in Brighton, Glasgow, Manchester or Cardiff – council chambers are, needless to say, not echoing with Corbynite speeches across the country. Politics, for most people, is not party conferences. It is the local. And at the local level, Labour has a lot of answer for, if you’re services are being outsourced in Hull or your housing estate is being sold off in Lambeth.
  5. Political traditions matter a lot in politics. And the Greens have a fundamentally different approach to politics. In next May’s devolved (and proportional!) elections in London, Wales and Scotland, it will be the Greens pushing for radical grassroots democracy, for real public engagement, for direct action against housing evictions and climate change, and for a new way of doing things.

The Greens aren’t blowing in all directions like a weathervane – and they certainly aren’t going anywhere.

The Labour Party is in a period of flux, and the Greens are still navigating a new and confusing political terrain. But there remains a place in British politics to praise the good and challenge the bad from outside the Labour Party. The Greens aren’t blowing in all directions like a weathervane – and they certainly aren’t going anywhere.

What it comes down to one is thing: Labour is far too broad a church to remain a consistently left-wing party. Under First Past the Post, it is a party of both neoliberals and Marxists – a contradiction that can’t be reconciled.

All the best to socialists in Labour, but my place is in a party that’s comfortable with being radical.

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Young Greens hold unprecedented national ballot for NUS conference

After a national ballot of all members, the youth branch of the Green Party has voted to back University of London Union Vice President Daniel Cooper by 71% to be the next leader of the NUS, and members also decided which other senior executive candidates to support.

Clifford Fleming, Young Greens co-chair, said: “As Greens we are proud to be fully democratic. In running this vote we have sent a signal to the rest of the student movement to follow suit. We have set a democratic precedent, and will be continuing it in future.

“Young Greens have made their decision clear, and we are pleased to announce we will be supporting Daniel Cooper for President. Daniel is a principled left-wing candidate who as ULU Vice President has shown his dedication to fighting for students and university staff alike, whether through the Tres Cosas cleaner campaign or opposing to shut down of ULU by university management.

“Young Greens will be pushing for free education, decent student grants and for an end to the startling inequalities now present in the sector, as well as supporting workers taking action for fair pay and opposing outsourcing and education cuts. Young Greens have voted to back candidates who stand up for justice in Higher Education.

“This is a crucial point just days before the conference begins, and Young Greens, along with activists in the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and other progressive organisations, hope to set the tone and make this NUS conference a turning point for the student movement.”

Members were sent candidates manifestos by email on the 2nd April and asked to vote in an online poll of who to support, with the result announced on the 6th April via Facebook.

The vote will be an indicative ballot, and will influence how Young Green delegates vote at this weekend’s NUS conference in Liverpool from the 8th to 10th April.

Young Greens voted to support:

  • Daniel Cooper for President
  • Hannah Webb for Vice President Union Development
  • Kelly Rogers for Vice President Welfare
  • Sky Yarlett for Vice President Society and Citizenship
  • Jesse Dodkins for Vice President Further Education
  • Megan Dunn for Vice President Higher Education

 

 

Saturday’s TUC march showed unions are needed more than ever

Credit: Steve Cooke

 

Nick Clegg received an unusual York welcome on Saturday.

Over 3000 anti-austerity protesters marched for ‘A Better Way’ through York to greet the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference being held at the Barbican.

As the Deputy Prime Minister spoke in favour of his motion on immigration, hundreds stood outside the building – a building which York’s Lib Dem council closed while it was last in control of the authority – to vent their anger at the cuts to public services, privatisation and other policies which hit the poorest hardest. Needless to say, the marchers’ chants, boos and cries of ‘shame’ reflected this palpable and genuine rage.

It was rage at everything from the Lib Dem’s propping up the Conservatives in government, to the tuition fee betrayal (Clegg’s crocodile tears notwithstanding), the bedroom tax, the back-door sell-off of the NHS to private companies and – judging by the presence of university lecturers and their UCU union – the dismal state of higher education under this government, with course and department closures, real-terms pay cuts and increasing marketisation.

This was a feeling expressed by the many students on the march too – a bloc that reflected the more radical spectrum of the protest. York’s Socialist Students made an effigy of Nick Clegg himself, hanged off the city walls, alongside a ‘Welcome to Traitor’s Gate’ banner. A grim sight for delegates to behold, in a wealthy former-Lib Dem city where they probably expected a friendlier reception amid Labour authority unpopularity. No such luck.

The TUC-organised demo couldn’t have chosen its day to be more symbolic. Saturday marked International Women’s Day. That very morning, delegates were hit with headlines of ‘Osborne’s tax and benefits changes hit women almost four times harder than men’. Not the best way for the previously centre-left party to celebrate IWD. But who wouldn’t have predicted that the three-year freeze in child benefit would have hit women hardest? Or that the cut in the top rate of tax for millionaires mostly helps rich white men?

Speakers at the rally after the march were quick to point this out. All ten speakers were women – a figure that contrasts sharply with the Lib Dems current level of gender representation. The figure hasn’t been picked up upon, but those 10 northern speakers are more than the Lib Dem’s current number of female MPs in the whole of the UK – and certainly more than at the next election after a number of announcedfemale resignations . Most inspiringly, leading the march were strikers (almost entirely women) from Care UK in Doncaster – workers who have just finished a week-long strike against the company to which their jobs were recently handed over to by the council. They’re facing pay cuts of up to 50% in an attempt to boost profits – and they’re fighting back.

Thirty years on from the miners’ strike, it’s a reminder that unions still matter. In fact, the whole protest – amid hundreds of union flags and banners – served to prove that trade unions, in standing up for the hardest-hit by austerity, are actually more needed than ever in the face of the neoliberal onslaught that is this coalition government (and don’t think the austerity will end with Labour, either). Indeed, the TUC collected 52 full carrier bags of food at the demonstration for local food banks under strain from the weight of a cost of living crisis.

Saturday’s march showed that, with over six million members – the majority of whom are now women – and the ability to mobilise thousands in the cause of social justice, unions still pack a punch. But with just 13% of 16-24 year olds members of what are still the largest democratic civil society bodies, perhaps the biggest message was that our generation needs to get organised. Otherwise, the current austerity measures could be ‘permanent’, to use Cameron’s word.

On Sunday, the People’s Assembly Against Austerity are planning to wave Clegg off as he leaves the city. Given the welcome he got, and the goodbye he’ll receive, he may well get the message that York – with its large student population alongside those hit by benefit cuts – isn’t such a big fan of the Lib Dems, after all.

Credit: Steve Cooke

Credit: Steve Cooke

9 Thoughts on Left Unity and its Founding Conference

Saturday saw the launch of a new left-wing political party in Britain – Left Unity. I won’t attempt to report on it, as I wasn’t there (nor did I want especially want to be). I just want to lay down a few thoughts on its implications for the wider left, particularly the Greens – speaking as someone who was initially positive (I signed up to the launch appeal) but who is growing increasingly sceptical.

Just under 500 officially attended* the inaugural conference of Left Unity, the project set up by socialist film maker Ken Loach and backed by leading left figures such as Kate Hudson, Richard Seymour and others.

Here’s 9 points from a loyal-but-concerned Green Party activist on the founding gathering of the initiative.

  1. There is clearly demand for Left Unity – more than 10,000 people have registered as supporters, and over 1200 people have formally joined since membership launched just a few months ago. A third of those attended last weekend’s conference. Explaining the demand for a new project is partly down to disillusionment with Labour, and the many sects to its left (not to mention their behaviour – the SWP’s Comrade Delta scandal e.g.). But it also has to be put down to something the Greens are doing, or not doing. The party’s actions in Brighton – i.e. passing austerity budgets – is obviously a major factor. We only have to look to the stream of Greens who have joined Left Unity in recent months – most/all of whom put their defection down to Brighton Council.
  2. At the same time however, there are arguably already more than enough left-wing parties in the UK (of which Labour is clearly not one). Of them, the Greens are the largest and have the most representation at all elected levels (and unelected levels, if our first peer for some years, Jenny Jones, is included). TUSC, Respect, the Greens and now Left Unity reflect the electoral mish-mash of British leftist politics now – not to mention the vast array of tiny groups which don’t generally contest elections.
  3. The party already seems to have overcome some of the stereotypes of the far-left. Far from resembling the misogyny of the SWP, it adopted a 50%+ female-leadership quota. It also saw its dogmatic communist arm routed in a conference vote on which platform to back – the more mainstream Left Party Platform easily winning over the Socialist and Communist Platforms. This comes with caveats, however. The conference provided no crèche, was mostly white male-dominated and refused to allow extra time for safe spaces policy to be discussed. A mixed start, then.
  4. If Left Unity is to mean anything, it has to mean genuine unity. Partly that means there has to be a serious reduction in the number of random socialist parties – something that is only marginally currently happening (with the mooted merger of the ex-SWP International Socialist Network, the ex-Workers’ Power Anti-Capitalist Network and the [eco-]Socialist Resistance).
  5. The whole project puts Greens in a dilemma. For a start, the party is almost certain to contest the next bunch of elections – definitely in 2015, at any rate. This means they will in many cases be standing against Greens. Do the Greens simply try to shrug them off, or do we attempt to engage? Clearly we can no longer do that from within Left Unity, as it is now a separate membership organisation and an electoral party. Instead, there have to be serious talks at local and national levels about pacts – lest the Greens be wiped out under our already-hostile electoral system as another group joins the fray. It doesn’t look like Left Unity is planning to start such a debate – a large number of its members are actively hostile to the Green Party (Loach himself is sympathetic to the Greens but argues we can never become a mass party of the un/organised working-class). We thus need to make the first move.
  6. If Caroline Lucas loses her seat in 2015, many Greens are, sadly, likely to leave the party – possibly towards Left Unity. Already, a number of left-wing Green councillors in Brighton are thinking of defecting. If Caroline loses, this number will undoubtedly rise – both in Brighton and across the country. I’ve spoken to a large number of Greens – many of them young and active – for whom this is the case. Such an outpouring of elected councillors and members will be a huge boost to Left Unity after its first electoral showing – potentially pitching it as the second ‘major’ left-wing party of England (if not Britain).
  7. At this time, many on the independent left are adopting a ‘wait and see’ policy about Left Unity – if it doesn’t quickly descend into factional bickering (as I’ve heard it has in some branches already), they will jump aboard.
  8. However, for the Greens there are few genuinely good potential outcomes of Left Unity – if it succeeds, the Greens may be decimated and replaced by a less ecologically-focused old-school left project. If it fails, a massive swathe of the left will likely drift (again, in many cases) into inaction and despair – as in the past with the Socialist Alliance.
  9. The best outcome is for a decent working relationship with the Green Party – some form of electoral pact, as I’ve argued elsewhere. This will require hard work and mutual engagement. At the moment, such a prospect seems unlikely. But if Left Unity isn’t to become a slightly-bigger version of TUSC, it’s essential. What’s more, it’s also important for the survival of the Greens: without cooperation, Greens will face a choice. With an insurgent socialist force emerging as a serious left-challenge to our party and the political system, many will be asking themselves – ‘should I stay or should I go?’ Some have already made their mind up. After the next elections, which offer uncertain chances for the Greens in Brighton and nationally, many more may follow.

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*Most observers put attendance at 400, out of nearly 700 who registered to come, but that’s neither here nor there.

Conference season – plus ça change…

Party conference season is over, at last.

Monday marked the end of the SNP’s conference in Perth. It was hardly a game-changer. Salmond was policy-light, despite a good speech. Will the speech change politics? Only if the SNP manages to overturn the 2:1 opposition to Scottish independence. Unlikely, then.

But it was Labour and Miliband’s pledge to freeze energy prices for 20 months if elected in 2015 that made the spotlight. Yet the party is hiding from the fact that tinkering around the edges of the market can leave the oligarchs with just as much power – capital flight (or threats of it), vociferous press attacks, ramped up lobbying and anticipatory price increases all point the way to the real need – to renationalise our energy supply. That, of course, wasn’t on the cards, despite mass popular support.

But Miliband’s pledge, however insufficient it may be, has shifted the debate. The main parties been rudely awakened to the fact that 60% back the freeze. And it’s the Daily Mail, including its elusive editor Paul Dacre, that has come off worse in the battle after publishing its now-infamous ‘Man Who Hated Britain’ article. 72% of the public backed Miliband – and 57% of Mail readers thought their paper should apologise.

The Mail did no such thing of course, but the chain of events has solidified the leader’s press-slating reputation. Perhaps more interestingly, many of Ralph’s most famous tracts sold out in the following days. The Mail may have just revived socialism, more than Ed would ever want to himself (see his awkward ‘get-round-the-negotiating-table’ talk regarding recent strike action).

For the left, the Labour conference is unsettling. Many believe Miliband has taken a social democratic turn. He hasn’t. As Labour’s Michael Meacher pointed out, Ed newly reshuffled team shows his true inclinations, the shadow cabinet ‘now composed of 12 Blairites, 4 Brownites, plus 9 centrists, and 6 on the left or left-inclining.’ Out went Dianne Abbott, in went quasi-neoliberals like Tristram Hunt. The New Labour vanguard still comprises a majority. You can forget renationalising the Royal Mail and our crumbling rail system (despite the wishes of delegates and the public).

As for the Tory and Lib Dem conferences, Cameron put out a passionate defence of the boss class with his ‘profit is not a dirty word’ speech, while both Clegg’s ‘million jobs’ gambit, and Cameron’s pledge to remove benefits for under 25s – can only be enacted on after a general election. With the Lib Dems, that probably means never at all.

For Greens, conference season is more inspiring – votes actually count for a start. Did Green Party conference shift politics? Perhaps not monumentally. As a ‘UKIP of the left’ however, we may have forced Labour ever-so-slightly towards us (Caroline Lucas’ billboard ad could be responsible…). If so, there are serious implications for both parties. For the moment however, there remains a large divide between Labour and the Greens – from supporting renationalisation of the utilities to opposition to Trident (and, indeed, nuclear generally).

It may be too soon to call the result of conference season. But this year does feel different, not least with UKIP humiliated themselves, the upcoming Scottish referendum, and Miliband actually laying out some policy (however flawed it may be).

Above all though we must remember – politics is made not in keynote speeches but in action. Party leaders remain much better at the former.

Josiah Mortimer is a writer, activist and Politics student at the University of York.

A different kind of party conference…

[A version of this article was first published by Nouse, the York student newspaper]

It’s become a cliché to say that party conferences are dying these days. Every September rolls along, and the newspaper hacks whip out the same pre-made lines about the dwindling turnouts, and the powerlessness of the (ageing) delegates. So it was refreshing to be at this Autumn’s Green Party conference, where stereotypes about the annual conference season could be shattered.

It was to a Brighton waterfront hotel that hundreds of Green Party of England & Wales members descended upon in mid-September – including around a hundred Young Greens (students and anyone under 30) and a solid sprinkling from our own York society.

And a fitting location it was, too. Brighton, somewhat famously, is bit of a Green Party stronghold, with Greens controlling the council, and with former leader Caroline Lucas as the city’s outspoken MP.

It’s an understandable place for the Greens to be rooted. Wandering around sunny London-on-sea, the vegan restaurants, vintage clothes shops, second-hand stores, and blossoming environmental and charity sectors immediately stood out. Under the scenes, it’s also a place where the council has introduced a Living Wage for all staff, slashed executive pay, prevented services from being privatised and become the world’s first ‘One Planet City’ – i.e. genuinely sustainable in terms of resource consumption. But it wasn’t the location that made the conference different.

Firstly, anyone can turn up. Unlike other party conferences which operate on a ‘delegate’ system, any ordinary member can go to the Green Party’s six-monthly gatherings, which operate on a progressive payment scale. For students and the unwaged, it’s about thirty quid for the whole four days, with a hefty hardship fund for those who can’t afford it. Many of the events are free to the public, with cheap observer passes for those that aren’t.  And the members who do come actually get a say, too.

That’s because all party policy is made by members at the twice-yearly conferences. No out-of-reach bureaucrats or Labour-esque Executive Committees determining what to discuss (or side-line). It’s all done on the conference floor – one member, one vote. You’ll often see leader Natalie Bennett or the ‘People’s Caroline’ herself sticking up their voting cards in front of you. Sometimes they’ll lose, too. Even what makes the agenda is determined by members in an online vote.

Raise your hand and you can make a speech, ‘no confidence’ the Chair or vote for more discussion time. Anyone can submit policy, amend it or propose emergency motions. Hell, they even unanimously passed my one calling for the government to abandon the sell-off of Royal Mail.

And because anyone can turn up and have their say, it’s got a very different feel to the usual ego-festivals that are the mainstream parties’ conferences. Suits are de facto banned. Careerists are essentially unheard of (jokes about why any careerist would join a small party aside, please). Cliques, though a problem in every organisation, are mostly dismantled through open socials and workshops.

No conference is perfect. There are diehards who turn up to every one of them (myself included). Not everyone can spare a whole weekend, especially not a four-day one, to trek to far-flung places. They can be confusing, frustrating and disappointing (especially when you lose a vote). But it’s the democracy, and the unprecedented openness, that makes Green Party conferences different.

Oh, and humour too. A week after the Green Party conference ended, Labour delegates were flocking to the same city for their annual talking shop. Here’s what they were greeted with – a billboard of Caroline Lucas reading: ‘Welcome to Brighton – Home of the true opposition in Parliament. PS. Labour is down the hill on the right’. Win.

Green Party Votes Unanimously to Stop the Privatisation of Royal Mail

I’m very pleased to announce (in case you missed it) that the Green Party’s Autumn Conference in Brighton this weekend voted unanimously for my motion to oppose the sell-off of Royal Mail and to get behind the campaign against the privatisation. A step forward in the fight for public ownership, and another sign that the Greens are the real party of the left in Britain.

To view the complete emergency motion which was passed go here.

Re-posted from the Green Party website

15 September 2013

THE Green Party has passed an emergency motion to stop the privatisation of the Royal Mail.

The Green Party motion instructs the Green Party Executive and the Green Party’s elected representatives to throw their full weight behind the ‘Save Our Royal Mail’ campaign, support the Communication Workers’ Union’s industrial and political fight against the sell-off.

“In unanimously passing the emergency motion against the sell-off of Royal Mail, the Green Party has sent out a strong and unanimous call of support for the campaign to defend our postal service, a 500-year old institution, joining with the 70% of the public who oppose the privatisation”, said motion proposer Josiah Mortimer (University of York Green Party).

“The privatisation of the Royal Mail will only lead to rising prices, worse conditions for postal workers, declining reach to rural areas, and a threat to the six-day a week service obligation.

“Unlike Labour, which tried to sell-off the Post Office several times during office, the Greens stand firmly on the side of public services and public ownership, in line with our commitment to bringing rail, energy and other privatised utilities back into public hands.”