Natalie Bennett

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.

10 things I took away from Green Party Conference

[First published at Bright Green here]

There weren’t many big headlines from this Autumn Green Party conference, which drew to a languid close in sunny Bournemouth on Monday. But it was a mixed bag in the aftermath of both the General Election and Jeremy Corbyn’s swoop to power in Labour. Here’s ten things I took away from the weekend:

1. Corbyn felt like the ‘elephant in the conference hall’.

While Natalie did mention Corbyn in her speech – to the chagrin of some in party HQ, apparently – there appeared to be little debate in Bournemouth about what the role of the Greens is now that there is a left-wing Labour leader. A pretty big question, to say the least.

Deputy leader Shahrar Ali’s speech focused on the concept of ‘truth in politics’ – a fairly philosophical talk on his core values. And Amelia Womack’s speech focused on the Greens’ role in the General Election, next year’s devolved elections across the UK, and the Greens’ vision for society. But not much on Corbyn – even from members.

2. It was a pretty big event – but didn’t necessarily feel it.

There was no buzz. As one activist put it to me: “The venue wasn’t great; the plenaries felt so sparse and empty – we weren’t quorate for ages on Sunday and lost half an hour of plenary because of it. It all just felt like we were collectively in a major funk.” It didn’t feel like there was a surge going on – sadly, because there isn’t anymore.

Officially around 1100 people were registered to attend, according to a party press officer I spoke to – but there were probably more like seven hundred (max) present, at its peak – and plenty of empty seats in plenaries.

The Bournemouth International Centre was an ambitious venue, in all fairness. I was there just a few days before for the Liberal Democrat conference, and it was absolutely packed in the main hall, with over 1,000 voting and watching Tim Farron’s speech. Green Party conference, in contrast, didn’t have the buzz of Lib Dem conference (bizarrely, given the latter’s trouncing in May). There was plenty of confusion about the Greens’ role in this new political context – unlike the Lib Dems, who can now pitch themselves as the real ‘centre’ party.

3. Caroline Lucas’ call for electoral pacts between the Greens and Labour was the only major attempt to get to grips with Britain’s new political constellation.

With a socialist Labour leader, Caroline embraced the idea that ‘fighting in essentially the same terrain [as Labour] for the same issues and fundamentally the same belief set is madness, when it simply lets the Tories in’. ‘We are stronger when we work together’ – including on individual issues with Conservatives, Lib Dems, UKIP and others. Conference appeared to agree, given the applause. 

The discussion continued in Compass’ event on proportional representation on the Sunday. Challenged by Compass chair Neal Lawson for the Greens to admit standing in Brighton Kemptown last election was wrong, Caroline Lucas accepted that was the case, arguing the ‘excellent’ Green candidate Davy Jones should have stood ‘somewhere he could win’ (as she emphasised on Twitter) – though it’s unclear where this would be.

4. A new generation of potential Green MPs is coming through.

Lucas’ launch of a new ‘Generation Green’ training scheme for top talent in the young ranks of the party is a bold and wise move, preparing the party for the future. Starting with five of May 7th’s election candidates, it will offer training from Lucas’ office itself.

DSC_0379

5. London Mayoral candidate Sian Berry is a potential future leader.

Lucas ended her own speech with a tribute to her. With a seat on the London Assembly next year (she is top of the proportional list), she will be the capital’s most prominent Green – leading the Greens in a city with nearly a fifth of the national party’s ~65,000 members.

There are already soundings being taken as to whether she will stand – and encouragements. It’s unclear if Natalie will stand again, so these are interesting times indeed, a year ahead of next September’s leadership ballot.

6. The Greens are leading the way on the refugee crisis.

It was a stroke of both benevolence and political nous to hold a collection for the refugees in Calais – with dozens of items donated – nearly £2,000 was raised by the end of conference in cash. That’s a lot tents and blankets for the cold winter in northern France. The Greens were the only party to hold such a collection. Not only was it the right thing to do, it solidifies the Greens as the strongest and most consistent party on this issue.

7. Population Matters – the campaign group who oppose, well, poor people having children – still represent a major divide in the party.

The organisation, which has argued Britain should refuse to accept any migrants from Syria and backs an extremist ‘one in, one out’ immigration policy, caused a stir when the group’s opponents attended their fringe and asked rather hostile questions. It led to the three leadership figures to call on members to ‘oppose ideas, not individuals’ (Natalie Bennett).

Yet there are big concerns about the group, with calls for a ban given that they paid for entry to the conference – Shahrar Ali even raised the prospect of ‘cash for access’ in the leadership Q&A. Whatever the case, the whole issue is a continuation of the deep green/eco-socialists split that many thought was diminishing as the former wane in influence.

DSC_03918. The Greens will back a ‘Yes’ vote in the EU referendum – to the surprise of few.

‘Green Yes’ received the endorsement of conference after an emergency motion was passed. But member support for the campaign may depend in part of the results of Cameron’s ‘re-negotiation’ of terms over the next few months. If social and environmental rights are stripped back, will Green backing take a hit?

9. The need for electoral reform is still on the agenda.

Natalie Bennett made it a focus in her leadership speech, it was the reason for Caroline’s call for electoral pacts, and both my own Electoral Reform Society and Compass held packed-out panel discussions on it, featuring prominent speakers. Meanwhile, conference voted to back the Single Transferable Vote for local elections (the ERS’ preferred system). The issue of fairer votes hasn’t died down in the party – activists are still, understandably, angry.

10. Bournemouth is stunning. More conferences in beautiful sunny beach locations, please. Oh, and Natalie Bennett unwinds by crocheting scarves. Just FYI.

Addendum: two other things – the Deputy Leaders of the Green Party will now be paid roles, as opposed to voluntary, opening up the positions to those from diverse backgrounds, and taking a lot of the strain off the current leaders who can now focus on their official roles full-time. It’s something that we at Bright Green pushed for strongly so it’s a major step forward for accessibility and equality in the party.

Secondly, there was a serious members-only debate about the future structure of the party – should we become a co-op, or a Limited Liability Company? Should we elect our CEO? It’s a decision that will come back to a future conference – keep your eye out on this site for updates…

The ‘Green Surge’: what’s behind it, and where next?

This article was first published here in the Green European Journal

UPDATE: Ofcom’s decision not to give the Greens major party statusthis week led to nearly 300 people joining on the same day, bringing total UK-wide party membership to well over 40,000.

If they weren’t thriving before, 2014 put the UK’s Green Parties firmly on the map.

Amid a breakdown in public trust of the political mainstream, smaller parties have of course been on the rise. The growth of the hard right UKIP is well known, fuelled by big donors, ex-Conservative defectors and a fawning press. But the Greens have seen their own surge – partly in response – both in Scotland and in England & Wales. Two separate parties with strong links, they each have their own reasons for entering the political arena – the independence campaign playing a huge role for the Scottish Greens, while the dismal unpopularity of an austerity-obsessed Labour party in the rest of the UK played its part too.

December saw several high-profile new members come into the Scottish party’s ranks, including Independent Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP)John Wilson, following John Finnie MSP’s ‘defection’ in October. Both were previously in the governing SNP but differed with the party over issues such as NATO. In England and Wales, high profile figures are turning to the party too, including many former Liberal Democrats in light of a gap on the left of the political spectrum.

The developments in Scotland are important because they in effect bring the size of the Green group up to four, joining co-convener Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone MSP in Holyrood. Though both new recruits will remain officially Independent until standing as Greens in 2016, the party has nonetheless enjoyed an overnight surge in credibility.

Importantly, it adds to the massive momentum building up behind the Greens before and in the aftermath of the Scottish referendum on independence, after they formed a crucial pillar in the Yes campaign. In the run up to the #indyref, the Greens outflanked the SNP from the left and put up a strong grassroots campaign, both independently and as part of groups such as Radical Independence, a coalition of left-wing activists that saw over 3,000 gather for their post-referendum conference in November. The extent to which this built up the party’s prestige among the Scottish left cannot be understated.

In quantitative terms, these developments have seen the Scottish party’s membership surge from around 1,500 to nearly 8,000 since polls closed – more than quadrupling in size in just a couple of months. Many of the new recruits are energised, more socialist-inclined, and young – the latter being pivotal in a country where 16 and 17 year olds are soon to get a vote in ordinary elections (75% of them voted in the recent referendum).

40kIt’s not just the separate Scottish Green Party which is benefiting from a surge however – the Green Party of England and Wales more than doubled in size in 2014 to over 31,000 members. Adding the Scottish and Northern Irish Greens therefore puts the party just a few thousand behind UKIP (42,000) and the Liberal Democrats (44,000). If both can win MPs with that membership, in theory so could the Greens. The thousands more foot-soldiers for upcoming elections will be crucial for the years ahead, if the momentum can be sustained.

Explaining the rise is difficult however, as there are a huge number of factors. We can summarise some:

The rise of UKIP

  • The Green Party’s growth correlates to a certain extent with anti-UKIP sentiment – as UKIP grows, the need for a progressive response to it does too, pushing greens of all shades into action. It’s a dialectical relationship that in some ways means UKIP’s worrying emergence could strengthen the Greens, at least in the short-term – although it is arguably an unstable basis for success.

The sorry state of the Labour Party

  • In Scotland this was seen through the recent dramatic resignation of the leader Johann Lamont, who said the Scottish Labour Party was run as a ‘branch office’ of Ed Miliband’s Westminster party. In a nation as independent-thinking as Scotland, it was an insult of the worst kind – and has seen Labour’s poll share plummet (mostly, admittedly, to the SNP’s benefit). It’s an opportunity for the Greens too, however. And Labour’s dire situation is unlikely to change any time soon, after electing the Iraq war-supporting Jim Murphy to the leadership after Lamont’s exit.
  • In the rest of the UK, Labour’s failure to challenge austerity, fracking and countless other social and environmental evils have seen a mass exodus of young support, putting the Greens on nearly 20% among ‘the youth’, much of it at Labour’s expense, as well as the Lib Dems whose tripling of tuition fees meant reneging on firm promises in 2010.

The ‘Media Blackout’ of the Greens

  • Much publicised plans to exclude the Greens (as well as the SNP and left-wing Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru) from next year’stelevised General Election debates have been a blessing in disguise for the party, with a petition against the plan reaching over nearly 300,000 signatures, while anger at the ‘BBC Blackout’ of the Greens during the European elections saw nearly 85,000 register their rage According to a recent poll, 79% of the public want to see the Greens on the TV debates, against Nigel Farage. Even Labour have been swayed by the pressure.

A self-perpetuating cycle

  • As these factors piled up, Green support has further grown – leading to more coverage, more members, and more support. Polls now frequently put the party ahead of the discredited Lib Dems, while the party’s only MP, Brighton’s Caroline Lucas, has forged a10-point lead over Labour in her constituency. It shows that Greens can win, and can be popular, too.

A shift to the left

  • 2014 has seen the Greens pitch themselves as a serious party of the left  consciously and openly. Not only has it won over thousands of former Liberal Democrat and Labour voters, it is the expression of a trend that has been in course for several years now. As such, it’s both a principled and pragmatic move, which when bolstered by progressive alliances with the SNP and Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru, significantly contributes to the #GreenSurge.

2015 and beyond

All this is in addition to the Greens’ growing social media attention (#GreenSurge, and #InviteTheGreens for the TV debates, have frequently ‘trended’ on Twitter), as well as its rapidly expanding infrastructure in terms of staff and local branches across the UK as a whole.

Moreover, the Greens’ embrace of crowdfunding and small donations is bolstering these factors, and has the potential to lead to a democratisation and expansion of party funding in the UK –pitching the Greens as a party separate to big business.

What are the implications of these developments? Firstly, it could see more Greens elected next year, including Bristol’s Darren Hall. But given that in 2010 the Greens achieved just 1% of the vote, keeping hundreds of election deposits with a result of even 5% or more would be a breakthrough for the party on both sides of the border. After that, the Green surge could be unstoppable – going into the Scottish election in 2016 (where they’re set to win 10 MSPs) and beyond.

A difficult road ahead

The challenge, however, is to retain this energy and radicalism as the parties grow, internalising the thousands of new members and to not only elect more representatives, but more importantly to use this new dynamism to achieve real change – as it already is. Avoid the centralisation that institutionalisation and organisational growth can bring will pose difficulties for the Green movement, heightening pressures on internal democracy and through increased media scrutiny.

All the while, it must be remembered that the aim of increasing support isn’t for its own sake, but for making a real difference to people’s lives in Britain and beyond. Uniting with other progressive parties is and should continue to be part of this. That is why the Greens’ definite shift to the left in 2014 has been so central – the Greens are now the only major self-declared left-wing party.

There are major stumbling blocks however which shouldn’t be ignored. The electoral system is woefully unfair, meaning opportunities for large-scale seat gains are unlikely. The Greens still suffer a personality problem, with few voters knowing anyone other than Caroline Lucas or leader Natalie Bennett. And mainstream partisan debate appears to be shifting to the right the more that figures such as Farage fill the airwaves. There’s also still a huge psychological gap between the numbers who would support the Greens if they thought they could win, and those who would vote for them now – 26%would vote Green if they thought it was a ‘worthwhile’ vote. Breaking that psychological barrier has to be at the core of Green strategy in upcoming elections.

But there’s significant cause for hope. Something exciting is bubbling under the surface of British politics. The party system is breaking apart – ironically with the help of the enemy of the left, UKIP. People are becoming active in party politics again, finally inspired to engage with a previously discredited ‘formal’ politics.

If 2015 will be anything like how 2014 has been for the Greens, then it will be a good year indeed…

The results of the Green Party leadership election are out…

The results are now out for the Green Party Executive election – a ballot which included the election of the leader and deputy leaders of the party. Sadly it received little attention, but I think it merits some.

Firstly, big congratulations to ecosocialist Amelia Womack on being elected in the first round, and commiserations to Will Duckworth, a working-class left-winger from the Midlands who will be missed as deputy by many. But congrats to Shahrar Ali who as a confident public speaker and a strong profile will do well I’m sure.

And of course, congrats to Natalie Bennett for her (uncontested!) re-election.

Turnout hasn’t been worked out yet but going off a conservative 16k mailout figure I estimate it’s just over 15%.

Newly re-elected Green Party International Coordinator Derek Wall has posted the full results of the election on his blog here.

Reposted here from the email to all party members on Monday:

The results of the Gpex elections 2014 were as follows:

Party Leader: Natalie Bennett was elected 2618 Re-Open Nominations (RON): 183

Party Deputy Leaders:
In the first round – Amelia Womack was elected with 1598, Will Duckworth’s 1108
In the Second round – Shahrar Ali was elected 1314 to Will Duckworth’s 1277

Gpex Chair: Richard Mallender was elected 2640 to RON 101
Campaigns Co-Ordinator: Howard Thorpe was elected 2546 to RON 181
Elections Co-Ordinator: Judy Maciejowska was elected 2631 to RON 161
External Communication Co-Ordinator: Penny Kemp/ Clare Phipps/ Matt Hawkins were elected 2586 to RON 147
Management Co-Ordinator Mark Cridge was elected 2636 to RON 82
International Co-Ordinator: Derek Wall was elected 1416 to Anna Clarke’s 891
Trade Union Liaison Officer: Romayne Phoenix was elected 2639 to RON 94
Policy Co-Ordinator: Sam Riches and Caroline Bowes were elected 1786 to Rachel Featherstone and Anna Heyman’s 839
Publications Co-Ordinator: Martin Collins was elected 2468 to RON 249

Steady gains through shifting left – the future of the Greens?

Reposted from Chat Politics

It’s been a strong few years for the Greens. Membership has surged past 18,000 – up from around half that figure before Caroline Lucas’ success in Brighton. There are more Green councillors than ever, 170, and this May’s European elections brought an extra MEP in the South West’s Molly Scott-Cato, bringing the number of Green European Parliamentarians to three.

Leader Natalie Bennett, a surprise victor back in 2012, has proved more radical than some would have expected. Prioritising the renationalisation of the railways and energy companies, as well as joining picket lines across the country for a Living Wage and workers’ rights; she has arguably entrenched the leftward pull on the party that has grown since the election of Lucas as an MP.

The growth figures – both in terms of electoral success and members – suggests this strategy has worked, picking up disenchanted ex-Lib Dem and Labour voters and becoming the third party of students and ‘the youth’ through the Young Greens.

All this has led to the highest polling figures for the Greens since the historic 1989 European election, where the party polled 15%. Greens are currently level-pegging with the Lib Dems for the General Election. That’s both new, and very exciting.

What does this mean for the next year? It could bring an extra couple of MPs. Natalie Bennett is pouring plenty of work into her Holborn and St Pancras constituency, while activists are dedicated to re-electing Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion. Although many expect the party will lose the council there, it seems likely that Lucas, a popular and hard-working MP, will retain her seat. However, Labour, targeting the constituency, are determined a Green alternative isn’t heard in Parliament which could threaten their position as ‘the’ ostensibly progressive party.

At the same time, Bristol is rapidly becoming a hive of Green activity, tripling the number of Green councillors at the recent local elections and becoming the first party by popular vote across Bristol West wards. The ramifications of this could be enormous, potentially securing a Green Parliamentary seat in local environmental campaigner Darren Hall. Alongside Scott-Cato, the South West could become a future stronghold for the party. Meanwhile, Greens expect to pick up further council seats in the Midlands, alongside Cambridge, London, Oxford, Liverpool, Leeds and elsewhere.

But there are ideological differences bubbling underneath these steady gains. Although you probably don’t know about it, there’s a leadership election going at the moment. The Greens are picking their team for the next two years. Well, sort of. The leadership position is uncontested, effectively guaranteeing Natalie Bennett another two years in her post. But the two deputy posts are contested among five candidates. Three come from broadly the centre and centre-right of the party – admittedly still on the left of the so-called ‘political spectrum’.

But the other two; incumbent Will Duckworth and Young Green Amelia Womack, are proud ecosocialists who intend for the Greens to stress a radically different vision for Britain compared to the neoliberal consensus. One which proposes systemic change, not just cautious reforms.

We don’t know who will win yet, but it seems likely that Duckworth, with the incumbency advantage of recognition and popularity as a working-class non-Londoner, will keep his post. And Womack, so far the only self-declared female candidate, is effectively guaranteed a seat through the gender ‘balance’ rules, although she is pushing for a strong first preference vote nonetheless.

What this means for the future of the Greens is that, for the first time in the history of Britain, a de facto ecosocialist party could be – if it isn’t already – the third or fourth national party. And that is something that gives hope to those on the left, whichever political tribe they come from.

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/.

The real fourth party is here to stay…

[Reposted from my Green Party column at The Yorker]

You’d be forgiven for thinking amid all the hype about UKIP that the Greens had dissolved as a party and headed to the pub to drown our sorrows.

But the striking thing about the council election results is that though a certain hard-right protest party has crept ahead of the Greens in terms of councillor numbers – though not by much – the Greens remain distinctly the constant fourth party in British politics.

The party made some real breakthroughs, and continued a steady march towards becoming a major force, stepping on to councils in Essex, Cornwall, Kent, Surrey, Devon and Warwickshire for the first time. And on Warwickshire County Council, the Greens not only won extra representation, but kicked out the Tory council leader by several hundred votes. That’s what it’s all about folks – a definite highlight of the political year. The York Young Greens’ youthful counterparts won seats in Bristol and Oxford, too

The Party’s steady growth is potentially unstoppable. ©Commons.

Our reach is spreading, setting us up for next year’s European elections, where a mere 2% swing could see the Greens tripling our number of MEPs from two to six. Easily achievable – especially after this election extending the Green hand to previously untouched areas, and continuing the rapid conversion of the West Midlands to a Green heartland.

So what do this week’s council elections show? Aside from a new presence on six councils, and a net gain of five seats, it shows the Green Party message of sustainable and local economies is getting through in these tough times. It shows that our message of a Living Wage for all is speaking to people whose wages have stagnated over the past 30 years under a failed neoliberal economic model. Our opposition to austerity and its ramifications – cuts, privatisation, outsourcing, reduced public services – is resonating. The party’s growth is steady – unlike UKIP’s flash-in-the-pan anti-politics which could fade now that they hold the balance of power in some councils.

The Green Party now has 141 principal authority councillors. Yet the coverage of our successes has been dismal. Why? Well, the party itself is less sensational than a collection of EDL-supported candidates and conspiracy theorists rising from seemingly nowhere. But beneath that, there’s a sense that the largely right-wing media have reasons not to fall in love with us like they have the party of the public-school educated stockbroker’s-son Nigel Farage.

So the Greens have to work much harder than the anti-immigration lot do to get a positive front page in the Daily Express or the Sun. But if we wanted their endorsements, we wouldn’t be the party we are. And that’s something to be proud of. A party without wealthy ex-Tory backers, without xenophobic rhetoric, and without ecstatic tabloid coverage is gaining ground, slowly but surely. The real fourth party of British politics – one that actually has an MP – is, possibly unlike UKIP, here to stay. And with a positive message of social and environmental justice, the Green Party’s steady growth is potentially unstoppable.