social justice

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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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/.

Uni of York Greens condemn Brighton pay cuts

The situation in Brighton is becoming increasingly worrying. While the overall council pay bill is going up, CityClean workers are facing proposals to significantly cut their pay, ostensibly in an attempt by the minority Green administration to equalise pay among male and female workers. However, as Caroline Lucas MP has stated, equalising down should never have been the means for doing this, and many Greens – possibly the majority, both in Brighton and nationally – condemn the cuts to pay. A similar motion to the one posted below is expected to be put forward to Green Party conference this September – which will be held in Brighton.

The Uni of York Green Party committee just passed the statement below unanimously. Please share widely and use it as a model motion to pass in your local parties. When passed, please send it to info@brightonhovegreens.orginfo@brighton-hove.gov.uk and jason@jasonkitcat.com (and whoever else appears relevant – B&H GMB etc.):

The University of York Green Party joins Brighton Green Party members and Caroline Lucas MP in calling for Brighton and Hove Council to rethink plans to cuts refuse workers’ pay by up to £4000 per year, which could have a disastrous effect on some of the lowest-paid council staff.

While we recognise the difficult situation the minority Green administration is in, faced with huge central government cuts and a harsh Labour/Conservative opposition, cutting the pay of the low-paid is contrary to Green principles and should be avoided by any means possible.

The University of York Green Party fully supports the workers taking action against the proposed pay cuts, and we call on the Green administration to work with the trade unions in Brighton to avoid any regressive measures, and to come up with a progressive pay proposal in line with the party’s principles of social justice, building on the council’s introduction of the Living Wage.

The Greens’ new election broadcast puts re-nationalisation on the agenda

The Green Party’s new election broadcast for next month’s council elections has now been released. And it’s fantastic.

It’s a strident, progressive (or socialist, even) video, and one which shows the Greens to be at the forefront of the fight against neoliberalism and its manifestations – the bedroom tax, runaway finance and privatisation. The fundamental message is that ‘austerity has failed – the cuts aren’t working’.

The most uplifting part of the video though – as highlighted over at Bright Green – is the line ‘we’ll return our energy, water and rail networks to public ownership’. Combined with an environmental message, it’s bang on, and I must admit I gave a little cheer when I heard it. Because the majority of the public stand against the privatisation of our utilities, pioneered by Thatcher in the 80s – 61% of them do, in fact.

It’s not just going with opinion though – it’s saying what Labour won’t say, and it’s saying something central to Green values – public ownership over private profit. Exactly the kind of message we need to convey, and showing real leadership on an issue so often unquestioned in the media.

The Greens are standing around 1000 candidates in the council elections, and we’re expecting gains. Last year’s elections saw about a dozen extra wins, something we can build upon this year. With around 150 councillors, the Greens are now showing that we’re the party of social and environmental justice (as leading ex-Labour figures recognised last week…) – and this latest broadcast makes that incredibly clear.

Greens Make Social Justice Central – Reflections on Spring Conference

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]

Green Party Prioritisation Ballot Now Open

In obscure Green Party news, voting is now open for the prioritisation ballot for the next Green Party conference agenda – Spring 2013 (February) in Nottingham. The prioritisation ballot decides, as the name suggests, what motions are prioritised on the final agenda – basically what gets time on the conference floor and what doesn’t. So it’s fairly important stuff in terms of the politics of the party if certain motions aren’t heard.

Since not a huge number of people vote in the prioritisation ballot (a few hundred, I think), votes count even more than usual. So get voting.

There’s around 25 motions to vote on – some a tad dull but most very important political issues – recognising the necessity of trade union links in the party, establishing a national anti-cuts councillor conference, and our York Young Greens motion on amending the party’s Philosophical Basis to appreciate the importance of social justice (that’s C11 – bottom of the ‘C’ policy section).

If you’re a member, exercise your democratic right. If you’re not, join up (it’s a fiver for students) and vote until your heart’s content. Voting closes on the 15th of January. Spread the news far and wide – internal democracy is what keeps us as the Greens unique and dynamic.

And please, #voteC11. It’s vital social justice is at the centre of the party – it already is in terms of policy and our members, but our constitution and Philosophical Basis should reflect that.

(The full first agenda with details on all the motions is online here – have a gander!)

Why the Green Party’s Philosophical Basis Needs Overhauling

As technical and unread as they may be, party mission statements do matter. They form the backbone of the party, and they are the bases on which parties are built. The Green Party has come on in massive strides over the past decade, with our first MP elected, our councillor count steadily increasing, and thousands of new members joining. All this happened, I believe, because our stereotype image of being a single-issue party is dropping away and people are beginning to see us as a viable party of the left, with a real and palpable belief in social justice and a big shift in favour of ordinary people.

We need to cement this shift and send a message to all those disillusioned with politics, all the disaffected Labour voters, all the students looking for a political home, all the betrayed Lib Dems and all those on the progressive side of the spectrum that we are serious about social change. And I think the best way to do that is to cement our values of social justice at the centre of our party’s core statement – the Philosophical Basis – 10 points of principle we hold to be vitally important to our politics.

That’s why a bunch of us at the University of York Green Party are putting forward a change to the Philosophical Basis for the next Spring conference in February. The changes we’ve put forward are modest and don’t seek to detract from our ecological message – environmental and social issues go hand in hand. But a well publicised change in the constitution to cement our radical social justice ideas could move the party even further forward and be a beacon out there for those who have lost their political home – whether after the reactionary years of New Labour or the cowardice of the Lib Dems.

I’ve posted below the full change and preamble from the members’ website – the link is here (you’ll need to be a member and sign in) http://my.greenparty.org.uk/forum/3633

The current Philosophical Basis can be viewed here: http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/philosophical-basis

Comments, seconders and amendments (friendly or otherwise!) are hugely welcome.

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Green politics and the politics of social justice and equality go hand in hand. Without the former, the planet will become uninhabitable. Without the latter, the fight for green politics will be lost. The Green Party’s constitution should reflect our social democratic, or indeed socialist, principles and put our struggle for equality and democratic control of resources at its heart.

The proposed changes to the Philosophical Basis below are a modest shift towards incorporating the values of social justice into our constitution. The current Philosophical Basis is out of touch with how the party has shifted over the past decade. It needs to reflect the reasons why thousands have joined over the past few years – because we represent a radical economic alternative that also recognises the huge challenges the planet faces.

Proposed by: Josiah Mortimer, Nick Devlin and Alfie van den Bos

Supporters so far include: Sam Coates, Sebastian Power, Lisa Camps, Duncan Davis, Ed Mason, Lewis Coyne and others

Further proposers and seconders are extremely welcome, as well as suggestions for improvements and friendly amendments.

The proposed changes are as follows:

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PB001 A system based on inequality and exploitation is threatening the future of the planet on which we depend, and encouraging reckless and environmentally unsustainable 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.

The Green Party isn’t just another political party. Green politics is a new and radical kind of politics guided by these core principles;

1. 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.

—————————————————————-

[The current 1st clause would be moved to clause 2, and the others renumbered accordingly. The current clause 9 would thus become clause 10, with the current clause 10 incorporated into the new one via the insertion of the phrase: ‘, including lifestyle changes, to help effect progress,’ so that the new clause 10 would read:]

10.  Electoral politics is not the only way to achieve change in society, and we will use a variety of methods, including lifestyle changes, to help effect progress, providing those methods do not conflict with our other core principles.