David Flint from Enfield Green Party reports back from the Green Party of England & Wales' Spring Conference.
Joy in the ranks
Repeatedly speakers announced themselves as the "newly elected councillor for so-and-so" - usually to enthusiastic applause. New councillors are digging in to make changes on issues from water fountains to climate change. (Maybe not so far apart.)
Climate emergency - local action
The Association of Green Councillors (AGC) is working hard to get Climate Emergency motions and then effective action in scores of areas. Local GPs are working with eXtinction Rebellion in many places.They are also working with other parties - even Tories, though not UKIP. We have to get wide agreement on this. The party target - net zero emissions by 2030 - is cited in many of the motions even those supported by Tories. Its clear that many of those supporting this target have no idea what it will entail.
There are some interesting ideas but mostly growing realisations that
there are practical actions to reduce emissions
getting anywhere near the party target will be hugely difficult
it can't be done without big money from central government.
Climate emergency - Green Party action
Climate emergency was all over the place in speeches and workshops and the party made some commitments.
The Climate Change Policy Working Group changed its name to the Climate Emergency Policy Working Group (CE PWG). ( I was re-elected convener.)
Conference made a declaration of Climate Emergency and instructed the CE PWG to identify the gaps between our current policies and those needed to address the climate emergency. It then instructed ALL PWGs to work with CE PWG to fix them. That is a significant innovation in our policy process which has been bottom-up in the past.
We also revised party policy to call for an immediate transition to increasingly plant-based diets. In one sense this isn't new, the party has always wanted this dietary shift. But its now being seen as necessary and urgent on both health and climate change grounds. I got support for this view from at least four PWGs so it will become embedded in our policy as we go forward.
Conference spent a lot of time debating the proposed new constitution but in the end there were too many problems and loose ends for it to get through. The work is necessary but its REALLY tedious.
Conference adopted a comprehensive new policy on tax and spending. The policy accepts the need for more spending to reverse austerity (and to address climate change). It would also simplify the tax system and shift the burden of taxation from the poor to the rich, from renters to owners, etc.
The Extinction Rebellion outside Parliament at the end of October
In the run-up to COP24 there were a flood of climate reports all with variations on: “It’s worse than we thought but we can avoid catastrophe. Action this Day!”
As COP24 grinds to an end it seems clear that it will again have avoided agreeing effective action. Indeed, it may signal a reverse as the Axis of Climate Evil (Kuwait, USA, Russia and Saudi Arabia) refused to let the COP even ‘welcome’ the IPCC Special Report on 1.5 degrees.
As Prof. Kevin Anderson said at COP, “We scientists have been saying the same things for 28 years and over that time emissions have risen 65 per cent”. It time to do something different.
Green MP Caroline Lucas at the Extinction Rebellion eventAnd we are. That thing is the eXtinction Rebellion (XR). The Rebellion recognises that our electioneering, marching, lobbying and letter-writing have failed. The Rebellion has adopted a strategy of non-violent direct action – the method of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Rebels have blocked Parliament Square and London bridges leading to scores of arrests. Leading Greens like Caroline Lucas, Molly Scott-Cato and Rupert Read, and even a few members of Enfield Green Party!, have taken part in these actions.
The Rebellion does not have formal support from our party though that’s under discussion.
The Rebellion is not perfect. Its demand for the UK to go carbon neutral by 2025 is unachievable and its proposal that a randomly chosen Citizens Assembly makes policy ... well let's say it needs more thought.
But the true importance of XR lies or will lie in its ability to mobilise people, to draw public attention to climate change and to force governments to pay more attention. The list of events on the website suggests that it’s beginning to work.
David Flint attended the Green Party of England & Wales Autumn Conference
Party conference is a confusing affair. That’s partly because there’s a lot of it – at one time in Bristol there were nine events running in parallel. And partly because it’s complicated. Many of the events are part of the democratic and formal processes that the party uses to decide policy and those processes can take years!
As a member of four policy working groups (PWGs) I’m heavily involved in this. Here’s how Bristol was for me.
I started by running a meeting of the Climate Change Policy Working Group (CC PWG). The group has nearly 100 members and about 60 people came to this meeting. A lot of the work of researching and writing party policy is done by PWGs and last year we got conference to replace the old climate change policy. This meeting discussed what we’ve done since and people suggested new areas to work on. Some even volunteered to do the work! It also re-elected me as convener – against no competition.
Concern for the future is a central issue in Green politics. Many of our key issues – biodiversity, climate change and the loss of natural habitats – have consequences beyond the life of a parliament or even of a person. The damage done by climate change in particular will be worst for generations yet unborn.
So when the UN invited everyone to contribute through the Talanoa Dialogue to its work on climate change it was natural that we should think about how to represent the interests of future generations in today’s decision-making.
So to cut it short the convener of the party’s Climate Change Policy Working Group (that’s me) wrote a draft. Other WG members suggested changes and Green Party Regional Council (GPRC) adopted the result as an official party document.