Thursday, 30 June 2011

Shock of the old: re-visiting Polly Toynbee's 'Hard Work'

Today, hundreds of thousands of public sector workers are taking industrial action against the coalition government's attack on their pensions. The majority of those people striking are on modest incomes and the changes proposed will increase their pension contributions whilst diminishing their eventual pension pay-out. It's timely then, that I wanted to take a moment to give my thoughts on Polly Toynbee's 'Hard Work', her well-regarded 2003 account of the working lives of those living on low pay.

Focussing on her journey from rich columnist in leafy Clapham to a minimum-wage earning council-flat dweller a scant ten minutes walk away, she offers a stark portrait of the realities of life struggling on minimum wage. In a Kafka-esque sequence, she illustrates how state support remains painfully inadequate in either allowing someone to transition out of poverty or to take part in mainstream modern Britain. She porters in Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, works as a dinner lady, in call centres and cleaning in the early hours. In light of the criticisms that argue the Coalition Government's austerity agenda is felt more keenly by women, it is particularly striking that the lowest paid (invariably part-time and casualised) jobs are disproportionately held by women (and in larger cities, ethnic minority workers).

As someone who lived almost exactly around the corner from the estate from the book, I felt there was something alien and unsettling in reading of these parallel lives running alongside our own. The Britain painted in this books feels every bit the product of the New Labour era, but the messages it contains remain more frighteningly relevant than ever before. The modest safeguards Toynbee lambasts for their bureaucrat insufficiency are the very ones being swept away even faster than ever before in 2011. Labour succeeded only in halting the advance of inequality with the introduction of a modest minimum wage, but the coalition cuts - wage-freezes, deteriorating pensions and benefit cuts are targeted at the poorest first and foremost.

Escaping the poverty trap described here takes political will and a significant re-balancing in favour of those some would call the "deserving poor": those working hard in the margins without employment protection and on virtually slave wages. With all three of the other main parties remaining advocates of "flexibility" (another word for privatisation and marketisation of public services), it is left for the Green Party to turn up the volume and articulate more passionately and coherently for social justice. We need a movement challenging rising inequality and the dangers it poses for the whole of society.

Available now for less than a fiver, I would sincerely recommend this book to anybody genuinely concerned or curious about the hidden realities of modern Britain, tucked away and not represented on television. I'm used to peppering my politics with positivity, but this frightening book has filled me with a righteous anger.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Why building the Good Society offers much more to Greens than the Big Society

Over the weekend, I travelled up to London with some fellow Green activists and attended the annual Compass conference "Building the Good Society". Because Compass has traditionally been a Labour thinktank and only just voted to allow in members of other parties this year, it was a fascinating political environment to explore. Whilst there was a notable contingent of other Greens present, I did have some misgivings about entering the lion's den!

I shouldn't have worried. Whilst there was a lingering sense of uncertainty amongst the crowd about who was or wasn't a Labour party member, it felt like an engaging space to be part of. Listening to the speakers and the reception they received from participants, I was encouraged to see such a consensus around a raft of crucial issues facing the UK - rising inequality, tax evasion, sexism, political disengagement and climate change that chimed with my own core green values and priorities. It became clear that the aim of the "good society" is about more than changing the environment around us, but about changing ourselves.

I thought it would be interesting to share some of my personal highlights:

  • Two speakers from UK Uncut told the story of how their campaign grew. It was disheartening to hear how they felt politicians had failed to reflect their views, but their ambition, use of new technologies to mobilise people, as well as their use of humour and creativity in their campaigns left me inspired and re-energised. As they argued, if they can affect change in tax evasion policy with few human resources and no money, what could (or should) political parties be achieving?

  • Kat Banyard from UK Feminista gave a blistering account of how feminist activism is forcing itself back on the agenda. She argued that the economic effects of the coalition cuts agenda are hitting women especially hard and that the lack of female representation amongst the political elite is reflected in the gender blindness inherent in governmental policy making. She also attacked the international sex industry, illustrating how they have been adept in co-opting feminist arguments around female sexual autonomy, making it harder for feminists to marshall their arguments against the pornification of sexuality. Girls are being taught not to view their sexuality as something to explore for themselves, but as a performance for others. She ended by challenging men to take roles in tackling sexism - because solutions won't happen unless men own their part in changing the status quo. Although I've always considered myself a feminist, I felt it was a stark call to question my own compacency. This was probably my highlight of the day and I'll be following their work more closely as a result..

  • Whilst unable to attend himself, Ed Miliband provided a video message, which whilst greeted with some groans and laughter, did show that away from the media scrutiny, he is a thoughtful politician. He threw down a gauntlet to Labour, which I would like the Green Party to consider too: build a political party truly accountable to it's members - but ensure that the members remain equally accountable to their local communities. It's a model of action that I would like us to consider more thoroughly over the next few years.

  • One discussion during the day that resonated particularly with the direction I have stressed in my bid to become the next GPEX Equalities & Co-ordinator was when Labour MP Chuka Umunna challenged Caroline Lucas directly to reach low income families and those voters with families overseas (such as Nigeria) with a more compelling case why climate justice is so important. He is right that all parties have failed to make much traction on this issue outside the core middle class vote and something I would like us to actively pursue in the next couple of years.

Overall, I would recommend progressive activists and Green members consider joining Compass too. Feeling such solidarity with nearly a thousand people pulling in (generally) the same direction has left me more open to cross-party campaigning on some of our core issues. It was also telling that Caroline Lucas got the most enthusiastic reception from a predominately Labour crowd. It is a testament to the movement of our policies to the political mainstream and that even amongst our opponents, we are now seen as a serious proposition more than ever before.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The dangerous vacuum at the heart of Cameron's international LGBT strategy

Yesterday, David Cameron held his second reception at Downing St for the LGBT community, inviting many well-known faces working to promote equality, as well as thanking a number of volunteers and activists for their tireless work. In his speech, the biggest headlines sprang from his commitment to do more in using his position to apply moral pressure to foreign governments (notably African) to improve their records on LGBT rights. He specifically held up his commitment to retaining the 0.7% GDP spent on international aid as a concrete sign of his engagement.

In his favour, this is a positive move for someone who had a patchy record on LGBT issues before the election. I'm pleased to see he has a strategy moving forward, but I remain to be convinced by how robust this will prove to be beyond an encouraging speech. In recent years, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has built a strong record on promoting and monitoring LGBT rights in-country and even under the new coalition government, continues to improve it's support for LGBT communities.

However, the Department for International Development (DFID), whilst doing some amazing work generally, has a long way to go before it matches this record. The new Secretary of State, Andrew Mitchell, has shifted much of their focus to explicitly support development outcomes amongst women and girls. In itself, this isn't a terrible thing, but it results in making LGBT people almost as invisible as heterosexual men in their work and boxes women into a particular conception of femininity. Funding for explicitly-LGBT human rights work is exceptionally rare in DFID's funding portfolio.

So, DFID needs to improve it's record on LGBT rights through the provision of aid and the conditions attached upon it. Yet we also need to remember that withholding aid to countries criminalising LGBT people gives credence to the view being pushed by our opponents in those countries that gay rights is imported cultural imperialism. We have to tread a very thin line here. Even amongst LGBT activists in western countries, in the past there has been a danger in publicly denouncing the behaviour of foreign governments in a manner that can aggravate the danger LGBT people experience in those countries. For our opponents, this strident approach is as offensive as the strategy used by fundamentalist US christian groups when they visit Africa and finance anti-gay campaigns.

More than ever before, we have to give voice to southern activists in these situations to decide their own country-specific strategies. The British Government (and LGBT activists) need to be listening and learning from their particular political contexts and letting that determine what assistance we can give. Cameron's promise to use his moral authority is one useful element in our armoury in this, but I'm concerned that he needs to back this up with concrete resources from DFID for those struggling civil society groups on the ground. Because in the end, it is authentic voices located in grass-roots communities that will create real change, not a Downing Street speech. He needs to put his 0.7% GDP where his mouth is.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Announcing my candidacy for the Green Party Executive elections

After taking some time to discuss it with trusted friends within the Green Party, I have decided to stand for election in this year’s Green Party Executive (GPEX) elections. I am hoping to contest the Equalities and Diversity Co-ordinator role, which regular readers will realise is an area passionately close to my heart and a position where I think I have the professional skills to offer something new.

I’ve thought very carefully about what I might be able to achieve in the role. I believe that if we are to truly break through as a mainstream party, we need to broaden our appeal to all parts of society. This means building a party that is open, accessible and representative. It means giving voice to fresh perspectives and bringing them to the heart of our policy making. We need someone to make this role more visible than it has been recently, to argue the case (as I wrote earlier this month) for why equality and diversity remain important values for the Greens and seriously set about improving and measuring our performance in this area.

Once my nomination is formally accepted, I intend to use this blog to talk in detail about my policy plans for office and respond to any questions that members may have for me. I will make myself available by telephone, by email and in person, if local parties would like the opportunity to hear from me. I also intend to use the Members website to post my responses to questions there too. I’m hoping this election campaign will give me the chance to talk to many of the members whose ideas I want to draw into this work over the next two years. If you want to assist in my campaign, please drop me a line at ( I'd love to hear from you!

I really hope that those of you who are Green Party members will consider voting for me in the coming weeks. I want the opportunity to bring my constructive, forward-looking and inclusive outlook to the Executive, at a time when listening to the membership is as essential as ever for the future of this party. Watch this space for further news!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Weathering UK political instability: Greens VS Lib Dems

Coalition politics have brought a pleasingly unpredictable edge to UK politics in the last year or so. For all the uncertainty political parties are negotiating, the new political playing-field is forcing all of us to re-examine our core values. We are having to respond to a rapidly evolving public mood and this means a useful questioning of political assumptions across a wide range of areas where bland consensus has reigned in recent years. None of the main parties are particularly managing this awkward transition well. This includes the Green Party too.

In spite of what appears to be widespread disapproval of the cuts agenda championed by the Coalition Government, nobody has yet been able to explain convincingly why the Conservative vote remains so solid, especially after an aggressively radical and uneven first year of office. Yet they flatline below the threshold at which they could try and rule alone. At most, David Cameron can probably retain the grudging respect of the public - but in my view, they have already concluded that they don't particularly like him.

The inability of Ed Miliband to set the electorate alight and draw a line under the excesses of the New Labour period means that he has regained only those voters now horrified with a Conservative-led government. Mainstream public opinion remains deaf to Labour, in spite a record in office which beyond the obvious failures around bank regulation, rising inequalities and Iraq, had some merits. In Miliband, I'm sensing a desperate need to place himself carefully in the centre ground on issues which is lending him an air of a Westminster politician, compared to the seemingly instinctual magpie-like political positioning of Blair.

Nick Clegg's reputation has nose-dived at twice the speed of his party's poll ratings. The compromises of power damage him more than any other because of how he played to the public yearning for a better, cleaner politics during the last election. Regardless of how he paints his modest successes, such as removing the worst of the NHS reform programme, his early behaviour in office couldn't conceal his obvious pleasure at being in power. His parliamentary colleagues (and to a much lesser extent, activist base) remain tarred with the same brush. Of all the three main parties, however, my gut tells me that they have the potential to drag their support back to 2010 levels. By the end of this term of office, he will have enough examples of how he curbed Tory excesses to earn some grudging recognition and the most visceral anger will have died down.

But where does this political instability leave the Green Party? I'll be honest - in spite of the historic victory of electing Caroline Lucas to Parliament and the establishment of a minority Green Council, we should be doing substantially better. Look at the statistics - we made only modest gains nationally and only substantially where we already had a record of success. Recently, I argued that widespread capacity-building at local authority level should be our prime focus now before investing heavily in another Parliamentary seat - and I'm more sure than ever that we should stay this course and invest widely in our smaller local parties.

From the perspective of the two main parties, the Lib Dems don't pose a threat right now. Here in Brighton, they are such a spent force that we don't consider them in our calculations that often. Nationally, we'd be wrong to dismiss them or the lessons their progress has for us. Two key elements of their history are worth remembering:

1. This week's impressive Green by-election victory in Rochford District Council has caught many commentator's eye due to the unseating of a substantial Conservative majority. The location of the seat has raised eyebrows in Green circles, but this success mirrors the strategy played by the Lib Dems over the last twenty years. This involves reflecting very clear national values and messages, but then explicitly targeting individual seats through engagement in solid local community activism. Our national profile will get us a hearing, but our commitment to local issues will be what converts hearts and minds.

2. The other lesson Lib Dems can teach us is that by exercising real power, we can now be seen to be achieving concretely on our policy aims and having a discernable effect on communities. Without doubt, this is a double-edged sword and those constituencies in this position have their work cut out in balancing new responsibilities with maintaining a growing local party, especially where electoral victory depletes the number of activists. The pressure is on for Brighton & Hove Council particularly to deliver on both counts and I'll be reporting back on our progress over the coming weeks.

The press and other parties may have written of the Liberal Democrats, but we cannot. We are fighting both them and Labour for centre-left voters, yet they have a party machine explicitly built around targeted community activism. We may have the advantage of not yet being tainted by proximity to power, but their organisation has a twenty year head start in the battle to convince voters that we truly speak for their villages, towns and cities.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Has the environmental movement lost touch?

In yesterday's Guardian, Charles Secrett, the former Director of Friends of the Earth (FOE) strongly criticised the work being done by some of more established environmental campaign organisations, arguing that they were spending money more on bureaucracy than on campaigners or activists.

Before going further, I should express an interest here. As well as helping run a local FOE group in Hackney & Tower Hamlets for nine years as a volunteer, I have also worked on a campaign team in Friends of the Earth's national office and taken an interest in a number of comparable organisations.

Whilst I understand the thrust of what Secrett is saying, I have to say that I disagree with his argument that environmental campaign organisations are overstaffed and wasting the resources that supporters invest with them. During my time at FOE, it was apparent that every person was an essential part of the machine, strengthening our ability to respond to events and capacity-build the activist base around the UK. In particular, those staff one step removed from policy and campaigns who worked with local groups to improve their ability to operate in the regions were excellent ambassadors for the organisation. The strength of those relationships went to the heart of what made the environmental movement work for me and seeing them at work was one of the most inspiring parts of my time in the field.

Where his arguments have more traction with me would be around the nature of whose voice is heard most in these organisations. As what seemed a necessary part of being taken more seriously during the New Labour years, a distinct professionalisation of the environmental movement did take place and this inevitably created a distance between many of those working full-time on environmental lobbying and the rank and file activists. I witnessed it rarely, but I can understand why some activists saw the national office as inaccessible or elitist.

Comparing this with my experience in the Green Party is stark - whilst I will continue to argue that we need to become a more professional and structurally coherent organisation, I will always argue that that sense of equality amongst us, from ordinary member to GPEX co-ordinator, remains inbedded in the fabric of this political party. For all the difficulties of running a national organisation on a shoestring, we are still retaining these core values.

My response to the crisis of legitimacy facing environmental organisations is to look at the successes of recent activism such as UK Uncut - based around self-organisation, viral use of social media sites and bottom up decision-making. Less time should be concerned with design and glossy packaging and more in considering how to make issues more relevant to the broader population, not just the concerned middle classes. Unsurprisingly, the latter demographic now dominates the positions of power in environmental campaign organisations. Environmental campaigns need to bring forward local, regional, and southern voices to the policy making table, both through greater prominence of volunteer activists and in a radically improved recruitment strategy if they are to continue speaking for us on the coming climate crisis.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Big Brother is watching: scrutinising our elected representatives

At the risk of looking like an incredible political geek, I wanted to share something that I have found particularly fascinating in the last few weeks: the webcasting of Brighton & Hove Council meetings. Who am I kidding? Regular readers already know I'm beyond keen in using technology to open up politics!

Since December of last year, key council meetings, such as cabinet, planning and scrutiny meetings have been streamed on a live basis and are then available as an archive. Agendas, the contributions of individual speakers and associated documentation are also searchable. At a stroke, this move flips the relationship between electing and elected - no longer are we placed in the position of passively asking for information from the powerful and informed. In this new world, voters have it at their disposal if they choose to find it.

This shift has the potential to revolutionise our ability to hold elected representatives to account. A consistent voter frustration with Council meetings has been that they generally need to be held during core working hours, limiting the ability of most voters to attend. This change crucially brings Council business further into the lives of those individuals with limited mobility.

Whilst the new system is not exhaustive in coverage of all meetings, I am impressed with the steps taken by the previous Conservative Council to truly open themselves up to the public eye. Knowing how strongly my Green Councillor colleagues feel about increasing transparency in public life, I am eager to see how they will build upon this strong foundation in their term in office. Publicising this service more broadly would be an excellent first step.

More than before, now that my local party holds the balance of power on the Council, I'm finding this invaluable in informing me about the major local decisions my colleagues are wrestling with. Additionally, it provides a unique insight and opportunity to scrutinise the priorities and performance of our elected representatives away from the glare of election campaigns.

A single month into our new Council, I'll keep my opinions to myself regarding individual performances, but these webcasts are fundamentally shaping my views about the politicians in the city, both external to and within my own party. I would encourage you to check if your Council is doing something similar. If not, I can't recommend this highly enough, especially for those interested in standing for public office, shaping local political policy or keen to hold politicians accountable. Believe me, it's an eye opener!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Smart-phones for success: Learning from the SNP election machine

At the recent Scottish Assembly elections, the SNP swept into power with a staggering majority of 69 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) elected. This result is all the more impressive for the fact that the Scottish Parliament was designed to facilitate coalition rule. For those of us interested in how political success occurs, we must analyse their approach and see whether elements of it can be brought to bear on Green Party electioneering.

To that end, I would strongly advise anyone interested to check out the BBC Radio 4 Podcast “Weekly Political Review: Beyond Westminster” from the 4th June 2011. In it, journalist Michael Buchanan interviews the SNP campaign team and asks how they they transformed their party’s fortunes. On policy, they ran a much stronger and positive campaign than Labour, with a passionate and articulate advocate for the country’s future in Alex Salmond. Yet, it is the organisational strategy behind their campaign that must bear closer examination.

Following on from my recent call for the use of new technologies to boost the effectiveness of the Green Party, here we get a master-class in how this can be translated into an incredibly precise voter targeting strategy. The software deployed, called “Activate” was based upon that used by the Obama presidential campaign and allowed voting data to be streamed directly to smart phones, allowing a dynamic two-way collection of canvassing and knocking-up data to be recorded, as well as providing activists with written verbal prompts to use on the doorstep. The GPS function on the phone is used to locate and direct you onto your next target voter. I have to say, I’m extremely impressed.

This was supported by a highly effective strategy on social media sites, primarily on Facebook and Twitter. SNP activists tagged voters in “I’m voting SNP” photographs which were uploaded to Facebook. By doing so, it advertised their support directly to the feeds of their friends (and with each Facebook user having an average of 120 friend, this is a substantial viral endorsement). The SNP used software called “Nation Builder” to identify and collate data on those who supported their candidates and party on social-media sites, allowing them to target them specifically and use them as a conduit for getting their message out.

Yes, this approach costs money – and to get the most out of it, you would need individuals employed to monitor and follow up on these leads, but I am convinced that we need to start investing in this level of sophistication in Green Party campaigning and viral marketing. Because I’m sure that after the disappointing results for all the major parties at the last election, they will have seen the writing on the wall and will be sprinting towards this approach as fast as their cash-lined pockets can take them.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Why equalities and diversity are more important to the Green Party than ever

Of all the issues facing the UK right now, the cuts agenda of the Coalition Government is clearly the most pressing. As the enormity of what this means for the public has sunk in, it's been encouraging to see that the Green Party (and Caroline Lucas in particular) are being listened to more than ever before as a voice of reason and moderation.

Research is already showing that the loss of public services are disproportionately affecting women, black and ethnic minority communities, disabled people and the working classes. More now than ever, we need to be directly addressing the hopes and fears of these groups in society and articulating an inclusive vision directed at standing up for their priorities.

Yet, right now it is clear that authentic voices from these communities remain a minority in the Green Party. The stark truth is that whilst we have made some strides forward in broadening our electorate platform, the overall view the public have of the Green Party is that we are are a white, male and middle-class organisation. This view may feel unfair and doesn't account for the concern we have for all of our society, but it remains an impediment to being taken seriously.

We need to urgently review our strategy in encouraging talented people from under-represented groups to take leading roles in the party, as well as more intensive engagement with communities outside our comfort zones. We need to be hearing hard truths from those who feel under-represented in the party. They should be provided with support to capacity-build and have a more prominent voice in shaping our future.

Within our party, we need dedicated people working to facilitate the breaking down of barriers to access for all members and to ensure that a plurality of voices are heard - in both our policy making and in how we operate as an organisation. Diversity also means regional too - I'm keen that whilst we retain strong voices from London and Brighton, we make space for voices represented from different regions, each wrestling with rich political traditions and challenges not heard enough in the UK political scene.

I have previously written about the opportunities and challenges facing those of us within the Green Party working on LGBT issues too. We should nurture good work like this, but ensure it becomes more transparent and inclusive so that individuals feel able to contribute and develop their confidence. We should learn from the successes of other groups in coalition-building outside the party, such as the work undertaken by Green Women.

We need voices that articulate our core principles in terms that make sense to a diversity of differing communities and speak to the pressing concerns of as many people as possible. I'm keen that we have a conversation as a Party as to how we can best achieve this and urge strong leadership at the highest parts of the party to ensure this happens.

In the longer term, if we are to succeed electorally and move from the political margins, the Green Party needs to nurture fresh voices that inspire and act as a glue to bring together the rich and varied communities within the UK. Championing equalities and diversity in this party isn't a "bolt on" concern, it must be at the heart of our work if we are to truly represent the hopes of our fellow citizens.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Green opponents show their cards as Brighton issues take centre-stage

Forget the honeymoon period - Brighton's Green Council is already under sustained scrutiny and attack by the other political parties in the city. They haven't wasted time on such small formalities as an analysis of their own performance at the local elections, they have gone straight to attack mode.

Already, the fault lines are becoming apparent and there are both positive and troubling implications for us in them. The most damning argument is that as a Council, we are dangerously inexperienced and that by appointing new Councillors straight in the Cabinet, we are risking burn-out, or more worryingly, missing something serious in our duty of care to the city. It is worth being mindful of this view, even though I have every faith in our Cabinet. As a non-Councillor, I wasn't party to the decision-making process that appointed our Cabinet, but I would have made the case for inclusion of more existing Councillors with proven track records in this initial year. The workload and level of commitment expected from our elected representatives both inspires and intimidates in equal measure and the culture shock for our new representatives is not to be underestimated. As a local party, we should find more ways to support those colleagues taking the highest burden.

Where the other parties are letting themselves down is that by pushing this quite so gleefully, it comes across suspiciously like sour grapes and carping from the sidelines. This can only serve to paint them as career politicians, more concerned with position than putting misgivings aside and contributing for the good of the city. That said, we cannot rely upon the patience of the electorate indefinitely to cut us slack.

In the month since the Greens took office, two issues in particular have flared up with the potential to damage our reputation quite quickly. This has been our response to traveller encampments on the outskirts of the city and the establishment of a protest camp in the Old Steine, one of the most conspicuous locations in the city. In both instances, the Greens have worked hard with both the groups and the local authorities and behaved in an even-handed and responsible manner. The response from the Conservatives has been to scaremonger that we are making the city a "laboratory" for our social experiments and that we are not speaking up for the majority. Just reading Councillor Ben Duncan's statement on the subject gives the lie to that assertion.

However, they are succeeding to a degree in dragging us into the mire on two "minority" issues and keeping press attention away from the more sound policies, such as our commitment to increase house-building dramatically, review transport policies for the city and the agreement yesterday to install solar panels on all Council-owned buildings.

We need to ensure that we get a clear line on why we support right to protest and how we are approaching the policing of such protest in the city and hammer it home each time we speak to the press. The narrative we are beginning to hear is that our inexperience and focus on fringe issues will make the city less productive and attractive to live in. We need sharp headline retorts to these criticism that strike a moderate balance and stay true to our values of supporting free speech and movement. Wherever possible, we need to reiterate that important though these issues are, we are working to a bigger vision that will benefit and transform the whole city.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

How new technologies strengthen internal Green democracy

The age-old problem of how to make motions to political party conferences relevant and interesting to the larger membership isn't about to disappear anytime soon. And before you run away, I don't intend to try and solve it right now in the next few lines! But I have to say, I confess to being mildly impressed with a small change in the way the Green Party is dealing with it for this September's conference in Sheffield.

In the past, individuals and parties would submit motions anonymously with the support of a number of members and we would be presented with a dense amount of reading to get through before the conference. This year, the new Members website has been put to use so that the authors of motions can pre-publicise them to a wider audience. This has allowed us to conduct a healthy and vigorous drafting process to make sure it goes forward in the best possible shape.

At a stroke, this complicated, dusty and elitist art has been opened up a fraction and is allowing a public dialogue to take place that should knock off the rough edges of these policy suggestions. Whilst I can appreciate that not everybody has ease of access to the internet, this is a significant leap forward. I've been heartened to read over a number of the motions and see the constructive discussion and improvements this has facilitated.

Why is this modest change especially important right now? Party membership has substantially increased in the last eighteen months and an influx of party members from Labour and the Liberal Democrats has brought in experienced activists from a diversity of policy backgrounds. In this new climate, it is likely that debate will be more rigorous and the Green Party, which prides itself on it's participatory and inclusive internal democracy, will find those principles rightly tested as we forge a new consensus around our policies.

This new system of commenting online is really quite fantastic and a great addition to the scrutiny opportunities that local parties and individual members are offered. Whilst I've heard some mutterings against the new Members webiste, I think this shows that it is proving it's usefulness and is a testament to the work undertaken by the Green Party Executive and staff to improve the experience for party members. It also begs the question, what can we do next to modernise member engagement?