Thursday, 30 June 2011
Monday, 27 June 2011
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
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
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org). 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
Wednesday, 15 June 2011
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
Thursday, 9 June 2011
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
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.