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?