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.

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