Saturday, 10 September 2011

Green Party Autumn Conference 2011: Day 1

Greetings from Sheffield! As delegates start drifting back in this morning from their night at the bar, I thought I'd write a quick report on some of the highlights and my reflections on the first day of conference.

The dominant event of the first day was the keynote speech by Caroline Lucas as party leader. Although she is always someone who speaks plainly, I was impressed to see a slightly harder edge in her address to conference than perhaps I am used to. Her speech was structured around a scathing, forensic analysis of the record for each of the other political parties and reminded both Green members (and those Lib Dems watching explicitly) why their failures in power rendered them unable to take moral leadership in dealing with the challenges we face over this Parliament. From talking to delegates plugged in to the media response to conference, her message has received real traction across the Guardian, BBC Radio 4 and 5. She has explicitly thrown down the gauntlet to Nick Clegg in his home constituency and whilst her request that Lib Dems disappointed by their party join us is not unexpected, it does give a novel sense that she is parking tanks on his lawn.

What else happened? For me personally, it was a slightly frustrating day, as the results from the Green Party Executive (GPEx) elections were postponed until today due to the lateness of the submission date for ballots. In a session which allowed members to question GPEx on their performance in the last year, I got a sense of how tough a role that will be too, although talking to some of the elected officers really underlined to me how rewarding it might be to support the membership across the whole party. Clearly, delivery of some fundamental systems being worked upon and rolling these out to local parties has to be a principal priority for the next year.

The other thing I noticed quite strongly yesterday was that the demographics of the party seem to be shifting. Earlier in the year, we ran an offer of free membership to Young Greens and it has resulted in an astounding increase in 1,000 younger members joining the party. You can really feel their energy and enthusiasm coursing through sessions - in a party of 14,500 people their arrival is an enormous shot in the arm for us. Membership has traditionally tended towards an older demographic (I do feel part of a slightly under-represented age range!) and whilst I can imagine challenges lie ahead in marrying the diverse outlook of our membership, I'm confident that this decision will be one of the single most important things the party could have done in the last year.

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