Monday, 3 October 2011

Piercing the white noise of party conference season

We hear all too frequently these days that party political conferences should be scrapped, but I have to disagree. I've spent the last three weeks knee-deep in policy announcements, soundings from fringe events and the shifting of political allegiances between key figures in their parties. For the Green Party, generally thrust in the media shadows around this time, this presents an ideal opportunity to view the platforms of our political competitors in forensic detail, enabling us to glean insight into the roads ahead and the pitfalls that threaten us.

Of our main two competitors, the Liberal Democrats and Labour, I sensed that they remained unable to cut through to the public mood. In both their embrace and impotent loss of power, these parties have turned dialogue inwards and focussed upon their internal concerns. As a consequence, the level of political debate felt muted and weak, oblivious to the economic precipice the country stands upon. The growth strategies of all parties remain unfinished and whilst they continue to shy away from putting meat on the bones of their philosophies, they will be ignored by the electorate.

However, I do think that the Green Party runs the risk of embracing the same level of complacency. In much the same way as the Liberal Democrats have had their heads turned, our recent modest electoral success has satiated some of the political hunger that has driven us for the last 20 years. My concern will be that the leadership of the party will find it easier to put all our eggs in the basket that Brighton and Hove Council represents, as well as our local MP, rather than force us to take risks and invest in new campaigns nationally. The "wasted vote" argument does hold sway still in vast swathes of the country and will only crumble under the sustained efforts of elected local Green councillors. I'm keen for us to focus less on parliamentary fights and more on capacity-building broadly across regions, such as the North-West (who narrowly missed electing a further Green MEP). Experience teaches us that the Green vote hardens when voters see us in action on their behalf.

The other bitter pill to swallow from party conferences is the realisation that party activists from Labour and the Liberal Democrats clearly look as if they have reserves of smart, competent and single-minded politicians ready to step into power. We still need to identify and nurture unique voices within Green ranks, individuals with a rich level of experience. Otherwise, we will stack our fortunes upon the shoulders of our party leader and the scant other national figures, which isn't sustainable in the longer term. At our recent national conference, I was excited to see so many young activists full of energy and ideas, but many less of my generation able to step up to the challenges ahead.

Our employment strategy needs work too. As much as I have been one of the strongest cheerleaders for the common-sense approach of our New Green Deal agenda, I am fearful that it remains a relevant strategy for certain sections of UK industry. Whilst the knock on effect of it's success would be pumping more consumer spending into the wider economy, it does feel like a partial approach to a global problem from within our environmental comfort zone. What do we have to say to the broader range of professions under threat and experiencing flatline growth and job losses?

It's quite a gauntlet to lay down to my own party, but times have never been as serious as this. None of the other parties have come up yet with a compelling argument, so there is an opening for us to cogently speak to the fears and aspirations of the electorate whilst they conduct a conversation amongst themselves.

I have been pretty uncompromising in this post, for which I make no apology. But I'm keen to hear - what do you think the Greens should learn from the other party conferences this year?


  1. At the moment, the national Green leadership look like they want to invest in the regions, rather than focusing in exclusively on Brighton and Norwich. Which is a step in the right direction.

    And where I am in the West Midlands, we're steadily building our capacity, profile, and electoral prospects across the region. The more we do that, the more we get the chance to make the impression and arguments on the doorstep, and the more we get the media space to present ourselves as the alternative.

    You make a good point about the limits of our employment policy, though. I don't have any concrete ideas, but it's certainly one thing to start thinking about.

  2. Glad to see you raise the q of GP employment strategy.
    Here is a plan to cut unemployment big time, while at the same time greening the economy, all at no short term cost:

    Unfortunately it was turned down by Conference, because it was objected that it was not kosher Citizens Income.

    I reckon that was nearly 2 years ago, so we could try again, but this time we need a full cabal of backers for it.