8 October 2018
Personally I felt the atmosphere at Conference was far more positive and respectful than I expected it to be and hopefully we can build on that. Lots of positive stuff and sensible decisions I thought. I was most impressed to learn about our Political Strategy. I will try to summarise what I think it is in next email.
As far as we have seen from this new 'strategy', there is going to be a shift (back?) to an environmental policy focus - akin to what European Greens do so well.
Rosie also went to the External Comms workshop and the Anti-Academies Alliance fringe, if you'd like any info on those do email our office.
Conference voted overwhelmingly to support a People's Vote with an option to remain, and to campaign for a Remain outcome (in preference to some sort of deal option) in any such referendum, solidifying the status of the Greens as the most pro-EU party. Some conflict / trans / Gender Recognition act issues were tough going.
The conference was held in the Council offices in Bristol, which was a little cramped, but that meant that we had to mingle all the more and have more chances for random conversations with other Greens, which is always one of the pleasures of conference. The conference was opened by the Lord Mayor of Bristol (and Green councillor) Cleo Lake. She also led a dance workshop during the first evening (@Dave Taylor, I don’t remember you doing that when Lord Mayor).
Much of the conference was taken up with “holistic review” which over the last year has been reviewing the governance structures of the party. It reported back earlier in the year and put a long motion to conference to implement its recommendations. This took three sessions of workshops and over two of the plenary sessions to work through. Because there were 22 (yes, twenty two) amendments there was far less discussion of the overall proposal than there should have been. The way that conference works is the motion is proposed, and then each amendment is discussed in turn (a couple did fall because prior amendments removed the text they were amending). Only after all the amendments have been discussed and voted on do we turn to the main motion. Because each amendment has to have (at least) two speakers for and against this is very time consuming. In nearly all cases the debate was truncated after those four speeches. This meant that by the time we had worked through all the amendments we were pretty exhausted and the review did not get the discussion it deserved before being approved overwhelmingly by the conference. I believe that we need to find a better way to conduct business to allow real discussion of policy rather than the formal and somewhat confrontational way that business is currently conducted; perhaps by improving the forums used to discuss proposals and getting more people involved before conference?
There was a heated debate on anti-semitism, where I spoke passionately against the adoption of what was essentially International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition. Perhaps I should summarise what I said as best I can remember as I hadn’t prepared the speech. I started by saying that I am Jewish, and that I oppose racism in all its forms, I then said that the motion is very dangerous because the definition is used to curtail criticism of Israel, and made two statements that I pointed out would be specifically prohibited by the definition, one on the Israeli government and the other on Gaza. I also pointed out that the record of policy statements already condemns anti-semitism, so I asked people to vote against the motion. Without discussing it I also said the second motion was problematic and people should vote against that too. In the end both motions were “referred back” which means that the proposers should look at it again, and bring it to the next conference if they wish.
The best part of the conference, as ever, is meeting all the other Greens at the conference!
The first conference session we attended agreed to 'rule back in' to the agenda two 'late motions' on the important issue of the current government consultation on gender recognition, an issue causing significant tensions within the party.
There were some excellent speeches, a photocall for 'Greens for a People's Vote', stalls and flyers (have you booked yet for the Peoples Vote London demo on Oct 20th?)
..And interminable amendments to the 'Holistic Review' paper. After much hard work and over 2000 member responses to the review a new party structure is proposed to help make more effective operation of the party while safeguarding key officers from the risk of bankrupcy though adopting new legal structures. After several hours of debate we agreed to the referendum of members moving forward.
One of the more contentious debates was on two opposing late motions on the anti-semitism issue: A vote was headed off by a move for 'reference back' to the proposers, narrowly won, subjected to a card vote call and then eventually confirmed after the card vote. Card votes enable those holding proxy votes from their local party members unable to attend to cast them in addition to the vote in conference.
In addition to the formal debates, there were several panel discussions and presentations and I hope these will eventually available to watch online. One key message apart from the obvious one on the urgency of action on climate change was the fact that we are part of a global party taking inspiring steps for change - A one minute long film produced by the European Green Party showcased changes in cities led by Green Parties.
On the Saturday night a small proportion of those in the UK who have taken Green actions in their communities were honoured through 'The Big Green Thank You' awards, including the current charismatic Green Lord Mayor of Sheffield.
The acting leader of the Welsh Green Party who grew up in the middle of a forest in Finland outlined some of their campaigns, from opposing a new nuclear power station at Wylfa and also the dumping of radioactive sludge from Hinckley C into Cardiff Bay to opposing planned extension to the M4 motorway.
I also went to a presentation on 'Child friendly Cities' - something of relevance to our manifesto and also the York Central plans. The UN General Comment No 17 on children's right to play made in 2013 is the basis for a UNICEF child friendly cities initiative. The initiative of parents to reclaim their street for play in a part of Bristol has led to action by similar groups - see playingout.net for more details. Bristol is the first authority in the UK to adopt a Temporary Play Street Order procedure which has been established under local government powers passed into law in 1847! This makes it easy for groups of parents to come together and extend control over their street, acting as a catalyst for longer term change. Interestingly one of the speakers who has been working in Wrexham and now looking at Hackney referred to academic research funded by the Homes and Communities Agency, part of the partnership behind York Central Partnership. This highlighted through independent play observation the significance of the location of playspace not just the amount. Including trees to climb and space for teenagers not just 'play equipment' were specifically mentioned. A key issue was shared space which is clear of parked cars! One speaker said that the shift to online activity by young people was as much a symptom of restrictions on play as the cause of decline in physical activity.