Green Party Spring Conference

Posted on February 28, 2011 at 8:48 pm,

Well, I’ve just got back from the Green Party Spring Conference, and thought I’d share how it went. The conference was four days (Friday to Monday). As I couldn’t get the Friday off work, I arrived on the Saturday. Because it was in Cardiff, rather than Birmingham, it was a more relaxing time – instead of a 20-25 minute train journey between home and conference, I stayed at a really nice hostel a couple of minutes walk from the venue.

I won’t talk about the training sessions I went to, but there were some interesting fringes about things like cuts, road safety (by the 20’s Plenty campaign), and the suggestions in the book Prosperity without Growth – which outlines a roadmap to a happier society without the need for continual economic growth (and all the pointless consumerism that it entails).

There was also a very good panel session on the issue of political plurality, featuring Neal Lawson (head of left-wing Labour pressure group Compass, which recently voted to allow people who belong to parties other than labour full membership), and Richard Grayson (a dissident Lib Dem, who raised concerns about the Orange Book faction that is currently leading his party a couple of years before the coalition agreement). What came out of this is that there is quite a lot of potential for those on the political left to work together.

Policy Changes

One of the big things about conference is voting through changes to our party’s policy and structures. The big thing this time was the complete revision of our long-time science and technology policy. Members should give a big thank you to Caroline Allen for her hard work and perseverance on getting this through.

For those of you who aren’t members, or don’t go to conference, I’ll explain the process for you. Once a policy motion gets to conference, it gets fairly thoroughly dissected in a workshop which any member can vote on. Because this is a revision of an entire section of our policy, it basically got three workshops to itself. In the workshop, any contentious issues are worked out, and a straw poll is taken on each motion and amendment to give conference a feel for how those with particular interest and/or expertise feel about the motion. When the motion comes to the conference floor for the main debate, somebody from the workshop (in this particular case it was me) reports on the discussion – noting the main points of contention (if any) for each motion/amendment, and the straw poll vote, before further debate, leading to a vote on whether to accept or reject each motion/amendment (or, in some cases, to refer them back to be redrafted.

The general changes are that we’ve cut a lot of waffle, cut a lot of existing stuff about setting up various commissions to monitor science, and removed a whole lot of policies that gave the impression that we are anti-science. Specific changes include:

  • An increase in public sector science funding to at least 1% of GDP (the current level is 0.5%, the US and other EU countries spend 0.8%
  • Ensure that funding looks at the long-term as well as the short term (there are currently many projects that get funding to set up, but not to keep running)
  • Limit the role of politicians in deciding what gets funded to the strategic level (e.g. funding more climate science and less military projects)
  • Reforming libel laws to ensure scientists can publish without threat of legal action
  • Making sure that all research funded by government and/or performed by universities is published or at least can be found out by the public
  • Opposing patent rights on genes and living organisms
  • Clarifying our stance on genetic modification – we are in favour of research in this area (except when it raises animal welfare issues), but not of releasing GMOs into the environment until there is much more evidence about the impact of such activity. (see my previous post on Genetic Modification for more on this one)

We passed policy statements opposing cuts to public services, insisting that Parliament, rather than the Prime Minister, should be responsible for declarations of war, opposing the current HS2 High Speed Rail scheme, and highlighting the need for welfare reform that benefits the poorest.

Other motions included support for student actions against the cuts, a call for a windfall tax on bank profits, support for Norfolk County Council’s initiative to set up its own Energy Services Company (a local Green Party idea that will reduce carbon emissions and generate income for the council – thus reducing the impact of the cuts), support for the Save our Buses campaign, an expression of concern over plans to drill for shale oil in the UK, opposing to cuts in legal aid, and supporting the little-reported protests for democracy in Gabon.

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