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Eight Things We Learnt From Green Party Conference

12/09/2016 08:35
Lynne Cameron/PA Archive

Greens have had some time to return, recover, and reflect on the party's Autumn Conference in Birmingham last weekend. So here's some thoughts from a (relative) Green conference veteran.

1. The leadership's mandate is strong

86% of the vote is an impressive mandate by any party's standards - and will presumably knock even Corbyn's (expected) re-election margin into a cocked hat. At the same time, the fact that Lucas and Bartley's nearest competitor won under 1,000 votes is significant - in a contested field of five other competitors, the joint ticket was, quite simply, very popular. And while little should be read into it, the vote count of 173 for Green Party founding member Clive Lord does perhaps suggest how far the party has moved politically from its Deep Green, purely ecologist roots.

Meanwhile Amelia Womack's solid re-election as - this time - sole Deputy Leader - shows the appetite in the party for Womack and the rest of the team's proudly left-wing politics.

2. Greens back a second referendum - sort of

It looks like it's now semi-official for the Greens to back a referendum on the terms of Brexit. While there doesn't appear to have been a conference vote on it, Caroline and Jonathan made it a key announcement in their first speech as co-leaders: "Our party says, loudly and proudly, we the people should continue to have our say. And once the principles of any new deal have been set out, we want them put to a second referendum." It seemed to go down pretty well, so it looks like that's the line now.

3. PR would be a 'red line' for any progressive alliance

Speaking at a panel on the idea of a 'progressive alliance' - a main plank of Lucas and Bartley's platform - Caroline Lucas said that PR would be a 'red line' in any deal. That means, without a Labour commitment to electoral reform, no pact. She was fairly candid about openness outside of that: "An MOU [memorandum of understanding] that parked the issue of nuclear is still worth fighting for because this is urgent."

4. This was a biggie.

Over 1,200 people registered to this Green Party conference. And it felt like nearly all turned up - as opposed to the usual conference number-bluster. The main hall's capacity was 1,000, and it was frequently packed - for the leadership speeches, Natalie's leaving do and the progressive alliance panel on Friday night. Most encouragingly though, 40% of conference goers were first timers. Generally you see the same faces at this conference, so the high first timer rate was useful in stirring it up and giving it an excited vibe, in contrast to us world-weary regulars (I think this was, depressingly, my eighth or ninth #GPconf...).

5. Caroline's position on sex work is shifting

Lucas' position on the sex industry has been a source of consternation to some in the party for a while now. She has traditionally backed the Nordic model - totally decriminalising the 'selling' of sex, while criminalising the buyer. But critics argue this simply makes the industry more dangerous and still puts the seller at risk. So many members welcomed the much-ignored news that her position has now shifted on this towards party policy, revealing in the Sunday Q&A that she is 'moving towards' backing total decriminalisation after meeting with the English Collective of Prostitutes.

6. The press presence was good...and then non-existent

When I stepped into the journalists' working area on the Friday morning, it was actually packed. There were people on the floor, hacks talking to each other, discussing tit-bits of conference goss. All of course, in preparation for the result --which they knew in advance. By Friday afternoon, the numbers had dwindled to a handful. By Saturday morning, there was just one (other) journalist there - from the Independent. He was treated with great caution, and didn't have much to write about by the Sunday, leaving him with only negative scraps. Lessons to be learnt: have stories to give to journos that aren't just the leadership speeches. But overall coverage of the weekend was good, with plenty of broadcast interviews for Bartley and Lucas, an in-the-deep-end experience to managing the unique joint leadership model.

7. Natalie Bennett's nick-name at school was 'rusty joints'

In an impassioned departure speech, Bennett gave a personal touch, revealing her primary school nickname: "...A boy who hated being partnered with me in folk dancing lessons complained I had "rusty joints" - and that became my nickname. So I promise you, I'm not going to follow Ed Balls on to Strictly Come Dancing." You can't trust politicians' promises, though...
Nonetheless, Bennett will be greatly missed. As I wrote in a piece for Novara, her legacy and 'memory' within the party will be a very positive one - even if her perception among the likes of LBC is not so rosy.

8. There's a treat coming to next conference...

I haven't published the interview yet, but I closed my chat with Jon Bartley with a silly question: "Will you keep the band going?" - Bartley is in a blues band called the The Mustangs. Not only did he say yes - albeit that the band will be a bit scaled back - he promised to try and get his band to play at the next conference. So look out for The Mustangs' Spring Conference gig, folks.

Oh, and while no pictures/Tweets/Facebooking was allowed - I can confirm that Jon Bartley runs a mean karaoke session. You'll have to take my word for that, though.

That's all from me. If you went, let me know any of your reflections in the comments below!

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