Sunday, 1 October 2017

Brighton Rocks!

Guest post from my comrade and Green Party member Peter Allen. Peter attended some events organised by The World Transformed at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton:

The Sunday night Compass meeting at the Labour Party Conference was called Alliance Building For A Progressive Future and was chaired by Francesca Klug. 

Like me, Francesca is a High Peak voter and witnessed the successful creation of a Progressive Alliance in the constituency. She recounted how it had involved not just Labour and the Green Party, who stood down to support the victorious Labour candidate, but also a non-party organisation called High Hopes for High Peak. HH4HP ran an effective campaign calling for an anti-Tory vote and focusing on the incumbent Tory MP’s voting record (he complained bitterly that this was unfair!). 

The result in High Peak demonstrated that anti-Tory alliances can extend beyond political parties to unite the progressive majority that exists in most constituencies. The refusal of the Liberal Democrats to participate in the alliance seriously backfired, their candidate obtaining a derisory vote.

Caroline Lucas told the meeting that election night had been bittersweet. The Conservatives had lost their majority which was “ a cause of much celebration “ and she “was immensely proud” of the contribution Greens had made to achieve this. However, it had been very sad that Labour had not been prepared to open the door even an inch to political cooperation, even where there had been a desire at local level. The Green Party had “paid a huge price for our principled commitment to doing politics differently”. Whilst politics had become hopeful again fair voting was urgently needed she said ,to loud applause from a room of Labour Party activists. 

Labour MPs Clive Lewis and Lisa Nandy both expressed thanks and gratitude to Caroline and the Green Party. Clive said that 21st century socialism had to be plural. Politics needed to be done differently, with time running out and the world facing ecological catastrophe. Lisa stressed the need for creative thinking when talking about climate change, particularly in former mining areas, which should have been guaranteed a just transition to a new green economy. 

All three politicians made the point that no one party has a monopoly of political wisdom. Neal Lawson, Director of Compass, agreed and said that voters could no longer be taken for granted, “Deference is gone and it is a good thing “

Contributions from the audience were largely supportive of the need for Progressive Alliances to continue and for Labour to adopt Proportional Representation. The Labour Candidate on the Isle of Wight and an activist from Richmond Park were given a generally hostile reception when they defended their refusal to stand down for the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats respectively.  

Filled with a spirit of unity I then attended some of the meetings organized by Momentum as part of their The World Transformed Festival. I particularly enjoyed ‘ It was the Kids that Done it ‘ on Tuesday afternoon,  which had a panel of young confident women, including Mamel, a Londoner who lived near Grenfell Tower and was part of the local campaign for justice. The speakers recalled how they had successfully engaged young people during the general election campaign. Many more had voted than in previous elections, when they hadn’t been uninterested in politics but had felt that neither of the large parties had made them a decent offer. This had changed with Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. Cat Smith MP, a member of the Shadow Cabinet with responsibility for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs, said that it been her fourth election campaign but the first one when nobody had said on the doorstep ‘You’re all the same’. She also stressed that Climate Change was a major issue for younger voters.

I had to leave the above meeting early in order to join the queue around the building for a meeting addressed by Naomi Klein. In front of me a group of  Labour activists, probably in their early 30’s, were reminiscing about their general election experiences. They e agreed that the Green Party were the unsung heroes of the campaign, having stood aside in several key places. Of course, there should be electoral reform they said, it was a no-brainer. 

Naomi was plugging the message (and her new book) that saying No was not enough. As well as resisting neoliberalism and the climate change deniers we had to say what the alternative was. It would involve a just transition to clean energy, funded by increasing taxation of rich individuals and large corporations. Earlier in the day she had spoken at the Labour Conference itself, arguing that “battling climate change is a once in a century chance to build a fairer, more sustainable economy for the many not the few”.

On Monday evening I had failed to arrive early enough to get into a meeting addressed by Paul Mason. I was able to read his Guardian column on Tuesday however, in which he declared 

“Many Labour people, including myself, want to see a strategic alliance of Labour, the progressive nationalists and the Greens in place, even if Labour were to win an overall majority “

I came away from Brighton more convinced than ever that there is a vital and vibrant role for the Green Party as part of an alliance on the left of British Politics,  trying to ensure that environmental justice is given the same priority as social justice. Talk of moving the Green Party to a position where it is equidistant from Labour and Conservatives is misguided and misplaced. 

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try and appeal to voters of all parties. It does mean that the Green Party is very clear where it stands in the political spectrum and knows very well whose side it is on in the struggle between the many and the few. 

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