How much has it changed?
I’ve now been a member of the Green Party for a little over a year. My original intention was to be a fairly passive supporter – most members of most political parties are just that, joining to lend a little financial and moral support to something they consider worthwhile. My earlier post explaining why I considered the green party to be worth supporting was based on my brief membership of the party at the start of the century, (I’d known about the its existence since it was called the Ecology Party and Jonathon Porritt was active in it, but I’m not a “joiner”. I philosophically disapprove of my reluctance to get stuck in to things, so I’m trying to work on this). Since I re-joined I’ve been pootling around the party’s online forums, reading the personal blogs of random party luminaries and footsoldiers, have attended the national conference and one meeting of my local party. I’m still rather undecided how much proper involvement I want to have.
The Green Party has changed in several ways. The most unexpected thing is the size. At the start of the century the membership was around 5,000 and now it is around ten times that, with a proportionate rise in the number of active members. So the conference now looks superficially exactly like all the other party conferences (though there is still a one-minute silent “atunement” before the opening of voting sessions). Structurally, there are now enough members to support a whole bunch of sub-groups. Back in the 70’s, the tiny Liberal party had a notoriously hot-headed youth section, the Young Liberals, who always seemed to be getting themselves into trouble. The Young Greens seem lively enough to be capable of occupying the same cultural space (though so far no headlines) – or perhaps they’re really fulfilling the same function as the Young Conservatives famously used to (i.e. finding partners).
One thing that has not changed, but which has arguably become unworkable in the enlarged GP is the policy process. This is famous for being entirely run by members and voted on, live, at each conference – in principle anyone can submit a policy motion. Motions which pass get added to something called the Policies for a Sustainable Society (PfSS to its friends), which is not the same thing as the manifesto. I did read a big chunk of PfSS prior to my previous short-lived membership, to check if it was sufficiently aligned with my opinions on science and whatnot, but a brief glance at the 2016 version was enough to put me off repeating the exercise. It seemed bigger and vaguer than I remember, though it could just as well be me who has changed. At any event the PfSS is a large sprawling mess and if I were an elected Green politician of some sort (I’ve absolutely no ambitions there, but if I were), I reckon I would pretty much ignore it. I was therefore interested to see, from this post on Tom Chance’s blog that it was indeed largely irrelevant to the Green Group in the London Assembly. I do wonder if the unacknowledged point of the policy process has become to give people something to do in a party with relatively little real power. I could certainly see a sort of think-tank function as a useful aspect of the GP, but it looks less like that than a mere energy-sink.
The Green Party had a leadership election recently and that will form the starting point of my next post.