Democratising and professionalising our Party further
Our guest writer is Cllr Rupert Read
In my ‘series’ here on BG (see here) exploring the direction our Party (GPEW) needs to take, I have covered a little about our policy debates, and the potential we have for growth at local level. But I now want to turn again to our most important resource: our members, and their activism.
It seems to me desperately important that we find ways of involving our members more in our Party. As a democratic organisation, we live or die by our ability to shape decisions through everyone’s participation in our decisions. As we move forward, and gain more successes, with the growing numbers of members that I described in my previous posts, accountability becomes ever more important. (Looking outside our Party, we can of course easily see what happens when accountability and transparency is reduced to a charade.)
It disturbs me for example that we have such strict rules against campaigning for internal elections within our Party. How are we expecting new members to get more involved in the Party, if we don’t even make it easy for them to feel involved in our internal elections? Didn’t they opt to join a political organisation?
And it’s even more important that selection of our election candidates proper be fully open and engaging. It is possible, currently, for very small numbers of members to vote for candidates on lists for Europe and regional elections in selections that are not well known about and for candidates who are themselves not very well known (especially if they are newish to the Party). Our procedures may be abstractly “fair” to candidates, but are potentially very unfair to the people voting, who may find themselves asked to vote for people who may get elected on the basis of a piece of paper and a passport photograph alone. Not to mention being potentially unfair, in practice, to some candidates, newcomers in particular.
This stands in contrast with procedures in Labour, Conservative and Lib Dems, where candidates are expected to canvas their members, and, in the Conservatives’ case, may even be subject to open, public primaries. We must ask ourselves whether our procedures are more open and democratic, or potentially more closed (in practice) and therefore more prone to promote a party “elite”.
However we view our internal selections, surely we must all agree that we badly need to find ways of making it easier for members, and especially our burgeoning numbers of new members (including recruits from the LibDems), to get involved in the Party. We need to try to re-design the Party to be ‘self-explaining’, rather than somewhat obscure and labyrynthine.
Similarly, I think that most ordinary members feel at present extremely remote from the policy-making process in our Party. It is good that we now have our ‘Policies for a Sustainable Society’ separated off from our manifesto commitments for upcoming elections and from the day-to-day decisions that our elected politicians make. But doesn’t that mean that we now need to reconfigure Conference? Shouldn’t a lot of the emphasis at Green Party Conference now shift toward the making of actual policy in response to actual circumstances?
At present, we do this in the Green Party Conference primarily by means only of ‘Emergency Motions’. It seems to me – and I know I am not alone in this thought – that that really isn’t good enough any more. We need to reconfigure Conference so that a significant percentage of its time is spent looking at the actual issues of the day. Things like the Digital Economy Bill, the AV referendum, House of Lords reform, the ‘big society’. . . The impending move to delegate conferences will offer us an extremely exciting opportunity to involve the membership much more in these kinds of issues and questions, the important and more immediate questions facing us, policy-wise. We need to be working now to ensure that delegate conferences are thinking about and determining where we stand on issues that matter, to our growing numbers of elected politicians.
Apart from anything else, our new leadership model and our breakthrough into Westminster require that we ensure that our leaders are accountable, and are benefitting from the full extent of the advice and input and confirmation that we can offer them. Caroline needs to be given the full benefit of what help we can give her in facing, alone, the rest of Parliament. Conference ought to be much more about that now, and much less about thinking about the shape of utopia.
And surely Spring Conference should become what it is for other political parties: primarily a training event and a rally, rather than spending lots of our time, when elections are imminent, focussing on ‘policies for a sustainable society’.
I was delighted with Jane’s and Tom’s blog-posts in response to my original post. But I confess that I have been slightly surprised that there haven’t been more people involved in debating these matters. As I say: I really hope that we get debating these things now, and help thereby ensure that Conference this year reflects an awareness of these issues as requiring and deserving action. As they are.