New leader, new members, new feel
For me, this weekend’s Green Party conference came with the crisp feel of a freshly ironed shirt* – and not particularly because of the new leadership team. There were many, many new members. As a result, the whole event had a new feel: this is no longer a party of ageing hippies. It is a party primarily of young radicals.
You could feel it in the debate on paying the party leader. Longstanding members who once upon a time had the respect of enough members to swing a policy motion saw their power crumble to dust: that you have been around for a long time is no use if most of those voting weren’t around with you. Described by one of its proposers as being ‘about class politics’, the motion passed overwhelmingly – as did a motion the day before supporting the right for workers to buy out the company which employs them. The new members are, it seems, on the left.
Their impact on the leadership election was notable too. A few years ago, I got good at spotting winners in internal Green Party elections: whoever had been around the longest would be victorious. But we now have a leader and a deputy who have both joined the party more recently than me – within the last few years: with a rapidly growing party, time served stops being nearly as important. And this is a hugely positive development.
But the primary impact of lots of new members is not that a higher proportion of members are new. It’s that there are lots more members – the event was bigger than I have ever seen it, with hundreds cramming into the Bristol council house.
Of course, what those new members made of the party’s procedures will perhaps define whether many ever come again: democracy is slow and messy and can be frustrting. You can’t at once be glad that your conferences aren’t a glorified press stunt, and wish for perfect choreography. But we must hope that no one was put off coming back to conference. And more so, the party’s ranks will be buoyed by the activism and ideas of these new members. If the leaders of today were recruited in the last few years then the next leaders could well not yet be in the party. For those who see themselves as longstanding Green hacks, this might be a scary prospect. But if they can subdue those feelings of ownership, and if they can begin to hand over some of their local reins, then we can expect great things. But I suspect some might find that hard, and perhaps this will be the tension line in party debates to come…
*I mean, anyone who’s met me knows I’ve never felt one of these, but I can imagine…