Social Justice at the Heart: Green Party’s Clause 4 Moment at Nottingham Conference 2013
On Friday Britain lost its ‘Triple-A Credit Rating’ as a result of a Westminster Government seeking to reverse all the gains made by working people over the past 170 years. It has never been more important for the Green Party to assert its position as the only party that can stand up to the destruction of England’s NHS in parliament, the only party that is providing an alternative to the cuts narrative and the only party that can stand up for the young, the poor and those with disabilities.
This weekend’s Green Party (of England and Wales) conference in Nottingham may be the turning point in creating a party to give that voice to those who not only disagree with austerity but want to see a real alternative. The Green Party is the party for those who want more than a managed decline into plutocracy. The centre point of the conference was a revision of the Philosophical Basis of the party, written by Young Green Josiah Mortimer. The Party’s Philosophical Basis sets out what the fundamental beliefs of the party are. While this is not a matter of policy that has a direct impact on the actions of Green elected representatives it may be much more important than that.
In a debate that involved a wide range of contributors speaking from the heart the party voted by over 70% to move to a clause that reads:
“The Green Party is a party of social and environmental justice which supports a radical transformation of society for the benefit of all, and for the planet as a whole. We understand that the threats to economic, social and environmental wellbeing are part of the same problem, and recognise that solving one of these crises cannot be achieved without solving the others.”
The motion preamble read:
“A system based on inequality and exploitation is threatening the future of the planet on which we depend, and encouraging reckless and environmentally damaging consumerism. A world based on cooperation and democracy would prioritise the many, not the few, and would not risk the planet’s future with environmental destruction and unsustainable consumption.
The Green Party isn’t just another political party. Green politics is a new and radical kind of politics guided by these core principles.
The highlight of the debate was the first conference speech from Elliot Folan, who urged conference to accept in its philosophical basis that it had become the natural home for anti-cuts activists, social justice activists and anyone who wanted a better future for people and planet. Saying “I joined because it’s the the party which stands up for me as a young person, a student, an autistic person”. He pointed out that he had become an environmentalist because the Green Party stood up for students abandoned by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Changing the Philosophical Basis has the potential to be like Labour’s Clause 4 moment – a transformational change in the way a party understands itself and asks to be understood. Except this is not an abandonment of the people we should represent, but a realignment with those who will benefit most from Green politics. The objection from one member that this might prevent “people like Zak Goldsmith from joining” had little traction. What did have traction was a positive vision of Green politics as a radical force.
The fringe on where the Green Party should go next with party veteran Sara Parkin and Bright Green’s very own Adam Ramsay built on this platform. They outlined a vision of the Green Party at the heart of a social movement. This is a movement that could fundamentally change the direction of British politics, providing a solution to the economic and environmental crises. This was a refreshingly optimistic approach to politics, and emphasised the need to work both inside and outside elected politics, like Greek Coalition of the Radical Left, SYRIZA. There was a very strong feeling that the days of both European social democracy and neo-liberalism were numbered.
So this conference changed the philosophical basis and marked the start of a fundamental change in Green Party strategy. With social justice at the heart of the party and a social movement around us we can make a real difference. It’s time to make the vision come true.