When will journalists understand the Greens?
Also attending were an unprecedented number of journalists, many of whom had never been to a Green conference before. Bright Green’s Adam Ramsay helpfully offered these journalists some advice on how it works.
Some got the memo, but others didn’t, and made a series of fundamental mistakes in their reporting, misleading their readers.
The major mistake made was assuming that policy motions will become policy. That might be how it works in other parties but in the Green Party, members decide what becomes policy.
One of the worst examples of this was made by the Telegraph’s sub-editors, who came up with the headline: “Rodents to be given human rights under Green Party Plans”. The Daily Mail’s sub-editors went with the characteristically lengthy and misleading headline: “Dolphins, whales and apes should be given same rights as humans so their killers face jail, says Green Party in bizarre plans which also include a nappy tax.”
There are no such plans. There was a motion which, amongst other things, suggested that animals be given human rights and one which proposed a tax on the producers of disposable nappies, not all nappies as the Mail implied. These policy proposals were not even discussed, in the end, let alone voted on or adopted as policy, for reasons outlined later.
When Bright Green said to Matthew Holehouse, the Telegraph reporter who wrote the article, but presumably not the headline, that these were policy proposals and not policies. He replied on twitter: “Yeah, I mean if you manage to read the first three paragraphs, that is explicit.”
Are false headlines really OK because the article is correct? It’s hard to believe that’s Holehouse’s or the Telegraph’s view but it seems to be what he is implying.
In the Mail, it is not just the headline that is false, the story also claims: “The Green Party is calling for the Human Rights Act to be extended to include animals.”
Neither is Holehouse’s article free from errors, as it claims that proposals are made by “the party”. For example, “The party will propose higher taxes on disposable nappies, supporting a Cornish Parliament and banning commercial horse racing.” The Mail’s article also makes this mistake, but worse: “The Green Party is calling for the Human Rights Act to be extended to include animals.”
‘The party’, in the sense of the party leadership or the wider party, did not ‘propose’ these policies and is certainly not ‘calling’ for them, as the Telegraph and Mail respectively claimed.
A few members of the party are proposing and calling for them. Out of 50,000 members, five proposed the disposable nappy one and nine proposed the animal racing one. The Mirror’s Mikey Smith understood this and wrote, with reference to a proposal to change the Party’s car policy: “The proposal, put forward by six party members, says the party’s official position should be changed”.
“The Party” did decide, democratically, that the proposals picked up on by the Telegraph and Mail were not a priority. Before the conference, there was a vote on what to vote on. This is called a ‘prioritisation ballot’. The policy proposals with the most votes in the prioritisation ballot were voted on first at the conference. Of the 36 proposals, there was only time to talk about the top 13. The animal rights policy was 30th and the “nappy tax” was 34th so neither were discussed.
A less serious mistake made by Holehouse was using the word “delegate” to describe those attending, instead of attendees. At the Green Party, any member can attend a conference, unlike at LibLabCon conferences where local parties elect a delegate.
Some would call this lazy, or even biased, journalism. This may be true but maybe it’s also that Green conferences are so different to those of the big three parties, which can throw seasoned political reporters.
As Holehouse himself writes: “Green Party Conference is full of…humans. That is, party members, who have spent their own money to come because they care about policy. To be expected? Well, if you’ve spent an arid weekend at Tory or Labour conference, where lobbyists, hacks and special advisers outnumber regular volunteers by about five to one, it’s refreshing.”
Joe Lo is a writer and Green Party activist.