Live illustration of sessions at the Green Party Spring Conference.
Live illustration of sessions at the Green Party Spring Conference, Liverpool. Photo: Rob Telford

Much has been said in the past few days, and not all of it entirely flattering, about the ways in which the Green Party is different from others in the UK political landscape. And no gathering shows that difference up more than party conference, where anyone is invited and everyone can have their say.

Much has been said too about Natalie Bennett and that LBC interview. Endless agonising (from the media mainly) has gone into whether she will redeem herself by nailing a good enough speech at the conference? Will she be supported or not by Caroline Lucas?

All this has the potential make a party hoping to gain political influence slightly nervous, especially when the right wing media is out to get us in their usual hyena-like ways.

But for me, all of those glitches and seeming imperfections are part of what makes the Green Party real and approachable and worthy of the trust of those people who really matter: the students who know that life is so complex that if you want to do everything you’re bound to get it wrong half the time; the single mothers (like me) who know that some days you can hardly keep your eyes open and your wits about you when you come home after a hard day’s work to find your child wants extra attention; the activists who care so much about the world that they forget to eat or go out and make friends; and generally all the people squeezed so hard by a system that’s plain wrong, that they simply cannot make ends meet, let alone keep up appearances. So a party that can look and sound human may be just what is needed to inject some common sense and energy into the rarefied atmosphere of professional politics.

The other and perhaps deeper lesson is that the Green Party looks the way it does because it has managed to take itself seriously enough to achieve not simply a measure of ‘diversity’, but is inching towards a philosophy of ‘liberation’ – which is way beyond that. The undercurrents of feminism, LGBTIQ rights and youth power that run right through the party can make it seem a bit chaotic. However, taken together, they make for a very exciting bunch of activists to be hanging out with, as well as for an incredibly solid party basis that is evidently growing every day.

All too often in politics, people talk about ‘equal opportunities’ and ‘gender balance’ or ‘diversity’ – when in effect, they mean things like ‘we will allow some women to squeeze into suits and up to the top table where they can battle it out on men’s terms’; or ‘we undertake to do no gay-bashing within our party if they manage to have orderly and long-term relationshisp’; or even ‘we will try to be nice and encouraging to young talent, nurturing younger people through internships so they may take their rightful place in the real world of politics when they are older and wiser and better adjusted’.
Better than nothing? I think not.

But there is a different way of operating, which is where traditionally oppressed groups, instead of asking for crumbs, decide that they can have real power within an organisation and make it their own. Doing things this way is a game changer. It is what the Green Party, consciously or not, has got right when it comes to women, LGBTIQ folk and young people, and is now reaping the benefits of in terms of energy and success in the polls.

When liberation replaces a timid quest for equality of opportunity or even diversity, much that we take for granted is turned on its head and everyone benefits more than they expected. When that line is crossed and we all seriously listen and learn from people very different from ourselves to the extent that we allow them to breathe a sigh of relief and take power, when we lift the burden off people who have been held back by our prejudices and have had to spend all their time carving out a space for themselves, what we discover is that of course our prejudices were just smokescreens that have held all of us back from realising our own potential. The rewards are multiple and the Green Party has been noticing them:

Instead of women nagging and ‘asking for their rights’, we have a party where women take the space they need for their minds to expand, unfettered and powerful, bringing with them all the deep wisdom of seasoned feminists who have been politically active throughout their lifetimes, and who will not give up whatever comes their way; when women no longer have to look over their shoulder in case a majority of defensive blokes are questioning their every thought, they can instead move ahead boldly and act; this way, women (and men) can concentrate on fighting the battle out there rather than the battle ‘inside the home’ as it were. The energy that this brings with it cannot be underestimated.

It is similarly refreshing when LGBTIQ activist can stop apologising for their sexual choices (something that I am sure they must find extremely tedious) and instead can get on with the business of questioning and challenging the status quo, building community and changing society; own their identity as a political as well as an individual choice. But beyond that, they see the Green Party an organisation where innovation and boldness are second nature to everyone rather than something to be admired in those of a creative disposition, where nobody thinks anybody is especially weird and we don’t have to be careful about who we are lest we don’t tow the line closely enough.

Last but not least, the Green Party has become an organisation where young people are where they should be – respected, strongly and visibly in the lead, yet backed by their older comrades every step of the way; where being young doesn’t mean you have to cheer up the atmosphere while being told that you will ‘grow out of it’ and become jaded like the rest of us; an organisation where the default position is to be enthusiastic and driven and idealistic and where people believe that things can and indeed will be different (as has always been the case throughout history, just that those of us over 40 tend to forget it).

So are women, LGBT folk and young people the reasons for the Green Surge? Perhaps.

But I don’t want us to forget those Green party members who have majorly contributed to that growth by in some small way stepping aside or back or sideways, but sticking with the cause – the men who have agreed to be led by women and are supporting them every step of the way; those of us who are straight but dare to consider that we may be the anomaly rather than the norm; and those of us who are getting older but know that the best is yet to come in our lives as well as in politics.

Of course, we need to and we do remember that there are some areas where we have not made big enough strides yet: the Green Party is still much too white and overwhelmingly middle-class. There is work to be done, but as the fringe event on Winning the Black vote showed, it really is just work and we know how to do it.