The Green Party’s autumn conference in Brighton was in upbeat mood. Over a thousand supporters attended in person or online to hear co-leaders Adrian Ramsay and Carla Denyer set out their ambitions to elect four Green MPs at the next general election.
Following their local election successes across the UK, Denyer said the party would be “laser-focused” on four target constituencies: Bristol Central, where Denyer is standing; Ramsay’s prospective seat in Waveney Valley; north Herefordshire, where Ellie Chowns hopes to be elected; and of course, Brighton Pavilion, where Caroline Lucas has been the sole Green MP since 2010.
It was particularly apt that the Greens met in Brighton, as this was Lucas’ last conference before standing down as MP next year. She received a standing ovation from the appreciative audience, with Denyer calling her an “inspiration” and “force of nature”, whose impact on politics has been outstanding.
Lucas and her prospective successor, former party leader Siân Berry, were much in evidence throughout the conference, and supporters were encouraged to commit time and energy into the local campaign. This may well be an uphill struggle, following the Greens’ defeat in Brighton’s recent local elections, but the conference message was strong and positive.
After the Conservatives recently rowed back on their climate targets, Denyer roundly criticised them for “climate vandalism”, while Ramsay expressed disappointment in Labour’s timid stance on the environment, wealth and the cost of living. But the co-leaders acknowledged that they would be open to doing a deal with Labour if needed, even though there are no current signs of collaboration.
Deputy leader Zack Polanski gave an inspiring and hard-hitting speech which reinforced the Greens’ ambitious focus. He talked about the “stench of corruption and entitlement” underlying the Conservative government and attacked Prime Minister Sunak for flying around in private jets while “one in four children in this country are living in poverty.” Polanski also talked movingly about “diversity and representation”, exemplified when his partner joined him on stage at the end of his speech.
Another highlight was the impressive speech by Greens of Colour chair Tyrone Scott. Scott argued that “colonialism and exploitation were the driver of both the climate crisis and the crisis of inequality”. He talked passionately about the Windrush generation’s treatment as second class citizens and criticised the “hostile environment” towards refugees. His particular target was Suella Braverman’s recent speech about migrants. Scott and colleague Amanda Onwuemene received a standing ovation, asserting: “Greens can be the party to represent our most marginalised communities.”
Caroline Lucas – a swansong
An unmissable fringe event was Caroline Lucas in conversation with former BBC environment analyst, Roger Harrabin. This was an informal occasion, with both speakers on good form.
Lucas described how she became involved with the Green Party in 1986, after being so inspired by reading Jonathan Porritt’s book Seeing Green that she walked down Clapham High Street, where she was living at the time, to find the Green Party office. As someone with a PhD on women in Elizabethan romance, she had no credentials apart from her enthusiasm – though she has more than proved herself since then. By the following year, she was the party’s press officer and never looked back.
Lucas described the personal challenges and tensions between being a constituency MP and an active parliamentarian – both of which she’s done brilliantly in my view – giving an insight into why she’s decided to step down. She’s clearly still passionate about environmental issues and wants to have time to return to climate activism. She also described the privilege of training to be an end-of-life doula and the incredible people that she’s meeting as part of this work. It’s clear that Lucas is still going to be active locally and nationally for the foreseeable future, but she will be a hard act to follow.
Upping the ante
As well as putting the climate at the centre of all their policies, the Greens are the only party to unequivocally support rejoining the EU. Members at conference also affirmed the importance of continuing membership of the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This is particularly welcome in the face of ongoing Tory threats to withdraw from the ECHR and Labour’s apparently lukewarm stance on reversing Brexit.
In order to achieve their ambitious goals next year, the Green Party will have their work cut out, financially as well as politically. Unlike other parties, they have no billionaire or corporate funding, so financing potential election success will be hard. The conference passed a motion for a modest increase in membership subscriptions, but a huge funding drive will almost certainly follow, in addition to local campaigns which are well underway.
Although it’s only a small party relative to the main ones, the Greens have shown that they can have a significant impact – Caroline Lucas in the Commons and Jenny Jones in the Lords are both powerful influences. But the first past the post system is stacked against them. In the 2019 election, Greens won over 60 per cent more votes than in 2017 – the largest increase of any party – and achieved 2.7 per cent of the vote, up from 1.6 per cent in 2017, yet they still only elected one MP. The Green Party deserves to achieve its election targets and, judging by the enthusiasm of members at the conference, has the support to do so.