Well one thing is certain, a Green Party conference is nothing like a Labour Party conference. For starters you don’t have to go through airport style security checks on your way in. Nor are there loads of people wearing suits, so I feelt quite at home in my usual jeans and t-shirt. Indeed, the whole event has a relaxed feel, and is all the better for it.
The fact is I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I arrived in Bournemouth for the Green Party Autumn conference. My lasting impression was “laid back and friendly”. But don’t for one moment think this means the issues are not taken seriously. The final agenda is lengthy and the timetable detailed. For instance, before any plenary sesssion starts there is a choice of workshops on some of the policy motions, or instead you can choose from a wide range of fringe on topics as diverse as climate change to using social media.
And that is how conference continues for the duration, going on well into the evening for the really hardened conference goer.
The main hall was packed for Natalie Bennett’s address on the Friday when she received a loud and warm reception. Her speech was full of references to the failed policies of the Tories, but the need to tackle climate change was a central theme to which she returned throughout her address. Other inspiring speakers, and there were many, included both deputy leaders: Shahar Ali, who blended a little humour with a strong and serious message of truth in politics; and Amelia Womack, who I think epitomises the enthusiastic young talent that helps makes the Green Party so refreshingly different.
With workshops having already discussed the details, policy motions are dealt with more efficiently on the conference floor than at some others I’ve attended. This is due largely to speakers only actually getting up to speak if they have something useful to say; and keeping their speeches short. It meant that a wide range of decisions was taken in one short session, including a vote to support the single transferable vote for local elections, and to ditch the existing policy on copyright which caused so much embarassment in the election.
The laid back feel of conference was reflected by the way sessions were run. Jenny Jones, who chaired one of the plenary sessions, praised everyone saying “Well done guys” when the first piece of new policy was decided. It was a nice touch.
Some things are to be expected at a Green Party conference. There is an exhibition area, but unlike the Labour Party and even TUC conferences, there is a predominence of campaign groups rather than overtly commercial businesses promoting their thing. Indeed, the only buisnesses present were ethical ones, clearly reflecting the nature of the green audience. Likewise, I had no difficulty finding vegetarian food in the conference centre, as it was all veggie or vegan.
Of course it isn’t all about speeches, debates and voting. This year a large marquee on the beach was the venue for a number of social events, complete with vegan cafe and real ale bar selling the conference special called something like Nats Green Piddle. Highlight for me was Saturday night, when the amazingly talented Grace Petrie performed to an enthusiastic and supportive audience.
Sadly I wasn’t able to stay at conference for the full duration. It was however encouraging to spend time in the company of so many Green Party activists. With the climate change talks in Paris rapidly approaching, it wouldn’t have been a Green conference without more than several mentions of this vital issue. So for my final word I turn to Caroline Lucas, who in her conference speech said:
“And so in and after Paris, we will be articulating a vision of a fairer, more compassionate world, where energy is in people’s hands, not the hands of corporations, and powered by the sun, the wind and the waves. And sending a message, loud and clear, as we do from our own conference here today, that we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground.”
I look forwards to another interesting onference next year.