After their decrease in vote share in the snap election, the Green Party needed a conference that would assure them that their shared vision was still making a difference in British politics. The party co-leaders, Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley, aimed to do so whilst also acknowledging that their electoral alliance scheme may have hindered the party in the most recent election.
The Green Party Conference
The underpinning theme of the conference was of “speaking truth to power”. As a political party with only one MP in Parliament, the Green Party is self-aware enough to realise that they are not the ones in power. However, they maintain that they can still change the political climate through their opposition to the main political parties. The conference was certainly not lacking in this sort of opposition with Jonathan Bartley even brandishing a packet of Blu-Tack above his head in his speech, assuring the crowd that he would be able to fix any stage malfunctions, like those in Theresa May’s now infamous Conservative Party conference speech. His comments on another Tory party member, Boris Johnson, were of a far less humorous disposition. He described the Foreign Secretary as a “human wrecking ball” and criticised his racist and insensitive comments, including his latest transgression when describing how the Libyan city of Sirte could become the new Dubai once they “clear the dead bodies away”.
As Bartley denounced the Conservatives as being “rotten to the core”, and criticised a whole host of their policies. Everything from local issues such as the demolition of estates to the government’s treatment of the refugee crisis were depicted as unjust. Easily the most emotional moment of the co-leader’s speech was his description of the terrible environment that those fleeing from persecution and violence are forced to endure in detention camps, where the rate of suicide attempts is three times that of inmates in British prisons.
The Green Party’s own policy towards refugees focused on the prevention of creating refugees through the expansion of the aid budget and on implementing free movement. The Party also re-affirmed some of their most longstanding policies such as opposition to all nuclear weapons and, obviously, the prevention of further climate change. The focus on environment was evident but it would certainly be wrong to say that this was the only topic discussed at the conference. This assertion that the Green Party is focused solely on the environment is one often levied at them by opposition, yet the Green Party leaders are definitely attempting to branch out from this single topic.
Whilst the Party made sure to congratulate its members on their perceived achievements, such as the prevention of the dementia tax and the continuation of the fox hunting ban, they also had to recognise that mistakes had perhaps been made. Despite the fact that the Green Party vote share in the snap election was the second-best election result that they have ever garnered, it was still a significant decrease compared to their vote share in the previous election of 2015.
Two factors were discussed as having caused this drop in votes, electoral alliances and the first past the post system of democracy in Britain. The party’s approach of stepping down to prevent conservative victories saw 22 local Green parties stand aside and whilst Bartley claimed that his helped to create a hung parliament and the “disarray” of the Tories, it is certain that some possible Green Party candidates “suffered” as a result of this policy. Some of this was put down to the reluctance of other political parties to work with the Greens but the leaders did seem to realise that this approach had not achieved the desired result. The need for proportional representation was also mentioned with Caroline Lucas condemning the first past the post system as preventing many as having a “meaningful vote”, something that she claimed added to the significant political disenfranchisement of our time.
This conference outlined the Green’s message that they are the only “honest” political party and that their policies and ideas are becoming “part of the mainstream”. Although this assurance that Green Party ideals are provoking change despite their small vote share and relative insignificance in Parliament might seem highly convenient, the co-leaders remain adamant that they are indeed “writing” the future. In a time when the main opposition party leader shares many of his views with the Green Party, the idea that this fringe political organisation is creating real change does not seem quite so far-fetched. To a certain extent, Jonathan Bartley’s comment that “where we lead…others will follow” does seem to ring true.
By Ella Myers