Greens must become as good at talking to progressives as UKIP are at talking to reactionaries

Darren Johnson AM, Green Party Member of the London Assembly, reports from last week's Green Party conference in Brighton.

Darren Johnson AM, Green Party Member of the London Assembly, reports from last week’s Green Party conference in Brighton

Before I made my way to Brighton for our party’s Autumn conference, I had a quick breakfast interview to do for BBC London radio. David Aaronovitch had just been on before me. I listened to his critique of a party in its final death throes and how staging the conference in Brighton was a last-ditch and desperate attempt to try and hold on to Caroline Lucas’s parliamentary seat – which she will certainly lose.

Having been in the Green Party over two and a half decades, I’ve found it to be a rare event that a leading commentator hasn’t marked the opening of our conference predicting the party’s imminent demise. Once you’ve survived David Icke on the Wogan show, though, you tend to take such predictions with a pinch of salt.

Opening the first day of conference, Natalie Bennett, Party Leader, and Caroline Lucas, the local MP, both delivered impassioned speeches, as did German MEP and Co-Chair of the European Green Party, Reinhard Butikofer.

Paying tribute to our own party as the oldest Green party in Europe, Reinhard gave a brilliant overview and, for me, absolutely nailed it in terms of the relevance of Green politics in the 21st century.

As we moved into the first policy session on the Saturday morning, I found myself moving the first formal policy motion on the conference agenda, a motion reiterating the Green Party’s commitment to public ownership of the railways and our commitment to making rail services more democratically accountable at local and regional levels.

In light of this, my motion called for local commuter services that predominantly serve Greater London to be transferred to Transport for London. With an amendment to ensure the interests of passengers outside London could be represented in the decision-making process, the motion was carried almost unanimously. On a similar theme, a motion calling for the East Coast rail franchise to remain in the public sector was also agreed with similar levels of support.

If only persuading the government were this easy.

I then took part in a panel debate: what next for the LGBT struggle after same sex marriage? Joining me were Caroline Lucas MP, Jean Lambert MEP, Patrick Harvey MSP and Cllr Stephanie Powell of Brighton.

For me, while it is clear there is still important unfinished business on the legal obstacles to full equality, it would be short-sighted for LGBT campaigners to concentrate only on the domestic agenda when there are such terrible injustices around the world. I attacked the cultural relativism of many on the left, and argued that LGBT equality is a fundamental human right and it is not imperialist or the imposition of western values to demand that those rights be upheld in every single part of the world.

Patrick Harvey also made a good point about Russia. While it is certainly not the worst offender in terms of its anti-LGBT stance, it is one of the most worrying because it’s policies represent backwards steps after moves towards equality throughout the 90s.

Heading back to Brighton station it’s clear that we are a very long way from the dire state of affairs painted by David Aaronovitch. But it’s also clear we can’t be complacent.

Does the Green Party need to get better at communicating to voters clearly and succinctly our core values? Yes, of course we do. A party colleague described the Green Party as continuing to perfect a complicated symphony rather than sounding a bugle call loudly and clearly. I think that’s fair comment. The Green Party needs to get as good at talking to environmentally aware, progressive voters in this country as UKIP are at talking to reactionary ones.

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