The Future of Green Politics
'The Future of Green Politics' was the title for the first Green House conference, held on 13th October. About 120 people were there, and judging from the buzz in the coffee and lunch breaks, and the comments on the feedback sheets, it was generally felt to be extremely successful and even exciting!
The first session was about what green politics (or 'ecologism') can and can't learn from the long-established traditions of conservatism and socialism. For the conservatives, Roger Scruton spoke about the importance of conserving not only natural resources but also social capital, and about the conservative sense of the importance of continuity through time and solidarity (well he didn't actually say 'solidarity') between generations, past, present, and future - a point expressed in classic form by Edmund Burke in his key conservative text criticising the French Revolution. Conservation and conservatism belong together.
Michael Jacobs, for the socialist side of the argument, pointed out that there are few more anti-conservative forces than capitalism, which constantly produces change and appropriates for its use whatever it can turn into economic resources. Here the classic quote is Marx's "all that is solid melts into air." Ecology and equity belong together - and, whilst long-term continuity through time is important, we also need a sense of urgency, above all on climate change. The climate issue is now about getting most oil reserves kept in the ground. The outcome depends on state action, and can't wait until greens have established some utopia.
There were many other contributions to the debate, including from Andy Dobson and Caroline Lucas, and overall a sense that there was enough being packed into the discussion to have potentially lasted for the whole day. But before very long, we were in workshops debating the future of NGOs, eco-socialism, eco-feminism, direct action, trade unions, community action and transition towns, and spirituality. And that was just the morning!
The workshop report back
'Where do we go from here?' in the afternoon led to no definite conclusions, but there were very many suggestions. A major theme was whether greens need to be part of broad-based alliances, and if so, whether that has to involve compromises - and if it does, what compromises we are and aren't willing to make. Or perhaps we can twin-track continued green radicalism with some pragmatic alliance-building at the same time, maybe in collaboration with the NGOs.
The final session was on Green Parties. Sara Parkin gave a heartfelt plea for Greens to fully prepare for the opportunities which are coming our way. Jean Lambert pointed out that the June 2014 European Parliament elections should be such an opportunity, with proportional representation giving the Green Party a real chance to make gains. Neil Carter and Andy Pearmain presented evidence which in their view showed that the Green Party would be making a mistake if it positions itself clearly to the left of Labour, a view hotly disputed by some of the audience.
Overall a good time was had by all - but the questions still remain: 'where do we go from here?, 'what is the future of green politics'? All this will take more than a one-day conference to sort out, but very few days make as big a contribution as this one.