18 July 2009

At the Green Special Conference

Well the ballots have closed and it'll be at least thirty minutes before the results are known. I figure that now the substantive issues have been dealt with I can take a moment and post some of my initial thoughts.

Today's special Green conference has definitely been a game of two halves, the majority of the day devoted to a recap from the parliamentary party over their successes in government so far and the corresponding feedback from the members as to their failures particularly in light of the recent election results. The later afternoon has been focused on the Lisbon II Treaty, and although there is a very vocal minority in the party that is still anti-Lisbon it is clear that the numbers have decreased since the last time the subject was addressed.

The overall mood of the conference can best be described as tense, but realistic. While recognizing the many successes in core Green areas, particularly in John Gormley's Environment portfolio, the members are unhappy about the lack of concessions wrung from Fianna Fail in areas outside these portfolios, and upset over all that the party has sacrificed on areas of Social Justice and Education with little else to show publicly for these sacrifices. There was a sense that while the ministers are accomplishing great things behind the scenes, these successes will do little to benefit the party at the ballot box and thus the Party needs to stay in Government long enough to chalk up a few visible big wins.

Minister Gormley started the conference by addressing the recent election disaster, expressing his feelings as ones of sadness and bitterness akin to being dumped by a significant other. Local Councilors lost seats because the election was fought as a referendum on government. The Greens lost because they are in government, because they are in government with Fianna Fail, and because they are in government in a recession and as such it was virtually impossible for local, EU and by-election candidates to be successful. People didn't buy into Green successes in Government, the only thing that captured the imagination of the public was getting rid of electronic voting because this act was easy to understand and people felt "good on ye, ye did something against Fianna Fail", and according to exit polls, Green supporters are the most anti-Fianna Fail of all.

He had critical words for those within the party who were quick to castigate the parliamentary members for perceived movement away from issues like the Tara bypass, Shell to Sea and Rendition flights, arguing that progress had been made in these areas. As one of these vocal critics I felt suitably chastised, but couldn't help but feel greater discomfort at the presence of Corrib support groups and Tara campaigners protesting outside the meeting, both local activist groups that had been partners of the Green party in the not too distant past and contributed to local election successes. How far has the party strayed that these groups now view it as the enemy?

He highlighted the need to embark on a new program to reinvigorate the party and called for genuinely transformational politics. Somewhat wistfully he said that in a way today was an 'Existential conference', saying "we can't go on as is" and the party needs to figure out who it is, and what it believes in. For Gormley this leads to the Green paradox of power, namely that you loose your power if you are not prepared to walk away from power. Quoting the Norwegian movement of the same name, he finished on the phrase "the future in our hands", that the future of the Party itself is in the hands of its membership, it is for them to decide what is the bottom line for the Party to walk away from power.

This theme of 'The Red Line', what exactly is the line in the sand that once crossed will cause the Greens to leave government, came up again and again throughout the day, though without any suggestions as to what that line actually is. The Party will meet again when the revised Program for Government has been negotiated, and will discuss and vote on it, but as of yet no indication of a time-line has been given for this. Four separate workshops and two heated Q&A sessions with the Parliamentary members contributed substantial feedback on issues the membership wants to see addressed in the revised Program, but again the bottom line was one of realism, to pull out of government now would be a disaster.

Realism however doesn't necessarily equate to civility and this afternoon's motions on Lisbon were debated with passion and at times quite bad humour. Despite recent high profile defections the rank and file members still harbour quite diverse opinions, and all are convinced that their path is the route to salvation for the Party. However grand the exercise of debating the motions was though, I doubt that anyone came to the meeting with an open mind. My own mind was made up the day a second referendum was announced, and judging by the conversations around the hall I am not alone, though I am decidedly in the minority over the side of the fence I am sitting on.

And on that note the results have just been announced. 323 people voted, 2 spoiled votes, 214 voted yes, 107 no, so the vote was carried by exactly the necessary 2/3 majority. The Green Party will now actively campaign for a Yes vote in the referendum. They say history is written by those who turn up. Today's result is proof of that, one single vote would have changed everything.

What this means for me, I'm not sure, I will need to digest it over the next few days. Even if the result has not gone the way I would have liked, today has been democracy at its best, passionate, vibrant and little bit anally-retentive, and I love it.

Photos of the Convention and the protests outside



At 10:13 pm, Blogger ryano said...

"He had critical words for those within the party who were quick to castigate the parliamentary members for perceived movement away from issues like the Tara bypass, Shell to Sea and Rendition flights, arguing that progress had been made in these areas"

I didn't take it that that criticism was aimed at people within the party. He said he thought we should be less timid in taking on some of our critics, and I know he was probably thinking in particular of TaraWatch, who are currently running a campaign against him based largely on outrageous misinformation about his proposal to nominate Tara as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

At 11:07 pm, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

Fair point, wasn't aware if that campaign. I think it was my own guilty conscience going in to overtime there.


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