Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

How does it feel to have been right all along?

Marie Le Conte reports on the state of the planet, the state of the nation and the rise of eco-fascism from the Green Party Spring Conference in Scarborough.

It has been years of wait­ing, shout­ing from the side­lines and cam­paign­ing in rel­a­tive obscu­ri­ty but the sun is final­ly shin­ing on the Greens. Well, it isn’t; it is the Green Party’s Spring Con­fer­ence in Scar­bor­ough and it is rain­ing hard.

Still, par­ty mem­bers are in the main hall lis­ten­ing to their one MP Car­o­line Lucas being right­ful­ly pleased with herself.

The idea of the Green New Deal has its ori­gins in the glob­al finan­cial cri­sis over a decade ago: in ear­ly 2007, there was a small meet­ing of experts in finance, ener­gy and the envi­ron­ment and I was very lucky to be among them,” she told the crowd.

Back then, we knew we didn’t have all of the answers by any means and look­ing at a news­pa­per arti­cle that we wrote at the time, we con­clud­ed our pro­pos­al is the first word, not the last. If you can enhance the Green New Deal’s response, please tell us.”

It took them a while to get back to us but 11 years on, I’m delight­ed that the Green New Deal is now absolute­ly mainstream.”

Green Party Co-Leader and Member of the London Assembly Sian Berry and Green Party Co-Leader Jonathan Bartley deliver their speech during the Green Party Spring conference held at the Scarborough Spa Complex on June 08, 2019 in Scarborough, England. Around 600 Green Party delegates from across the UK attended the conference which comes after recent success in the local elections in May where the party gained nearly 200 new councillors and saw its number of MEP’s rise from three to seven. Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Lat­er that day, at an event to cel­e­brate twen­ty years of the Greens’ pres­ence in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, for­mer MEP Jean Lam­bert said with a wink: It’s been very nice to remind Labour that the Euro­pean Greens actu­al­ly had a man­i­festo in 2009 called Green New Deal – thank you Labour, nice to see you catch­ing up!”

They are right to feel smug. If it start­ed as a fringe move­ment most deemed unre­al­is­tic, the GND – a grand plan to address both cli­mate change and eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty through sweep­ing reforms and mas­sive invest­ment – is now everywhere.

Over the past few months, US pol­i­tics ris­ing star Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez has pre­sent­ed a ver­sion of it to Con­gress, The Guardian has come out in favour of one for the UK, and politi­cians from all par­ties (includ­ing the Con­ser­v­a­tives) have called for a Green New Deal to be passed through Par­lia­ment.

It’s not just that, of course; though it has been hard for any issue to cut-through in Brex­it Land, cli­mate change and the envi­ron­ment have been every­where. There were the cli­mate youth strikes across more than 100 coun­tries; direct action from Extinc­tion Rebel­lion lead­ing to cen­tral Lon­don com­ing to a stand­still for a week; wide­spread media atten­tion for teen activist Gre­ta Thun­berg, Par­lia­ment vot­ing to declare a cli­mate emer­gency, and much more.

So, what does it feel like to be in the par­ty that was right all along? We’ve been been on the right side of his­to­ry on a lot of the big issues,” said Greens co-leader Jonathan Bart­ley, but there’s no polit­i­cal cap­i­tal in being right.”

That doesn’t mean that he’s not enjoy­ing the momen­tum swing­ing in his direc­tion: I did an inter­view for 5Live dur­ing the Euro elec­tions, there were about eight of us from dif­fer­ent par­ties, all talk­ing at the same time, and it was real­ly hard to cut through. We were talk­ing about Brex­it, had a whole bunch of Remain­ers and Brex­i­teers, and it was very hard to have a mean­ing­ful dis­cus­sion. Then I just talked about the cli­mate, and sud­den­ly, every­one was falling over them­selves to talk about the cli­mate, they all piled in.”

This was a bit of a recur­ring theme over the week­end; the Greens have been bang­ing on about the state of the plan­et for decades, peo­ple are sud­den­ly lis­ten­ing, now what?

For some, it is a cause for cel­e­bra­tion: Chan­dler Wil­son is 18, has been a Green mem­ber since they were 13, and is real­ly hap­py that their gen­er­a­tion is wak­ing up to what they’ve cared about for so long.

It’s been great to see so many young peo­ple get­ting out on the streets and show­ing that they won’t take the adults who are in Par­lia­ment destroy­ing our future to make prof­it,” they said. And the state­ment of not going to school because why does it mat­ter if we’re not going to have a plan­et in 25 years’ time?’ has real­ly been a wake up call. It’s shock­ing that it’s tak­en this long but it has giv­en me hope that we’ve got that momen­tum now.”

Char­lie Keller agreed; an 18-year-old as well, they joined the Greens in 2017 and wel­comed this new enthu­si­asm for cli­mate cam­paign­ing: When I was in high school, I wish peo­ple would have been more active in real­is­ing what was hap­pen­ing, and get­ting involved in pol­i­tics, because I was the only per­son that was actu­al­ly doing things, so it’s great that we have this new sense of community.”

That being said, they are wor­ried that peo­ple final­ly talk­ing about cli­mate change is one thing, but them doing some­thing about it is quite anoth­er. I’m con­cerned that the gov­ern­ment aren’t doing enough; declar­ing a cli­mate emer­gency alone isn’t enough. It’s just a statement.”

They were far from alone in this. Hav­ing the wider world final­ly shar­ing your con­cerns can be a bit of a dou­ble-edged sword, it turns out; while all par­ties now say they’re very con­cerned about the future of the envi­ron­ment, few are as rad­i­cal in their pro­posed solu­tions as the Greens.

It might be easy to for­get, but they aren’t a one-issue par­ty. In order to ensure that the plan­et has a future, they argue that our soci­ety must fun­da­men­tal­ly change the way it works, from the mass cre­ation of sus­tain­able green jobs through invest­ment of bil­lions of pounds, to putting and end to eco­nom­ic growth being a country’s main goal, and focus­ing instead on equal­i­ty and well-being. It goes way beyond Michael Gove ban­ning plas­tic straws.

There’s a mas­sive pol­i­cy gap; the gov­ern­ment are woe­ful­ly behind on what needs to be done, they’re behind on their cli­mate change com­mit­ments, and even if they do meet those cli­mate change com­mit­ments, there’s still a 50% chance that we won’t avoid cli­mate cat­a­stro­phe,” Bart­ley said. Is there that real sense of urgency? Not real­ly.”

Magid Magid, the party’s new York­shire and the Hum­ber MEP agreed: we’re just hap­py everyone’s get­ting on board right now, but it should be so much more than just oh, this is quite pop­u­lar at the moment, let’s all get on with it.’ It’s all very good peo­ple say­ing that what we need action, but we need peo­ple to actu­al­ly put some mon­ey behind it and real­ly take it seriously.”

A for­mer Soma­li child refugee, Magid is 29-years-old, the for­mer Lord May­or of Sheffield and rose to promi­nence when he posed for his offi­cial por­trait wear­ing a Don­ald Trump Is A Waste­man” t-shirt. Though the Greens’ con­fer­ence was most­ly pale, male and stale – as all polit­i­cal con­fer­ences tend to be, to be fair to them – Magid is one of a new gen­er­a­tion of cli­mate activists, who look and sound more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the coun­try they’re try­ing to save.

She point­ed specif­i­cal­ly to the wor­ry­ing rise of eco-fas­cism, a move­ment des­tined to turn the threats against our envi­ron­ment into a rea­son to clamp down on immi­gra­tion, shut all bor­ders, and worse.”

Fati­ma Zahra-Ibrahim is anoth­er one. A cam­paign­er for WeMove​.EU and a Mus­lim woman, she appeared on one of the pan­els and dis­cussed her own expe­ri­ence as an envi­ron­men­tal cam­paign­er: I’ve been an activist for a real­ly long time; I’m 26 – I’ve been an activist since I was 15, some 11 years, and through­out that time, I felt the nar­row­ness of the cli­mate movement.”

It’s deep­er than just the fact that usu­al­ly I was in rooms with peo­ple who didn’t look like me, but I wasn’t able to artic­u­late what that was until a cou­ple of months ago when I joined the youth strik­ers in Lon­don. I was sur­prised by what I saw; it was a diverse move­ment, young peo­ple from dif­fer­ent socioe­co­nom­ic back­grounds, dif­fer­ent eth­nic back­grounds, and dif­fer­ent reli­gious back­grounds. And for once I didn’t feel like I stood out.”

This is undoubt­ed­ly pos­i­tive but Zahra-Ibrahim also offered a word of cau­tion: if the peo­ple in that room didn’t offer a com­pelling vision to those peo­ple now wor­ried about the cli­mate emer­gency, oth­ers will.

She point­ed specif­i­cal­ly to the wor­ry­ing rise of eco-fas­cism, a move­ment des­tined to turn the threats against our envi­ron­ment into a rea­son to clamp down on immi­gra­tion, shut all bor­ders, and worse.

This is a con­cern Magid shared as well. If you live in a work­ing-class town and you’ve got so many oth­er issues going on, like pay­ing the bills or what­ev­er, cli­mate change is not at the fore­front of your day to day life,” he said. As a move­ment, we need to get bet­ter at actu­al­ly com­mu­ni­cat­ing. Air pol­lu­tion, for exam­ple – in Sheffield, it con­tributes to 500 ear­ly deaths there, and that can be cars idling out­side schools, all those kind of exam­ples that peo­ple can see day to day, so it’s not this holis­tic issue but some­thing peo­ple can actu­al­ly relate to.”

Still, the mood at the con­fer­ence remained large­ly pos­i­tive. The event orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed to wave good­bye to the Green party’s pres­ence in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment turned into a cel­e­bra­tion of the extra seats they won last month, and there was wide­spread joy about them gain­ing their high­est ever num­ber of coun­cil­lors in the local elections.

Green Party Spring conference held at the Scarborough Spa Complex on June 08, 2019 in Scarborough, England. Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

It is not clear that they will man­age to push their rad­i­cal left-wing vision for Britain onto the coun­try, or that the next step is elec­toral dom­i­nance – they are still a small par­ty – but they are real­is­tic about their chances, and seem com­fort­able with their situation.

I don’t think any­one joins the Green Par­ty for polit­i­cal ambi­tion, they join it because they want to bring about the change,” Bart­ley said at one point, and walk­ing around the Scar­bor­ough Spa made it obvious.

Instead of the eager men in suits look­ing pur­pose­ly busy – which is what you usu­al­ly encounter at par­ty con­fer­ences – this was a gath­er­ing of most­ly old­er peo­ple, wear­ing san­dals (with or with­out socks) and mer­ri­ly going on about their busi­ness, aware that they won’t be a par­ty of pow­er any­time soon.

It isn’t real­ly defeatism; sim­ply that they know their place, and have their own way of mak­ing them­selves relevant. 

In Bartley’s words: Over the last 10 years, UKIP has had these mas­sive opin­ion poll rat­ings, going up to 15, 16%, but actu­al­ly few­er MPs than we’ve had but the oth­er par­ties have gone out to try and win those votes back, so UKIP has shift­ed the whole agen­da of British pol­i­tics in the wrong direc­tion. You’ve seen all the oth­er par­ties com­pro­mise on migra­tion and what­ev­er else it might be, to try and win those votes back.”

Our job right now is to con­tin­ue to do what we do and get that vote share up even fur­ther, so the oth­er par­ties try and get those votes back from us and then hope­ful­ly, we’ll shift things back in the right direc­tion.”

Best of luck to them.

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