Understanding Green Party policy making. Clue: its really democratic…

Many of you may have the vague feeling that the Greens are a ‘good thing’ and might provide an antithesis to the usual suspects but still have no real idea what the policies are that we stand for.

Therefore, I have set myself the task of trying to explain some of these policies in a series of blogs. This will of course also have the added advantage that I will have to brush up on them myself in order to write about them and I have been meaning to do that for some time! I am certainly wary of being asked questions on the doorstep about nooks and crannies of Green Party policy that I have no idea about. Having said that, I am not sure it is always the right thing to have a bite-sized sound-bite available for every circumstance. I think that New Labour ‘on-message at all times’ politics is a real turn-off for the great British (and Southville) public. I will therefore try and course a middle ground; informed but questioning, knowledgeable but not pedantic, clear but not simplistic.

The starting question which I try and deal with in this edition is ‘how do policies get formed and adopted in the Green Party in the first place?’

The main guiding principle is that (being a truly democratic institution and different from the others) we are very keen to be ‘bottom-up’ rather than ‘top-down’. This means that any member can make policy and submit their ideas. If enough people like it, then it will be adopted. Fine words of course but it really is possible for the lowest apparatchik to dream up a policy on say ‘restricting the sale of video games to under 18 year olds’ or ‘banning pizzas from university campuses’ or ‘encouraging councils to adopt a 20 mph speed limit in built up urban areas’ (guess which one of these is a real GP idea which has been stolen by other parties)? Yes they can; all they have to do is get it adopted for the conference agenda, go through a few hoops during the conference (including getting a majority at the conference session to vote for it) and it becomes policy.

So, lets say you have a burning desire to change the Party’s policy on Legal Aid (to have more of it) and Industrial Tribunals (to make them cheaper to use); what do you have to do in practice? I use this example because some members of Bristol Green Party have today (8th March) achieved this very change in national policy!

The first stage was to raise it as an issue in the Bristol Green Party Policy and Ideas Meeting which meets once a month (generally on a Weds evening at 7.00 in the YHA by Pero’s Bridge). This is a very informal meeting where numerous issues are raised and opinions voiced and like-minded people have a cup of tea.

The issue was bought to the meeting by Charley Pattison (who is a barrister) and we had 30 minutes or so of debate following a brief presentation she made. There was some other experience of the issues in the room so various suggestions were made and a draft was sent around by e-mail. This was amended and tweaked until we were happy with it. The key point here is that anyone (with or without specialist knowledge) could contribute and be heard.

In order to make the agenda for the Conference in March 2015, the draft policy had to be submitted by to the conference organisers by November 2014 so you have to think about this well in advance (although there are other ways of getting more urgent or topical decisions made at conference).

However, at the conference there are many more draft policy changes put forward than there is time to debate them all so how do we deal with that? We have something called a prioritisation ballot where members are asked to vote for their ‘pecking order’ of the various draft policies and they are then listed in that priority. This one was fairly popular so we made it to the printed agenda that came out a few weeks before the conference.

Draft policies are then considered by a ‘workshop’ at Conference. This is a structured and guided process whereby interested members at the conference come to chat about the draft and air their initial views. In this case, there was one paragraph that people were concerned about and this caused some debate amongst the 30 odd people there. There was then a ‘straw-poll’; in other words a non-binding show of hands amongst the attendees.

The actual decision-making process only takes place in the plenary sessions at conference; the ones where we can all attend in the main hall. The chair-person announces the policy and it is displayed on a big screen (many people will have read it in their printed books of course prior to coming to conference). The proposer introduces the policy in a concise way from the podium then the Chair asks for the verbal report from the workshop. The workshop representative gives the feedback (including straw-poll result) to the conference but the conference is not bound by that and can choose to ignore the workshop results.

Members are invited to speak for and against the policy in turn until there is general agreement (expressed verbally by the floor) that there has been enough debate and the policy goes to the vote. The policy can be either rejected (in which case it cannot come back for two years), referred back to the relevant committee to be amended or passed. In our case we were very pleased that it was passed and therefore adopted as official policy.

This sounds like a very complex process, and in many ways it is, but it did mean that some ideas discussed in a room in Bristol ended up as official policy of the third largest political party in the country (by number of members). At the same time also ensuring that at every step of the way people were allowed to vote against it, amend it or chuck it out. As Churchill said about democracy; ‘it’s the worst form of Government; except for all the others…’.

Stephen Clarke

8/3/15

 

 

Understanding the Green Party policy making process. A clue: its democratic!

Many of you may have the vague feeling that the Greens are a ‘good thing’ and might provide an antithesis to the usual suspects but still have no real idea what the policies are that we stand for.

Therefore, I have set myself the task of trying to explain some of these policies in a series of blogs. This will of course also have the added advantage that I will have to brush up on them myself in order to write about them and I have been meaning to do that for some time! I am certainly wary of being asked questions on the doorstep about nooks and crannies of Green Party policy that I have no idea about. Having said that, I am not sure it is always the right thing to have a bite-sized sound-bite available for every circumstance. I think that New Labour ‘on-message at all times’ politics is a real turn-off for the great British (and Southville) public. I will therefore try and course a middle ground; informed but questioning, knowledgeable but not pedantic, clear but not simplistic.

The starting question which I try and deal with in this edition is ‘how do policies get formed and adopted in the Green Party in the first place?’

The main guiding principle is that (being a truly democratic institution and different from the others) we are very keen to be ‘bottom-up’ rather than ‘top-down’. This means that any member can make policy and submit their ideas. If enough people like it, then it will be adopted. Fine words of course but it really is possible for the lowest apparatchik to dream up a policy on say ‘restricting the sale of video games to under 18 year olds’ or ‘banning pizzas from university campuses’ or ‘encouraging councils to adopt a 20 mph speed limit in built up urban areas’ (guess which one of these is a real GP idea which has been stolen by other parties)? Yes they can; all they have to do is get it adopted for the conference agenda, go through a few hoops during the conference (including getting a majority at the conference session to vote for it) and it becomes policy.

So, lets say you have a burning desire to change the Party’s policy on Legal Aid (to have more of it) and Industrial Tribunals (to make them cheaper to use); what do you have to do in practice? I use this example because some members of Bristol Green Party have today (8th March) achieved this very change in national policy!

The first stage was to raise it as an issue in the Bristol Green Party Policy and Ideas Meeting which meets once a month (generally on a Weds evening at 7.00 in the YHA by Pero’s Bridge). This is a very informal meeting where numerous issues are raised and opinions voiced and like-minded people have a cup of tea.

The issue was bought to the meeting by Charley Pattison (who is a barrister) and we had 30 minutes or so of debate following a brief presentation she made. There was some other experience of the issues in the room so various suggestions were made and a draft was sent around by e-mail. This was amended and tweaked until we were happy with it. The key point here is that anyone (with or without specialist knowledge) could contribute and be heard.

In order to make the agenda for the Conference in March 2015, the draft policy had to be submitted by to the conference organisers by November 2014 so you have to think about this well in advance (although there are other ways of getting more urgent or topical decisions made at conference).

However, at the conference there are many more draft policy changes put forward than there is time to debate them all so how do we deal with that? We have something called a prioritisation ballot where members are asked to vote for their ‘pecking order’ of the various draft policies and they are then listed in that priority. This one was fairly popular so we made it to the printed agenda that came out a few weeks before the conference.

Draft policies are then considered by a ‘workshop’ at Conference. This is a structured and guided process whereby interested members at the conference come to chat about the draft and air their initial views. In this case, there was one paragraph that people were concerned about and this caused some debate amongst the 30 odd people there. There was then a ‘straw-poll’; in other words a non-binding show of hands amongst the attendees.

The actual decision-making process only takes place in the plenary sessions at conference; the ones where we can all attend in the main hall. The chair-person announces the policy and it is displayed on a big screen (many people will have read it in their printed books of course prior to coming to conference). The proposer introduces the policy in a concise way from the podium then the Chair asks for the verbal report from the workshop. The workshop representative gives the feedback (including straw-poll result) to the conference but the conference is not bound by that and can choose to ignore the workshop results.

Members are invited to speak for and against the policy in turn until there is general agreement (expressed verbally by the floor) that there has been enough debate and the policy goes to the vote. The policy can be either rejected (in which case it cannot come back for two years), referred back to the relevant committee to be amended or passed. In our case we were very pleased that it was passed and therefore adopted as official policy.

This sounds like a very complex process, and in many ways it is, but it did mean that some ideas discussed in a room in Bristol ended up as official policy of the third largest political party in the country (by number of members). At the same time also ensuring that at every step of the way people were allowed to vote against it, amend it or chuck it out. As Churchill said about democracy; ‘it’s the worst form of Government; except for all the others…’.

Stephen Clarke

8/3/15

 

 

The simple joys of cycle paths…

When the canal entrepreneurs built their monuments to horizontality to open up the countryside to industry and commerce, their plans were quickly wrecked when the railways arrived. Why tow your goods by horse in a barge when you could put them on a train?

The canals fell into disuse in many parts of the country and it was only dedicated volunteers (heroes in anoraks in my opinion) who kept the physical manifestation of all that work alive; they cleared out bramble weed and shopping trolleys from the canals, they met and exchanged oral history and they built canalboats to traditional designs. The infrastructure was there and finally in the 1980s the use arrived: leisure for local residents, natural bio-diversity corridors and specialist holidays for families and others.

The same sort of process happened a bit later with the railways. The Victorians built them everywhere, Beecham closed many of them down in the 60s but now they are becoming a vital resource for local communities up and down the country again.

Bristol was an early leader in this field with the Bristol to Bath Cyclepath. Big love to Sustrans and its predecessor Saddlebag- hats off to John Grimshaw, George Ferguson (yes-he was involved) and the other leading lights.

I thought about all this as I was peddling merrily along the Tarka Trail last weekend. 40 odd miles of off-road paradise on the North Devon coast near Barnstaple; a heaven for cyclists, hard-core twitchers and kids on tricycles. A great asset and a true pleasure!

This is what it looks like from the track…

IMG_2047

Madness at Ashton Gate!

Ashton Park and Ride and Ashton Gate stadium traffic.

These are my views on the ridiculous fact that the Ashton Park and Ride is often closed when football and rugby matches are taking place. For example, this happened at the recent high profile match with West Ham when the Park and Ride (with 1500 empty parking spaces) was closed at the same time as hundreds of cars were cruising around Southville and Ashton looking for parking spaces. The entrance looked like this. Mad!

closed gates

The context to this is that:

  • Currently the capacity of Ashton Gate is around 13,000 because of the current building works and many games are sold out.
  • A refurbished Aston Gate will have a planned maximum capacity of 27,000 when it is completed in 2016/17 i.e. nearly twice the current capacity and so potentially twice as many cars.
  • Bristol Rugby have been playing at Ashton Gate since the start of this season which has greatly increased the number of days where extra traffic has needed to park in the area.
  • Both the football and rugby teams have a good chance of promotion to the Championship and Premiership respectively which would lead to significantly more sold-out matches.
  • There is a serious problem for residents in the area during match-days. Residents right through Southville and Ashton feel ‘under siege’ at these periods.
  • The proposed hours of the RPS in Southville will not help the situation, as it does not apply during any of the match times for either the rugby or the football (despite representations made by local residents).
  • The timing of the home games for the rugby and football this season has been:
    • 14 Saturday afternoons (generally 15.00)
    • 13 Sunday afternoons
    • 8 Tuesday evenings (generally 19.45)
    • 7 Friday evenings
    • 1 Wednesday evening
    • 1 Friday evening
    • 1 Thursday daytime (New years Day)
  • The Park and Ride has a capacity of 1,500 cars and currently opens from 06.15 until about 21.00 Monday to Friday and 07.30 until about 19.00 on Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays.
  • This means that it is effectively not available for 30 out of the 45 home matches (partly because it closes too early to be useful for the evening matches).
  • It is also completely closed for the 13 Sunday matches.
  • Passenger usage is showing a small decline. The latest full year figures show a reduction in usage of 1.35% from 2012/13 to 2013/14 which suggests that there is spare capacity at the site.
  • The Park and Ride receive a public subsidy from City Council funds and therefore should be responsive to public needs.

My suggestions are that:

  1. The Park and Ride hours be extended to 22.00 on the date of evening kick-offs.
  2. Match day traffic be allowed to park there for a fixed fee.
    1. They would not need to use the bus service from the park and ride as it is a short walk to the ground.
    2. I recognise that this could be a problem on Saturday afternoons because of capacity issues but on other occasions my visual inspection suggests there would be spare capacity.
  3. The Park and Ride should be opened for Sunday matches from say midday, and drivers be allowed to park there for a fixed fee.

The advantages of this proposal are that it helps the local residents, it generates extra money from the Park and Ride and it starts to address the huge extra parking issues which will happen when the stadium redevelopment is complete.

I also really support the efforts to get Ashton Gate station open which seems a complete no-brainer to me.

Stephen Clarke.

Green Party Candidate for Southville in May’s local election. 29/1/15

stephen.clarke@bristolgreenparty.org.uk www.votegreeninsouthville.com

@southvillesteve

www.facebook.com/steveclarkesouthville

 

 

My manifesto for Southville

 tobacco2

Steve Clarke (Green Party candidate for Southville) personal manifesto

This document is intended to tell something about who I am, what I believe in and what I will do when I am Green Party councillor for Southville.

Who I am.

I am Bristol born and bred, married with two daughters and live in Hamilton Rd Southville, which I love because it is such a strong and vibrant community. I used to be a commercial lawyer so I really understand the drivers for the business world but I shudder at the economic and social inequality I see in Bristol.

 I decided that the best way for me personally to help limit our negative impact on the planet was to try and directly influence behaviour change in my own community.

Subsequently, I co-founded the Bristol Pound to take advantage of the ‘local multiplier’, shorten supply chains and encourage people to ‘shop local’. It has been a huge success and we supporting 25 other areas to launch similar schemes. I remain Financial Director. I am also a director of Big Green Week and have had significant roles in the Happy City Initiative, Caring at Christmas and various other social projects including an education project in Nepal which I launched.

What I believe in.

Bristol can be a prosperous city without destroying the planet and Southville can lead the way.

  • There is a real opportunity for Bristol to lead the way in creating thousands of green sustainable jobs by incubating green technologies, retro-fitting carbon saving measures and making the city a wonderful place for ‘clean’ industries to come and thrive.
  • Bristol’s high streets (including our own excellent North Street) can become even more diverse, independent and downright quirky. The Bristol Pound and other initiatives can help this, but local independent businesses have to be encouraged and nurtured by the council.
  • Bristol has amazing resources in terms of libraries, swimming pools and other local facilities (including our own Bedminster library and Bristol South swimming pool) and these should be nurtured and invested in rather then there being talk of reduced level of services and other cuts.
  • Employers in a thriving city like Bristol should be paying the Living Wage as the default position. My own organisation (Bristol Pound) is a Living Wage Accredited company and others should follow. Bristol City Council should only deal with suppliers who pay the Living Wage.
  • Bristol has got huge disparities in income levels and other social indicators within its boundaries; a real ‘tale of two cities’. However, studies from around the world show again and again that more equality means more prosperity for all and increased social cohesion.
  • Bristol should be the social enterprise capital of the UK. Social enterprises and other alternative forms of business organisation such as Co-ops, are basically normal businesses but with ‘added heart’; they consider people and the planet as well as profit. The council should use the many empty office spaces to help these businesses start up and thrive; especially in the more disadvantaged areas of the city where a new business means paid jobs, less dependency on benefits and real pride in local achievements.
  • We should make sure that all companies which benefit from the people and facilities of our city make their contribution; stop the tax evaders! I support publicly naming them so Bristolians can make their disgust known by boycotts and other peaceful actions.

Bristolians should be able to travel by public transport that is frequent, affordable, integrated and reliable.

  • With the current congestion on the roads; train is best. I want Ashton Gate station (on the Portishead line) to be re-opened. This could serve the revamped football stadium as well as the local community. I also want more stopping trains to Parson St and Bedminster.
  • There should be a direct bus between Southville and Temple Meads (as the Greens have been saying for some time).
  • There needs to be more discussion with the local community about the impact of the new stadium on parking in the area. This will have a huge impact on the communities in Southville on match days but there has been little discussion about what to do about it.
  • I support the re-nationalisation of the rail franchises as the contracts come to an end as this will bring them back into public ownership and cost very little. Lets take ownership back where it belongs, get real investment that we can all benefit from (rather than just the shareholders) and make a system fit for the 21st century rather than the 19th.
  • I want the real costs of Metrobus/BRT to be reassessed and made public so that a rational decision on its future can be made. At the moment all we are hearing about is massive unspecified over-spends which mean that huge amounts of money will be diverted from other budgets. There will also be enormous adverse side effects from the current plans including the impact on cycle and pedestrian access caused by new layouts.
  • I want cycling to be promoted and encouraged with new improvements in BS3 including safe cycling in East St. However, I want the views of walkers to be taken seriously as well. I have been commuting by bicycle for 25 years and understand how much improvement there has been in that time, but I recognise that real anger can be caused by a minority of thoughtless cyclists. The rules of the road (and the pavements) should be upheld.
  • The work that Greater Bedminster Community Partnership are doing on safe walking and new greenways should be properly supported and funded.
  • I support the 20mph limit in Southville and Community Speed Watch.

Bristolians deserve decent, green and affordable homes.

  • Bristol is a rich city and should be building more affordable homes. It is a disgrace to the city how few are built at the moment and this has led to many other knock-on social and financial problems.
  • When they are built they should be on brownfield sites (including infill) rather than greenfield ones outside the current city boundaries. This would have the added benefit of allowing more people to walk and cycle to work.
  • Bristol should be taking the opportunity of its year as European Green Capital to undertake a massive retro-fit programme of ‘house-greening’ measures. More jobs, lower bills, warmer houses, less carbon; what’s not to like!

Bristol Children need good schools as a right.

  • When I grew up in Bristol the standard of education offered in the state system was a disgrace. It is improving but still needs massive investment.
  • Class sizes are still too large; as we have become richer as a country the numbers in classes seems to have got bigger. The average numbers for primary schools is 25 and we have the 5th highest average class sizes (out of 33) in the developed world.
  • Parents need more say in the way their children’s schools are run and need to be encouraged by all means possible to become more involved.
  • I have personal experience of special needs provisions in Bristol’s schools and they are still under-resourced.
  • Schools are a community resource and should open to community and leisure uses wherever possible.
  • The loss of part-time nursery classes in local schools is a real loss to working families and I support the development of new facilities in Southville to help with childcare.

With the potential provided by the European Green Capital year, Bristol has a historic opportunity to show the UK what a sustainable urban area might look like. This means real, satisfying and sustainable jobs in renewable energy; it means a city with a sense of pride and it means a new form of democracy where the trust is rebuilt between the citizens and the electorate. The Greens are the party that can provide the leadership and representation that will take us there. Vote for us in May 2015!

 

 

Stephen Clarke

21/11/14

 

stephen.clarke@bristolgreenparty.org.uk

 

Greens choose Southville Candidate

Steve Clarke has been chosen to be the Green Party Candidate for Southville ward at
next year’s local elections.

Mr Clarke said

“I am very excited by the prospect of representing the local interests of
the fantastic communities of Southville and parts of Ashton in the Council. In this
time of political uncertainty the Green Party have a unique opportunity to make
Bristol a really sustainable and prosperous city to make our children proud.”

Steve, who lives in Hamilton Road, Southville, was born in Bristol, is a Bristol City
supporter, one of the founders of the Bristol Pound and a Director of BIG Green
Week. He was a partner of Clarke Willmott Solicitors. Through his work at the
Bristol Pound he has campaigned to help local independent businesses to preserve the
independence and vigour of our high streets while creating local jobs.

He added

“I am really looking forward to listening to the people of Southville and
understanding what issues matter the most to them. I would be very proud to represent
them.”

The Greens have been campaigning for many years in Southville to support the local high street, improve the local environment and parks and to promote sustainable forms of transport for the area. In the last election, Charlie Bolton replaced Tess Green, winning the seat by 380 votes from Labour.