The Politics of Imagination: Green Party Empowered by Conference Speech

Why This Speech Now

I was especially looking forward to Green Party Autumn 2014 conference at Aston university, 5-8 September. This was the party’s opportunity to hear from the newly elected Deputy Leaders, Amelia Womack and myself. We had been voted in just a week before that and an official announcement had been made. The morning of Saturday 6 Sept was our slot.

No hard feelings. Former Deputy Will Duckworth handing over the baton to Shahrar Ali, who narrowly beat him as male Deputy

No hard feelings. Former Deputy Will Duckworth handing over the baton to Shahrar Ali, who narrowly beat him as male Deputy. Photo: Vicky Duckworth

I was determined to talk about lack of ethnic diversity in the party and how we might collectively improve that. I knew that many had voted for me both as a means to visibly address that in some small way and to delegate me to steer progress on this front. There were electoral reasons why failure to do so would continue to damage our credibilty, but moreover, other reasons to be especially keen to reach out to migrant communities – our policies were practically written for them. All this needed to be explained in a short address. At the same time, I wanted to be able to identify and get my audience to grasp why I perceived this to be a collective enterprise, and essentially so. I knew we could not rely on ethnic faces in the party alone to jump start this initiative — if only because of their smallness in number, and the self-prophesying difficulty of getting them to grow as a result — but had long been convinced that nor should we rely on ethnic faces alone.

Deputy Leader Shahrar Ali addresses Green Party, 6 Sept

Deputy Leader Shahrar Ali addresses Green Party, 6 Sept. Photo: Vicky Duckworth

The contrary view represented a misunderstanding about the nature of discrimination and where responsibility lay for tackling it. Anti-discrimination was everybody’s business, whether they were personally affected by it, witting or unwitting perpetrators of it, or witnesses. Nobody could afford to be a bystander. The key to my speech was to generalise the judgment about racial discrimination and our co-responsibility for tackling it, to other forms of discrimination – whether gender, age, disability, sexuality, or neglect for future generations, nonhuman animals and the biosphere. I also knew that what it meant to be Green was essentially humanistic in inspiration — whether in the defence of human rights or simply in the determination to help those in need or to support victims of injustice and address the causes. These claims and aspirations were universal. At a fantastically well-attended Green party conference, I managed to get delegates to appreciate that. I think most of them must have known it already (think Plato), but they needed to hear it articulated and affirmed. Call it a timely provocation (which could not have been pulled off at UKIP convention).

Green Party Autumn 2014 conference felt empowered by The Politics of Imagination

Green Party conference empowered by The Politics of Imagination. Photo: Vicky Duckworth (click to enlarge)

In a speech which began by acknowledging the messages of support and good will I’d received from members on hearing of my election, I ended up after the speech even more overwhelmed with people wanting to congratulate and talk to me. A real chord had been struck  – members had long known about the ethnic diversity problem that I spoke about, but it was as though it had remained a belief, without the requisite emotional buy-in necessary to motivate change. I also wanted people to have the confidence to carry this agenda forward, as Greens. There was a real debate to be had, I felt, in wider society, too, about the politics of representation. On the one hand, the people most affected by a particular characteristic were often uniquely placed to relate the negative impact it had on their lives, but this did not mean, often for systemic institutional reasons, that they were best placed to tackle it. On the other hand, witnesses equally disturbed by the ubiquity of prejudice could feel as though the victimised group’s permission was required before they could take up the cause. To the contrary, the two were not mutually exclusive, but mutually supportive! What is the politics of imagination, if not the ability to adopt a point of view as one’s own, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and to get others to recognise their obligations through politics and social change?

Watch: The Politics of Imagination

I find it deeply Green for our elected to lead on the anti-discrimination front, especially when they may not be directly affected by it themselves – whether Peter Cranie fighting the BNP in the north-west region, Jean Lambert MEP attacking Islamophobia before a predominately Muslim audience, Caroline Lucas MP fighting for the freedom of Palestinians, or Jenny Jones AM attacking the Met for their latest stop-and-search figures. This is what solidarity is all about. I think the electorate applaud this. However, there is something about the promotion of these causes which greater ethnic diversity within would facilitate. Perhaps there is an intransigence amongst some in the affected communities to take us as seriously, simply because they do not immediately recognise us as able to represent them – for sure, a potential failure of imagination. At the same time, our collective experience, imagination, and voice as a party is surely enriched by increased diversity. It would simply give us more means of charting political identification, whether real, perceived or actually better.

On-line Reactions

Write-up by Dan Holden in Shifting Grounds: The Greens Pursue “The Politics of Imagination”.
Article by Bradley Allsop in Huffington Post The British left just came Roaring Back to Life
Highlights of reaction to the speech on Twitter
Full text of speech at Green Party.

“Maiden” Radio Interview

The following morning I went along to BBC WM for an interview with Michelle Dawes on the state of the conference. I was accompanied by a Young Green member of the 30 under 30s group, whom I had agreed to mentor. We had a nice, relaxing chat about the conference and he even helped me liaise with the producer to find the offices (my calling credit had expired). I was very pleased with how the interview went and got a chance to advertise the theme of my maiden speech at the outset. Here’s a copy of the broadcast, followed by a precis of the main points I made:

BBC WM Sunday morning breakfast show, 7 Sept

BBC WM Sunday morning breakfast show, 7 Sept

  • Improving our ethnic representation within the party so we can better serve society. Groundswell of opinion that we need to move forward on that faster.
  • We need to have people within the party that everybody can connect with. Within our party there’s always been that great sense of urgency that we represent everybody.
  • Social justice, make sure people have enough to feed their families and a decent wage.
  • We are part of the protest movement but much more than that, too.
  • Amelia Womack also Deptuty Leader – two for the price of one!
  • People recognise that something’s got to change, sustainable green jobs and clean energy.
  • Across the generations people recognise that we can’t go on in this way. They want a party that means what they say and have been saying so consistently.
  • We need to cost things according to the cost to the planet and rich need to pay back to taxpayers so they can afford basic things.
  • Broad brush policies – education free for all, affordable housing for key workers, national health service.
  • Things that Labour party used to talk about but still on the agenda in voters minds.
  • We need you to vote for us so we can help you.

Dialogue among Members and Some Action Points

Back at conference, I had organised an impromptu fringe for the Sunday afternoon entitled, “Ethnic Diversity and Outreach”. This was in response to the volume of interest in the central topic of my speech and I felt it was vitally important for us to be able to tap into this zeal and  newfound energy. I was assisted in the advertising and chairing of the meeting by a member of the Equality and Diversity committee, Manishta Sunnia. The meeting was well attended by a very varied cross-section of the membership, either in terms of gender, ethnicity or age. We went round the group as inclusively as time would permit — allowing everybody the opportunity to say what drew them to the meeting and what they wanted us to achieve, with a number of dialogues entered into if not completed. When the meeting was finished it was difficult to get people to leave the room and separate conversations continued. Notes of the meeting were taken by Shan Oakes, Equality and Diversity Coordinator. We undertook to progress this work electronically, where feasible, but to organise a follow-up meeting at the next conference, with a healthy preference for face-to-face meetings.

A few areas that I am particularly keen to progress are as follows. They may seem relatively small or simple to acheive, but then all the better to pursue the easy wins first. Certainly they would amount to non-trivial first steps, that could get us to set some institutional markers about our seriousness to tackle the problem of ethnic under-representation across the Party:

  1. Publications – let’s try to increase visible diversity in our own produced materials. I’ve many a time encountered campaign or election materials without any evidence of awareness that our faces are lacking diversity. This should be simple to fix, when using photo libraries to illustrate articles, but we should also be on the lookout for members in the party who can feature in group photos, etc, to redress major imbalances.
  2. Staffing – the lack of diversity seems to be apparent not just amongst the membership but amongst paid staff (with no disrespect meant to anybody). Equal opportunities policies in recruitment can be notoriously weak in redressing these imbalances (generally, for good legal reason), but we can still endeavour to encourage more applications from particular groupings, using the standard nomenclature, or by reviewing our membership on interview panels.
  3. Data collection – I’ve been heartened by the number of members identifying as ethnic or visibly ethnic who have come forward to introduce themselves to me. It as though they have an additional interest in furthering this agenda and they have taken extra pride in seeing some small representation in the leadership team. Can we not find a way to capture ethnic data on new or pre-existing members and candidates, wholly voluntary of course, through questionnaires or joining forms to enable us to better assess the scale of the underrepresentation and to monitor it over the coming years?
  4. Outreach – let’s look for more opportunities – a theme touched upon in the closing of my speech – to engage with migrant communities. Often these encounters will be social – such as attendance at religious events – not overtly party political or even political, but constitute an invaluable means of relationship building. Even before we get on to gauging how we can best serve a community or see how or policies may be tailor-made for them, we need to listen. I’ve been receiving invitations from local parties already to try to help them to make these inroads.  A particularly imaginative proposal comes from Green Seniors, who have asked me to facilitate their visit to a mosque.

As I left conference, I encountered an Asian cab driver (okay, I needed a cab) and was quite struck by his first, spontaneous comment to me when told of my position in the party: “I expected the Deputy Leader of a party to be white.” I tried to involve him in an interview since he had a very thoughtful analysis of it all, but he was too shy. Still the encounter had an element of synchronicity about it and I like to think that everything happens for a reason.

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Posted in Climate Change, Democratic Politics, Elections, Society

The Politics of Imagination: Some Twitter Reaction

To accompany full article, The Politics of Imagination: Green Party Empowered by Conference Speech

An activist imagining what the Deputy Leader result could mean for Green politics:

Benali reacting to the speech:

My closing line:

Ironically, I had to speak against this motion the following day and I think it went the right way.

My appearance on radio the following morning:

Part of a social media campaign to get Deputy Leader speeches broadcast by BBC Parliament:

Very nice precis of that part of the speech:

Thanks, Patrick, it’s the message!

Sadly, a failure of imagination of a party politically motivated sort:

Others weighed in on my behalf, but this is the answer that appeared to silence the rot:

Further excitement once video recording released on Greenpartyew:

Probably one of the most oft quoted slogans from that speech:

Slogan reappropriated!

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Posted in Democratic Politics

West Hendon Estate Direct Action: First Small Victory

On Saturday 13 September, residents came out in force to assert their claim to be able to live in a peaceful, clean neighbourhood, without the noise and pollution impact of construction work on their doorstep. The neighbourhood was West Hendon estate on the bank of the Welsh Harp nature reserve. The contractor was Barratts Homes, determined to extend its real estate with prior permission of Barnet Council andwith all the nods and winks that came before that.

First victory for Our West Hendon

First victory for Our West Hendon

Brent and Barnet Greens have been active on the campaign to preserve the habitat of Welsh Harp for several years, against the threat from overdevelopment on both sides of the council boundary and were visible at this protest. Discussion of the impact of this latest development on current tenants in social housing came to the fore last summer at a public meeting hosted at Brent Council (Brent Unites against Welsh Harp overdevelopment). Unfortunately, despite the approval from Barnet, Brent did not mount a judicial review and it was unlikely residents would be able to afford to do so.

I arrived bright and early as residents were still amassing and got talking to Glynis Walker about the impact of the construction work on her mother’s life and health (both pictured below). I decided to turn it into a short interview. Please listen now:

I lent my megaphone to another resident who was driven around the estate to drum up a bit more people power. We began obstructing the main gate to the construction site, as dozens of contractors started to arrive. Our spirits were up as we sang, “Aint gonna do no work today”.  A couple of vehicles were mounted up against the hoarding at the critical entrance and banners and placards were mounted around.

Site managers came to speak to us and we entered into a conversation about the impact of their construction on the neighbours and the prospect of worse to come with the demolition of a tower block on the opposite side of the street, with residents still living a stone’s throw away. We conveyed our mission not to allow construction trucks into the site and the managers were turned back. Minutes later we were joined by police asking who was in charge. They entered into a diffuse conversation with our flat heirarchy, followed by a visit to the site office. They returned to announce that they “would allow” our presence there so long as we did not impede emergency vehicles.

Minutes later, came the highlight of the action – a concrete truck performed a U-turn mid-way up the road. The small crowd was jubillant and time to take a group picture.

Further actions are planned – please follow on facebook or @ourwesthendon #ourwesthendon

Notice of Action

Notice of Action

Contractors entering site

Contractors entering site

Construction site

Construction site

"Homes before Profit"

“Homes before Profit”

Concrete truck does U-turn

Concrete truck does U-turn

Placard: "250 Families West Hendon Estate Served Eviction Some Tenancies over 9 Yrs"

Placard: “250 Families West Hendon Estate Served Eviction Some Tenancies over 9 Yrs”

Glynis Walker and Adelaide Adams

Glynis Walker and Adelaide Adams

Another development along Broadway

Another development along Broadway

Barratts apologises

Barratts apologises

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Posted in Democratic Politics, Natural World

National Demonstration in Pictures: Stop the Massacre in Gaza 26 July 2014

Nelson Mandela Statue holding Baby Bodysuit: "Born in Gaza Killed in Gaza"

Nelson Mandela Statue holding Baby Bodysuit: “Born in Gaza Killed in Gaza”

Rally outside Israeli Embassy at start of march

Rally outside Israeli Embassy at start of march

Speeches outside Israeli Embassy

Speeches outside Israeli Embassy

T-shirt: Terror is the Checkpoint on my way to school ...

T-shirt: Terror is the Checkpoint on my way to school …

March passes Hyde Park

March passes Hyde Park

Men praying as march follows in background

Men praying as march follows in background

Placard: Gaza bleeding Crime against Humanity

Placard: Gaza bleeding Crime against Humanity

Dog wearing Palestine colours

Dog wearing Palestine colours

March up Piccadilly

March up Piccadilly

Stop the Killing placard and construction in background, Piccadilly

Stop the Killing placard and construction in background, Piccadilly

Slogan: Stand for what is Right ..

Slogan: Stand for what is Right ..

Banner: Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Banner: Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Banner: Repair the World Keep Hope Alive

Banner: Repair the World Keep Hope Alive

Banner: UK Arms Sales to Israel, Downing Street

Banner: UK Arms Sales to Israel, Downing Street

Banner: Hammers Against Apartheid

Banner: Hammers Against Apartheid

Banner: International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network

Banner: International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network

Huge Flag at Parliament Square

Huge Flag at Parliament Square

Man holding Cartoon Depicting Gaza Onslaught

Man holding Cartoon Depicting Gaza Onslaught

Banner: The Movement for the Abolition of War

Banner: The Movement for the Abolition of War

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Posted in Democratic Politics, International

Cricklewood Cries Out Against Facism: Because We’re Human Beings

On 19 July 2014, a small ragbag of far right nationalists and Islamophobes (under the banner of the South East Alliance) returned to Cricklewood, ostensibly to protest at an office of the Muslim Brotherhood at 133 Broadway (which police have said the occupants have nothing to do with). They were met by the People in their Hundreds. The counter demonstration was spearheaded by North West London United (@NWLondonUnited), a broad alliance of individuals and organisations including religious and community leaders, trade unions, cross-party political activists, elected representatives and residents formed to peacefully resist racism and facism on our streets (recent statement of collective resistance on Wembley Matters).

Banner: "Immigrants Welcome. Not Banner-burning Thugs."

Banner: “Immigrants Welcome. Not Banner-burning Thugs.”

Below is a selection of stills, twitter exchanges and four videos I’ve uploaded (“Whose Streets? Our Streets!”, “Learn Your History”, “We are black, white and Asian, we are Jews!” and “Brave woman confronting SEA”). My overwhelming feeling from the demo was one of pride. Proud to be British for sure. Proud that the People came out in force to oppose racist bigotry and Islamophobia on their doorstep. I also felt that the policing was generally well-handled – a big improvement on an UAF rally in Westminster, Mar 2010. There were at least two cordons of officers separating the groups at any one time. However, there was a limbo area in between the demonstrations which was not so heavily policed – anything but for fence-sitters. For me, this was the most interesting space, physically and democratically. It enabled closer proximity with the facists. Shock horror, but yes. There was some taunting from both sides to be sure, but also attempts at discussion and dialogue. In the video entitled “Learn Your History”, an interlocutor is heard, “Learn your history. You don’t know nothing. You are protesting against the wrong people. Learn some facts. For God’s sake open up a book.” His points appear to be nuanced – that even the west has courted Islamist extremists when it suited them, maybe even encouraged them. Yes, I believe we should entertain conversations with those whose views we find most abhorrent – on all sides. That is the power of truth, at the very least to enliven our own resolve, by mentally preparing us for warped ideology and fanaticism. We need both vocal demonstration and attempts at dialogue. One organiser reported on twitter that a Lib Dem councillor had been seen shaking the hand of a facist and this gave rise to predictable scorn. Yet this was not the time for party politics – especially when the claim remained unverified. Perhaps there was a residual disagreement anyway about the very idea of dialogue. The great thing about the UK is that we have these spaces for dialogue, where we can get to know our enemy from the horses mouth. When speech is constrained by the state that is when oppression most takes root. The most edifying chant for me was the unequivocal, “We are Black, White and Asian, we are Jews!” The shoulder number of one officer probably provided the one light relief of the day (pictured also).

Sarah Cox addressing the counter demonstration

Sarah Cox addressing the counter demonstration

Southall Black Sisters

Southall Black Sisters

Police lines forming

Police lines forming

Placard: "Nazis Go Home"

Placard: “Nazis Go Home”

New Arrivals to Cricklewood Broadway

New Arrivals to Cricklewood Broadway

Police Separating the Demonstrations

Police Separating the Demonstrations

Main Cheerleader

Main Cheerleader

Dawn Butler looking on in dismay

Dawn Butler looking on – later commenting on twitter of her feelings (below)

Scottish Defence League showing the proverbial finger

Scottish Defence League showing the proverbial finger

Unlikely officer shoulder number managing the SEA pen.

Unlikely officer shoulder number managing the SEA pen.


Demonstration over

Demonstration over

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Posted in Democratic Politics

Shahrar Ali interview on Air Pollution and Public Transport: (with Media trainer)

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Posted in Climate Change, Transport

Opening Address to Association of Green Councillors: Political Vocation and Internal Motivation

Shahrar opening address to AGC conference, 12 July, Liverpool

Shahrar opening address to AGC conference, 12 July, Liverpool

Main points made:

  • Green Politics not a career but a vocation
  • GM crops partly brought me into the Green Party.
  • We’ve reached a tipping point in terms of climate change because we’re running out of time.
  • Great discussion today about making strategy document more accessible.
  • Our internal fitness of purpose is going to effect our external ability to get the message out.
  • The thing that makes us different is our motivation.
  • Pursuing with vision and heart that we have the ability to.
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Posted in Democratic Politics

Green Party Urges Cessation of Violence and End to Collective Punishment of Gazans

A Palestinian woman carries her daughter past rubble from a home destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Beit Hanu, Gaza Strip on July 9 2014 (AFP)

A Palestinian woman carries her daughter past rubble from a home destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Beit Hanu, Gaza, 9 July 2014 (AFP)

On 11 July Dr Shahrar Ali, Green Party spokesperson on International Affairs, commented on the crisis in Gaza:

“It is with dismay and shock that we witness the latest air assaults on the Gazan population by Israel. The unconscionable kidnap and killing of three Israeli teenagers 11 days ago, followed by the revenge killing of a Palestinian, must not be used as a pretext for escalation of hostilities. We urge a cessation of violence on both sides – whether rockets fired by Hamas or the vastly more destructive potential of Israel’s arsenal. Israeli Army Operation “Protective Edge” constitutes an act of collective punishment on the people of Gaza. Women and children are made to suffer and die, indiscriminately – this cannot go on.”

Dr Ali continued, “The Green Party recognises the historic injustice suffered by the Palestinian people through displacement and continued oppression to the present day. The desperate situation of the Palestine Occupied Territories is man-made and can and must be undone – in accordance with international law. Let us together renew our zeal for peaceable solutions.”

Israeli Air Strikes

Israeli Air Strikes

Palestine Solidarity Campaign calls for lobby of MPs to put end to Collective punishment.

Green Party Statement from Caroline Lucas, Natalie Bennett and Tony Clarke.

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Posted in International

PRIDE 2014: Rained Out Riot of Colour

Fantastic diversity at the London Pride 2014 on 28 June. No dampening of spirits or resolve of purpose, despite the heavy rain. GP LGBTIQ Greens also joined the march.

Green Party LGBTIQ

Green Party LGBTIQ

Love Is Love

Love Is Love

Queer Quakers

Queer Quakers

"Thank God for Transsexuals"

“Thank God for Transsexuals”

"The Trinity is False"

“The Trinity is False”

pride2014b_web

Smurfs

Smurfs

Driest place to make a phonecall

Driest place to make a phonecall

LGBT - Fighting Racism and Homophobia

LGBT – Fighting Racism and Homophobia

web_blueHeaddress

Police getting into the spirit of things

Police getting into the spirit of things

web_suited

Drenched, heavy banner

Drenched, heavy banner

web_group

web_drums

Barclays bus

Barclays bus

Ugandan lesbian activist deported by the UK government

Ugandan lesbian activist deported by the UK government

web_umbrella

Royalty

Royalty

Charlie Kiss

Charlie Kiss

pride2014_web

Tesco Van

Tesco Van

LGBTIQ GP policy

LGBTIQ GP policy

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Posted in Democratic Politics, Photographs

No To Austerity March in Pictures: A Peaceful Riot of Colour

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Posted in Democratic Politics, Photographs
@ShahrarAli
Shahrar on Twitter