Greens in Swansea II

Sian Berry's account of this year's Green Spring conference continues

This morning’s Green Party conference vote went against the Severn barrage, and I voted against it as well in the end. It was pretty clear cut: along with the rest of the hall, I just wasn’t able to be convinced that such a huge, irrevocable change to the estuary should be made when tidal lagoons and turbines can provide alternatives that would generate just as much electricity with much less impact.

It was an interesting debate though, with several Greens arguing passionately in favour of the barrage plan, and we’re all pleased we took the time to consider the options properly before committing to one side or the other.

We also passed ‘emergency motions’ (these state our position on issues that have arisen since the full conference agenda was published) congratulating the Council tenants of Swansea for voting to keep their council housing under the control of the local authority – a campaign Swansea Greens were fully behind; opposing the downgrading of local hospital services in mid and west Wales; saying no to oil exploration in Cardigan Bay; and criticising the 2.5 percent pay increase (effectively a pay cut) given to NHS nurses and other key health workers - just the latest betrayal of the NHS and is founding principles.

Today’s big panel discussion was on localisation – the Green antidote to centralised incompetence, multinational monopolies and all the other failings of a globalised capitalist economy. Molly Scott-Cato, our Economics spokesperson, set out the opportunities pursuing a localised agenda gives us in challenging the organisation of the economy. She is a leading academic on the subject, and is developing the concept of ‘bioregionalism’, where your economy is based in an eco-system, within which you have responsibility for where resources come from and where waste ends up. Within this system, local is a principle that trumps others such as price and choice.

She has a positive vision of a convivial, shared economy that is shared by Carl Schlyter, a Green MEP from Sweden who is co-chair of the parliament’s committee on economic development and trade. In Brussels he sees first hand how everyone loses through globalisation as large, centralised contracts increase the power of transnational companies, and how even countries like China that were winning under this system a few years ago have now seen 15 million jobs disappear abroad in search of workers who will do even more for even less.

Carl told us that some of the brightest beacons of localisation he has identified are in the UK and US, with the Community Development Corporation movement in America growing fast, and Community Interest Companies taking off here. He also praised the work of the New Economics Foundation – home of the third speaker, David Boyle.

David pointed out that it is now 24 years since the Green Party ‘gave birth’ to NEF, and styled his speech a ‘belated mother’s day card’ – arrr.

He told us how, despite the work of NEF highlighting the problem of Clone Town Britain and the crisis faced by local shops, they are still coming up against old myths every day like, ‘supermarkets create jobs’ and ‘big contracts are more efficient’. He even heard recently of a council that has banned ‘untidy’ non-chain shops from its latest big shopping centre.

The NEF has done a lot to quantify the problem, and has devised the LM3 ‘local multiplier’ tool to measure local money flows. This has shown how locally owned shops and services recirculate money within the local economy, multiplying the wealth that investment can create. Their findings using the tool have included the shocking fact that the loss of a post office can cost the local area (roughly the size of a council ward) £300,000 a year, but have also demonstrated how best to spend regeneration funding – creating small contracts and encouraging local firms to apply can make the money go 400% further.

I am a great fan of NEF, and Peter put their mission very well when he said, “We can frustrate the monster with the right policies, but we need to do the right research to prove it.”

Tomorrow I’ll give my keynote speech and we’ll have a very controversial debate that could lead to my position being abolished altogether – watch this space.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.


Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?


Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”


Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”


A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.