I want to talk about Conference and about our policy-making process. It’s the privilege of getting old that you can look backwards and see how things have changed. I’ve seen our policy-making move from a culture of consensus to a zero-sum game where you ‘win’ by establishing an aggressive opposition relative to your ‘opponent’ and perhaps labelling and condemning them. This does not lead to the best policy and it certainly does not lead to policy that we can all get behind as a party.
I don’t have any more responsibility for making this right than any other party member. But as External Communications Coordinator I do have responsibility for what our party looks like to others. And I have to say that much of what happened on Twitter over the weekend did us no favours at all. We looked like a party of conflict and nastiness. That’s not what we are but it’s what we looked like, and ensuring positive perceptions is in my job description so that really matters to me.
What I’m saying is not addressed to any individuals or people holding a particular view, I am appealing to the whole membership to question whether your need to hack off on Twitter is helping our mission to restore the planet and ensure social justice. If not, perhaps it’s better not to send the tweet? I am doing my best not to win a policy debate but to repair the conflict.
What are you doing?
I can remember when the party used to work this way. I can remember policy debates that I cared deeply about and when, after I had lost a vote, the person who had been passionately debating with me came up and hugged me and we shed tears together and had a cup of tea.
We were a strong party because we had solidarity – a solidarity based on the fact that we understood that most of our policy battles paled into insignificance in the face of the horrifying challenges of climate and environmental emergencies. We have lost what was our greatest strength. We are chewing each other up and failing to get the best from each other - our opponents must be delighted while the earth weeps.
There were Quakers involved in founding our party and – now being one myself – I can see the traces of their culture, especially in the ritual of attunement which seems to survive all the twists and turns of our history. Quakers are not big on theology but do offer a few pithy bits of advice. One of my favourites is ‘Think it possible that you may be mistaken’. Not: I’m right, you’re wrong. Not: you’re stupid or unkind because you don’t agree with me. Just opening a small space for you to consider my position and question your own. That’s the space where genuine and respectful debate can take place
Over the weekend I voted with the majority on some issues and the minority on others. But the outcomes of individual votes felt so much less important to me than what I felt the party I have given my life to was losing. It doesn’t matter if you ‘won’ or ‘lost’. If the passing of your policy motion left others in the party feeling hurt, bewildered or alienated, then we have all lost.