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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 October, 2004, 01:50 GMT 02:50 UK
Green Party conference a 'radical' change
BBC political correspondent Jonathan Beale

Caroline Lucas
The Greens' Caroline Lucas is no leader
Not many party conferences begin with a minute's silence for mental "atunement". Not many political parties shun the idea of a leader.

But then the Green Party has always seen itself as different - or in their word, "radical".

Look at some of its policies: higher taxes for air travel and scrapping the government's road building programme are hardly populist ideas in the era of cheap flights and multiple car ownership.

There are still a fair number of men with incredibly long beards and women with a curious dress sense
Jonathan Beale
And yet this weekend the Green Party believe they are on the brink of a breakthrough. They really do think that they can benefit from people's disillusionment with traditional politics and that their "tell it like it is" approach can win them votes.

They have sharpened up their act a bit too. For a start they had a helpful press office. There were even advance copies of the main speeches and of the resolutions passed.

There are still a fair number of men with incredibly long beards and women with a curious dress sense. But many in the audience looked as if they fitted in at a Liberal Democrat or Labour gathering, though they would not consider that a compliment.

For a start their policies are certainly more left wing: renationalising the railways; challenging the economics behind globalisation, curbing the private sector's involvement in the public services - and, of course, opposing the war in Iraq.

The Greens see themselves as the only true anti-war party. As their joint principle speaker (not leader!) Caroline Lucas put it "there are two parties of bomb and kill and a third party of reluctant bomb and kill".

Clearly there is resentment that the Liberal Democrats have, in their view, stolen their clothes. But on everything else the Greens believe that the three main parties' policies are largely interchangeable, and all ignore the real threat of climate change.

'Real rawness'

On global warming the Greens may occasionally sound like Old Testament prophets warning that the end of the world is nigh, but increasingly it looks as if they have got science on their side.

Not that it makes their policies any more palatable for an energy-hungry, developed world.

The Greens favour higher taxes for air travel
There is a real rawness to the politics here in Weston-Super-Mare. The Green Party thinks that their honesty and integrity will draw in millions of disenchanted voters.

They would hate the comparison - but this conference had a similar feel to the United Kingdom Independence Party's a few weeks earlier. No gloss, no varnish (save the suntan of Robert Kilroy-Silk).

Funnily enough the Greens at times appear nearly as Eurosceptic. They want to scrap the Common Agriculture Policy, eschew the euro and would oppose the EU constitution, but for entirely different reasons to UKIPs patriotic fervour. The Greens are internationalist in outlook.

Their new slogan is "real progress" and it is true the Green Party has made a political impact - they now boast two MEPs and more than 60 local councillors in England and Wales.

But even they admit they will struggle to get a seat at Westminster with the current voting system. And there is always that feeling that what they are offering is more stick than carrot.

Coincidentally, Weston-Super-Mare's other big attraction this weekend was a motorcross rally on the beach - a bunch of petrolheads polluting the environment.

But it was bound to be more popular with the locals than the Green Party's conference.

Greens call for Blair to resign
22 Oct 04 |  Election 2005
In full: Caroline Lucas' speech
22 Oct 04 |  Election 2005
Greens pledge end to wasted votes
22 Oct 04 |  Election 2005

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