5 July 2013

Matt Wootton - our lost friend

I’ve held off publishing this for the last week because there has been an outside, remote hope that maybe, just maybe, Matt and the others onboard the Nina might have survived. His family had not given up hope and I did not want to go against that. Today the search for his missing boat has been called off.

With people tweeting, talking about and writing about Matt, I imagine him chuckling to himself about all the good things people have been saying about him, and how he will have to keep reminding them what they’ve written. I’m sure this blog post will fall into that category.

I met Matt at Conference a couple of times and knew of him here in the North West, where in 2003 if I remember correctly, I’d been elected as our regional co-ordinator. He collared Khalid Hussenbux and me at a North West meeting after the Euro results in 2004 asking us if we would consider standing for GPEx. He was persuasive, and if I’m going to be frank, not wholly truthful about what this would involve.

“You’ll just have to turn up to a few meetings.”

“It doesn’t involve much work.”

“We need some good new people to get involved.”

So Khalid and I, persuaded by Matt’s charm, eventually agreed to give it a try. Now anyone who has ever been on GPEx knows how much work it really involves, that you need to do more than just attend a few meetings and that often there are personality clashes, disputes and a lot of heat over internal political disagreements.

A few months after being elected to GPEx, we went to the pub after a particularly heated meeting, and I said to Matt,

“You lied to us to get us to sign up to this, didn’t you?”

And he replied,

“Yes, a bit, but I had to, because you were the best people to do the job for the party, and the party really needed you.”

Now a lot of meetings in those days were heated. There were strong characters on GPEx from 2004 to 2007. Sian Berry, Jim Killock, Matt Sellwood, Natalie Bennett, Derek Wall, Hugo Charlton, John Street, Khalid and Matt himself. Matt was one of the voices often pushing for radical change and more often than not, calmer voices like Brian Heatley, Susan Murray and myself were trying to calm down Matt and others due to the inflamed passions.

That tells you something about Matt as a person. He could be infuriating, obstinate, angry, awkward and frustrated in our party, but he had a clear vision about where he felt the party should be going. I like that plain speaking and I liked the fact that he wanted the best for us.

Matt was also part of a group of us who sat down together after a Brighton conference where SOC had ruled that a motion on renaming Principal Speakers as “Co-leaders” was out of order. For the first time, it had looked as though there would have been a 2/3rd majority in favour of this small, but significant change. We decided that this was something that would not ultimately be resolved at Conference, where a self selecting group of members were always the likely attenders, but by putting the question to the wider membership. Matt was one of the signatories on that motion, that ultimately led us to change to a single leader, and helped Caroline Lucas secure that victory in Brighton Pavilion in 2010.

However, some of my fondest memories of spending time with Matt come from his visits to Liverpool. I remember venturing into town with both him and Jim Killock on a night out in 2006. It quickly became clear that dance music and rhythmic movement was not a strong point for either Matt or Jim. Future social occasions out were strictly limited to pubs after that, often with other Liverpool members like Rob Smith.

Rupert Read has been far more eloquent than I could be about Matt’s classical music talent and his ability to sing so well. He was not just a communicator, he was also a fantastically talented musician. I’m sure he had other abilities as well, as he was not boastful about what he could do (I didn’t know he could play cello until he did so at a Green Party Conference).

My final social occasion with Matt was in the Philharmonic Pub in Liverpool. Things had soured for him in the party and sadly there was a lot of heat about internal disputes and a case against Matt was going through GPRC. He had helped me campaign throughout the 2009 Euros, which we had narrowly lost, and I was telling him that I would definitely not be standing again. I remember telling him that I am a dad now and that the personal cost of committing the previous five years of my life, sacrificing career and time with my newborn son, had been too high. The truth is that despite being in a bad place, and even though I was hurting badly from the loss, and that the reasons I was giving were true, I still wanted to stand again to complete the job we had started – I just wasn’t strong enough to commit to that at that time.

While Matt was travelling, news got to him that I had stood again and been selected as lead candidate here in the North West. He sent me this email,

"hi Pete,
How are you doing? I'm doing very well; in an 'eco-village' in Peru, writing, eating well, doing yoga and exercising.
I remember a conversation in the Philharmonic a few years ago where you swore you wouldn't stand again in the NorthWest.
I didn't believe you. Turns out I was right :-)

All the best,

So I say this to you Matt, about the Philharmonic night out.

“I suppose I lied a bit about not standing again, but at the time I had to.”

I’m sure he’ll understand what I mean.

I’ll miss him but I will always remember him and what he helped our party to achieve, as a friend and a comrade. Others too will remember his contribution to the cause. Thank you for everything you helped us to achieve.


Filosofina said...

A brilliant guy and a friend I will never forget. Is good to know something more about his life before his long journey. I can imagine the scenes that you wrote about him. Matt said once he would like to become the first green prime minister in the UK, and I knew he didnt have any personal ambitions, just wanted to make the best contribution to his country. I believe he would do a great job. Not very often you can see such a bright personality and passion about life. He inspired me to do the best for my country too. I dont know what else to say about this, i wish a miracle happen, thats all.
Fiorella Palmieri
Peruvian friend

Rupert said...
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