An Analysis of the Greens’ Manifesto

The so-called “Green surge” predicted during this election has perhaps not seen a radical shift of the electorate towards their proposed “alternative politics,” but the Greens are definitely at their highest ever level of exposure after Natalie Bennett’s participation, albeit a fairly anonymous one, in two of the three main leaders’ debate. Indeed, the Green party of England and Wales are now the fourth largest party in the UK by membership, behind Labour, the Conservatives, and the SNP. [1] (you read that right, the Lib Dems are indeed now fourth in terms of party membership)

Will this be their breakthrough election though? Or are they only going to succeed in sapping the Labour vote and maybe losing them a few MPs? Regardless of how well the Greens do or do not do, their increasing political presence demands our attention, and thus our scrutiny.

I decided to have a good read of their manifesto to help me decide whether what they’re promising is viable – I’ve always seen the Green party as hopeless idealists that can peddle anything, simply because they have no hope of being in any position of power.

I was surprised to find some interesting, and dare I say well thought through, ideas in their manifesto, and it seemed like every other page they pointed me in the direction of something they had achieved at a local level (so maybe my earlier judgement of them never being near power was slightly harsh).

However mixed in with the good, were quite a few of the idealistic, ill-conceived ideas I was expecting. Below is analysis of the main problematic policies included in their manifesto (which is freely available on their website):

A complete rejection of Nuclear power, despite it being one of the best means of producing low carbon electricity

This makes absolutely no sense to me. Nuclear power, despite being expensive, is the best proven form of low carbon energy generation.

And yes, Nuclear power is a proven [2] means of generating low carbon electricity, I found it astounding that the green manifesto stated the following:

Nuclear energy is not green. Nuclear energy is neither zero carbon nor renewable and there is serious debate about whether it is even low carbon.

I don’t know what basis they had for stating this, but Nuclear energy has been proven a very low carbon source of electricity (on par with Wind and Hydro, and by some estimations better than Solar PV). Technically speaking you could say that Nuclear isn’t ‘zero carbon’ owing to the construction of the plants, and extraction of Uranium etc. but then again, neither are Solar, Wind or Hydro if you factor in Carbon produced during construction.

Nuclear fusion would undoubtedly be the best solution in terms of low carbon power, and I would argue that Nuclear fission, whilst imperfect, is a bridging step towards Nuclear fusion. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any mention of Nuclear fusion in the Green manifesto.

I think that in their single mindedness regarding Nuclear power, the Green party are missing out on massive potential for reducing carbon emissions relatively quickly (expect more on this topic from me in the near future).

A ban on all Genetically Modified Crops, and Organisms

I don’t fully understand the reasoning behind this, the Greens plan on banning the use of many pesticides, yet are also unkeen on GMO, which could alleviate many of the problems that pesticides do. Besides the fact that they could also make more effective use of land, freeing up more for devotion to wildlife that the Greens’ want to focus on.

The Earth needs to support an ever increasing load, with many predicting a food crisis by 2050. GM crops have significantly higher yields, so rejecting GMOs due to pseudoscience and unfounded fears is completely unhelpful in this regard.

Besides, we are all in essence already eating Genetically Modified Organisms – farmers have been selectively breeding livestock and crops for centuries.

Ensure that all schools, hospitals and other public buildings have solar panels by 2020

Of all the means of renewable electricity, I think Solar power is perhaps the least suited to our country.

When is electricity demand at it’s highest? In the Winter, when the weather is rubbish and the amount of daylight can be less than 4 hours a day [4].

The only way to ensure that electricity supply is reliable is to ensure backup supply for all solar panel installations, an incredibly inefficient way of producing electricity.

Surely tidal power (which provides a reliable and predictable amount of power) or Wind power (which can probably be used without full backups if enough storage capacity is installed) are much better alternatives than solar power considering our country’s geography and climate?

Phase in a maximum 35 hour working week

Implementing a maximum 35 hour working week has real potential to harm economy; what if someone wants to work over 35 hours a week? This is potentially a win-win for employer and employee as the employee gets paid overtime, and the employer gets much needed work finished.

Such a brute force strategy seems like a poor choice to me. Surely it’s better to ensure there are enough jobs available for people to choose a job based partly on which hours it requires? This benefits both the employer and employee, allowing people who would consciously choose to work more than 35 hours a week to do so.

Implementing a ‘Basic Income’ – an incredibly expensive policy

A corner stone of the Green parties long term plan is the introduction of ‘basic’ or ‘citizens’ income, everyone in the country would be paid roughly £72 a week by the government, with children receiving a reduced rate payable to their parent or guardian (presumably on top of child benefit, which the Greens are promising to more than double), and single parents, or disabled people receiving a higher rate. [3]

The greens plan for this to mostly replace the benefits system, and by their estimate this will save money owing to a reduction in administration costs, .

According to the greens:

EC731 The Citizens’ Income will eliminate the unemployment and poverty traps, as well as acting as a safety net to enable people to choose their own types and patterns of work

I’m not entirely sure why they think this, as £72 a week is certainly not enough to live on, and is considerably less than the average UK wage.

The costings for this are incredibly sketchy, the greens have yet to release information on how they plan to fully cost this, but a rough estimate would put the cost at around £240 billion a year, more than the current welfare bill (including pensions). It has also been estimated by some that implementing such a scheme would disproportionally impact the poor, the current benefit cap for a single person is £350 a week, [5] significantly more than the £72 citizens income.

However this puts the greens at odds with themselves, they state:

When the Citizens’ Income is introduced it is intended that nobody will be in a position that they will receive less through the scheme than they were entitled to under the previous benefits system.

Apparently the implementation of such a system will save money, yet nobody will earn less than they did through the previous system, and a significant number of people will earn more then previously. Frankly, the idea of paying the wealthy £72 a week they don’t need is the kind of ridiculous policy the Greens’ have largely managed to shake off with this manifesto. The welfare system isn’t perfect, but it provides support for those who need it rather than wasting money on those who already have an abundance of it. This system will cost even more than a welfare system already widely-perceived as bloated, and hurt those on low-incomes.

As for addressing homelessness: you’re advised not to give homeless people money, but to give food and blankets. Many homeless people have severe problems with alcoholism, gambling and drug abuse, and giving them £72 to further these habits will help rather than hinder. More useful than just throwing money at these people would be to build more homeless shelters, and/or do more to address the root causes of homelessness. The citizens income’ is to homeless as a band-aid that’s been swabbed through dirt is to a wound – sure, it might make the problem somewhat less visible and give the impression of taking positive action, but in reality it will just make the situation worse.

Regardless, £72 is not enough to live on. The homeless would not be able to suddenly find accommodation, pay bills, pay rent and put food on their table with this paltry amount.

So, a quick recap: This well-intended but ill-conceived policy would leave those already on benefits out of pocket, give £72 a week to the fat-cat bankers the Greens’ are so critical of, and give the homeless enough money to facilitate alcoholism and drug-abuse, but not enough to actually live independently on. Colour me confused.

Plans to completely scrap tuition fees

This would be incredibly expensive to implement, consider there are currently more than 2 million university students in the UK [6]. The NUS estimates that the average amount university charge in tuition fees is £8,354 a year. [7]

So for 2 million students, that’s a cost of £16.7 billion pounds a year. Let’s say the government recoups half of that – that’s roughly £8 billion pounds we’re talking about here, a very significant sum of money. This is exacerbated by the fact that the Green party want to write off all outstanding student debt, costing further billions in the long term.

From my perspective student loans aren’t that bad, the repayment system seems very fair, even with a headline grabbing yearly fee of £9000.

You only repay 9% of what you earn over £21’000, to put that into context, if you earn £25’000 a year, that’s repayments of only £30a month, and if you earn £30’000 a year you only repay £67 a month.

I can probably agree it’s not ideal, but it hardly feels like an injustice, and considering the state of the public finances I think it’s hardly responsible to throw so much money away.

(for those curious, you can find much more information on the Government website regarding repayments https://www.gov.uk/repaying-your-student-loan/what-you-pay)

Raise the top rate of income tax from 45% to 60%

We have a wonderful example here in the form of France, which levied a 75% tax rate on its top earners. Whilst the tax did raise a small amount of money (around 260, then 160 million euros a year) it paled in comparison to the total amount of the French deficit (around 80,000 million) and was recently quietly killed by the very government that instituted it [8].

The problem with such a punitive tax is that it can dissuade investors and executives from investing, as well as encouraging emigration of the wealthy . The net effect could well have been negative on the French coffers – near 600 earning above the 800,000 euro threshold for this 75% tax emigrated from France in 2012, meaning at a rate of 50% (at the absolute least) 24 million euros of income was lost. [9] In reality, the kind of people emigrating included Gerard Depardieu, a man with a $200million net worth. Therefore, even if you were discounting the effects of lost investment, it is apparent that any earnings from this tax would have been minimal indeed.

Massively increase borrowing whilst targeting zero growth

The green manifesto states quite clearly:

The plans in this manifesto require borrowing of £338 billion (in real 2015 terms) over the Parliament as compared with the Coalition’s plan in the 2015 Budget to borrow £115 billion.

£338 billion is a huge amount, especially considering the greens aren’t big on economic growth long term (an increasing debt burden can be bearable, providing the economy is growing at least in line with said debt burden).

Is it really reasonable to claim you stand for young people, whilst also stating you’ll rack up enormous debts that they, alongside future generations, will likely have to deal with at some point?

What’s more, is that a lot of the parties policies on the economy just don’t stand up. For example, the IFS recently questioned Labours plans to raise £7.5 billion from crackdowns on tax evasion. Considering this, the Green party plan to raise £30 billion from cracking down on tax evasion is downright ludicrous. It’s almost like they just picked a number to suit their spending plans.

Their new wealth tax too, is apparently going to raise £25 billion per annum. Considering France managed to raise (averaging the two years of their wealth tax) 0.06% this amount (also excluding loss of revenue from emigration and lost investment), you can colour me highly sceptical.

Plans to end Trident

This seems incredibly short sighted to me, especially considering the recent events in Ukraine.

The argument behind this seems to be that nuclear weapons won’t protect us from terrorists – whilst this may be true, there are still a number of threats that nuclear weapons would protect us from – look at the ongoing debate involving Iran. I believe that a nuclear deterrent is still surprisingly effective at deterring countries from declaring war against one another.

The diplomatic repercussions for this would also be massive. Would we still keep our seat on the permanent UN security council? Unlikely. Would our position in NATO – a nuclear alliance – be jeopardised? Likely. Would other countries be more inclined to listen to our opinions? No. Would it harm us diplomatically? Yes.

I feel that the electorate is incredibly exhausted when it comes to the issue of foreign policy, and understandably so after the fiasco of Iraq and Afghanistan, but does that mean that we should be frightened to act on the world stage? Or would we prefer to leave this to the US, China and Russia?

An economic case could also be made for Trident – the submarines are designed by a UK company, and manufactured in the UK, using somewhat high tech manufacturing gear.

In closing

In conclusion, I found some nice policy ideas, but unfortunately still plenty of the idealistic posturing that makes me so averse to the Green party. I still think they need a good dose of realism before they become a party I can really take seriously.

The Greens do seem more serious than in the past though, and some of their policies on Climate change (notably their policy on a nationwide insulation program), and the environment (notably on soil erosion) do stack up. Here’s to hoping their next manifesto is a bit more believable.

Sean Dunwoody


Sources

[1] https://www.greenparty.org.uk/news/2015/01/27/100-days-to-go-membership-of-the-green-party-of-england-and-wales-passes-50,000/

[2] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1530-9290.2012.00472.x/full

[3] http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/ec.html

[4] www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/summaries/actualmonthly

[5] http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/wales/benefits_w/benefits_the_benefit_cap_e/the_benefit_cap_what_you_need_to_know.htm

[6] https://www.hesa.ac.uk/stats

[7] http://www.nus.org.uk/en/advice/money-and-funding/average-costs-of-living-and-study/

[8] http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/23/us-france-supertax-idUSKBN0K11CC20141223

[9] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/french-say-au-revoir-to-france-over-two-million-french-people-now-live-abroad-and-most-are-crossing-the-channel-and-heading-to-london-9788348.html

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