Everyone’s putting out their manifestos this week, so I decided that I would review the Greens version. Why not Labour, Tory, Lib Dem, UKIP even? Lots of people are going to do that. Not many are going to give the Greens some serious analysis – it’s that darn Westminster elite, plotting against the Greens and conspiring to make them look bad. Well, I won’t be a part of that, no sir.
Now I realise many of you, particularly Green Party activists and supporters, will bring up the fact that I’ve been kind of mean to the party on occasion. I’ve also predicted that they will end up with zero seats in the House of Commons after the general election. But I promise you all, I have attempted to go about this in as objective a manner as possible.
I’ll start with the things in it I agree with, or at least are sensible and could be theoretically implemented. They call for the “pardoning of all men convicted of consenting adult same sex relations under anti-gay laws that have now been repealed”. This is long overdue and shames the country that this hasn’t happened yet, so tick one for the Greens. Lower the voting age to 16? I’m loosely in favour, and it’s certainly something that poses no practical problems. They want to bring rail ownership back into public hands (of course they do). In theory, I don’t have a problem with this – right-wingers flip out on this point but in truth, the market doesn’t really work effectively in the case of the railways because the demand is so inelastic and the infrastructure crushingly expensive. Also, all you have to do is not renew the current private contracts, so it’s straightforward as to how you do it in pragmatic terms. So fine – another tick for the Greens there.
After that, I’m afraid to say, it gets hairy. Let’s start with a core issue for them, the environment. The Greens policies on the environment suffer from two misconceptions: that somehow the not for profit sector can provide all of the needs of the country (so not public ownership, just to be clear here, but the third sector), and that low or no carbon alternatives are much more technically advanced than they actually are at present. They make pledges about cutting energy demand by massive amounts, as if that’s really simple and won’t cause any major problems. They actually want to rule out several low carbon options like natural gas (no fracking, you see), so it becomes impossible to understand how any of the incredibly ambitious carbon targets they set can actually be met.
But of course, it’s the economy where the manifesto predictably goes really wrong. The plans they set out require £338 billion of borrowing over a five year parliament. For comparison the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems are all between £110 billion and £130 billion, give or take. Despite this, the Greens suggest – wait for it – that plan to run a decent surplus by the end of the parliament. How? Your guess is as good as mine. They plan to raise the top rate of tax to 60% and raise taxation generally – but there’s no way it will even get them close to covering the hole, never mind this fantasy of running a surplus.
All that’s before you get to the real problem with the Greens economic plan: they want to abandon GDP as a measure of economic health and have a zero growth economy. So they don’t even have a debt to GDP ratio fudge to fall back on as they are planning for no growth. The worst aspect of the whole zero growth idea? The people it would affect most severely would be the poorest. In fact, the further down the socio-economic scale you find yourself, the worse you would be hit by an economy in zero growth mode.
So yes, pardoning innocent men for crimes that should never have been crimes in the first place and letting teenagers vote – that’s where the Greens and I meet. Everything else, though, makes me glad a Green majority is, like their plans to run a surplus in an intentionally flat economy while spending a zillion squid on everything, a fantasy.