Eyeless in Brighton

April 16, 2010

You’ve got to feel sorry for those journos. Their poor eyes! After reading the newly released Green Party manifesto, the Independent’s Michael McCarthy pronounces its tax proposals “eye popping” while the Guardian’s Michael White resorts to the slightly less distressing “eye watering.”

Both writers have some kind things to say about the Greens, but with the overriding theme that their proposals are unworkable, because they are unaffordable, and hence that their promises are irresponsible.

For the average voter though, the question is “whose eyes are popping/watering”? As McCarthy relates:

87 per cent of the population would be better off under the Green soak-the-rich regime, the party [has] claimed, as in return the public would be offered much higher pensions, higher minimum wages, free home insulation, free social care for the elderly, big tax breaks for people on lower incomes and reopened local post offices – not to mention large-scale improvements in public transport with renationalised railways, the scrapping of the Trident nuclear missile system, and a radical regime for fighting climate change.

So Green Party proposals, which envisage a tax increase of £112 billion by 2013, and an increase in the overall tax burden to some 45 percent of GDP are not so radical after all. For the average voter, they would actually moderate much of the extreme inequality and stress of life in a crisis. And, a fact stressed little by mainstream commentators, the tax burden in France – hardly a bastion of communism these days – is 45 percent while in Denmark, supposedly one of the world’s most successful societies and economies, it is even higher at around 50 percent. The British figure (around 36-39 percent) is the product of many years of work by the right (and New Labour) to reduce the tax paid by the rich and to cut back services for the poor. So what’s extreme about putting that right?

Only that, given the options available to us voters, it is extremely democratic.

Given the situation that we find ourselves in economically and environmentally, the Greens are the only serious option to consider. They are the only party committed to a zero carbon Britain by 2030, and will tackle the domination of road transport by taking the railways back into public ownership and injecting real investment into making them both cheap and reliable.

At the same time, they are the only party with any sensible suggestions about how to reduce economic inequality and, hence, to rebuild communities and protect them against the economic crisis. An increase in the minimum wage for all to a living wage level of £8.10 per hour would be a huge step towards this, as would investment in high quality sustainable council housing and youth projects.

The Greens are committed to abolishing tuition fees in higher education, a hugely important position to take as the other major parties are wholly devoted to making education more exclusive and biased towards “productive” disciplines. At a time when mass training and retraining is needed to promote social mobility and provide the skills needed to tackle the environmental crisis, only the Greens supply hope that we can make the university system work for society.

The truth is that for people to train, and for Britain to develop the highly skilled, forward looking and sustainable society that we need the people need to be able to balance work, social lives and education. Under the current system and political elite, we are largely forbidden from doing so. Yet a shift like this is vital for the future. As I said, the Greens are the only sensible option for the average voter.

The other parties offer madness.

  • They offer half-thought out “environmental policies”  wildly contradict themselves (Labour wanting to assist in creating wind energy co-ops while backing motorway widening and airport expansion springs to mind).
  • They offer brutal cuts to public services (and yes, Nick Clegg is included) ata time when social need is rising and we need to change services to reflect the drive towards sustainability.
  • And they offer more of the same on foreign policy. Afghanistan, Iraq, [insert vulnerable nation here] and Trident, or a less expensive variant (Lib Dems accepted), little movement on “development” policies and the interlinked issue of climate change.

Thankfully, change is in the air. The Greens may well win in Brighton Pavillion, and have a good chance elsewhere in Norwich and Lewisham. Who knows what surprises the electorate could pull? There is a real demand for radical policies, for the reason that radicalism is going to have to be the new normal, and many people realise this. Old economic ideas are seen to be radically inept and outdated, as are the parties which continue to offer them as a solution to our dilemmas. People are clever enough to see this, and even optically challenged columnists are coming around.

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