The Green Party Manifesto Is Just Common Sense

It's only controversial to Britain's elites.

by Adam Ramsay

13 June 2024

Co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales Carla Denyer arrives for a BBC election debate in London, 7 June 2024.
Co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales Carla Denyer arrives for a BBC election debate in London, 7 June 2024. Credit: Isabel Infantes/Reuters

Tax the rich more, save our crumbling public services. Invest £40bn a year in a rapid transition to a zero carbon economy. Renationalise railways, energy and water. Give buses back to local councils. Build 150,000 council houses a year.

The simplest way to talk about the Green party of England and Wales (GPEW) manifesto is through its big macroeconomic pitches. In fact, that’s how most of the media reported its launch yesterday.

Or you might look at environmental policies. A ban on all new fossil fuel extraction in the UK and cancelling recently issued licences; a total of £38bn for insulation and decarbonising home heating systems; a carbon tax; a frequent flyer levy; a ban on internal flights where the train journey is less than three hours (that’s nothing – I’ve just booked the six hour Edinburgh-Bristol train with two small children); reclaim our streets from traffic with cycle, walking, wheeling and public transport investments (just look at what Paris has achieved in recent years).

One of the most significant pledges for planetary biodiversity concerns the “highest level” of protection to marine life in “all UK domestic and overseas territorial waters”. Because of the enormous stretches of ocean around many of Britain’s 14 Overseas Territories, it has the fifth largest exclusive economic zone in the world, mostly made up of huge, species-rich patches of the world’s seas. Some of these – notably Pitcairn – have already been afforded protection from overfishing in recent years. Others haven’t: the vast stretch of the South Atlantic claimed by Britain is being rapidly plundered by Falkland Islander trawler millionaires – who devastate a vast and vital ecosystem to provide half of southern Europe’s calamari – due to the lack of any proper regulation.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about the Green manifesto is that these supposedly controversial policies are, among the British public at least, nothing of the sort. Most voters want tax rises to fund our increasingly threadbare public services. There is overwhelming support for all of the Greens’ mooted nationalisations and for the sort of Green New Deal the manifesto proposes.

Similarly, new polling out last week showed that around 70-80% of voters think the main parties are failing on climate change and nature loss, and want them to do more. Among the general public, the headline ideas in the Green party manifesto are increasingly just common sense.

The reason they are treated as controversial – the reason other parties aren’t adopting them – is that the balance of power in Britain is heavily skewed away from ordinary people, and towards the sorts of elites who stand to lose from these kinds of proposals.

For me, one vital question about the Green manifesto is therefore whether, as well as redistributing income, it would redistribute power in its various, diffuse forms.

Of course, those two things aren’t entirely separate. Give people more money – proposals include a £15 minimum wage, increasing universal credit by £40 a week and a maximum pay ratio from highest to lowest of 10:1 within any firm – and some power comes with it.

Give people a four-day week, and they have time to organise politically. Protect security of tenure for people renting privately or the life-long consistency of a council house, and communities are likely to flourish, building bottom-up power with them. Abolishing tuition fees and restoring student grants would mean ending the marketisation of education, turning students back from consumers into citizens.

But Britain’s governing class props itself up on more than wealth. There is, for example, the question of power in workplaces: the Greens promise to abolish anti-trade union laws, and to create a new charter of workers’ rights, enshrining the right to strike. Which is good. But I was sad to see that a party policy to introduce a workers’ right to buy out their firm didn’t make it through the editing process into the final document.

There is also the power of media barons. I was glad to see a commitment that no single individual or company should own more than 20% of any media market, and a commitment to implement the proposals of the Leveson Inquiry. I would have loved to have seen more on what an alternative media sphere might look like – there has been a rich debate in recent years about democratic ways for the public to allocate funding to the media we want.

And then there is the political system.

The Greens promise to introduce proportional representation, removing the automatic power of the two main parties and helping build a more democratic culture. They would abolish the House of Lords – and the patronage which comes with it – and replace it with an elected chamber.

They would extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds, and also to the roughly 5 million migrants for whom Britain is their home, but who aren’t allowed to vote in Westminster elections. It’s worth noting that Scotland and Wales have already done this for their own parliaments – but you can imagine that British politicians might treat migrants a little differently if they made up nearly 10% of the electorate.

There are some pledges on police power: Green MPs will be committed to campaigning against laws criminalising protest, for the abolition of the racist Prevent programme, and campaigning for a commission on drug decriminalisation. But the radical institutional reform needed – with abolition of the Met police as a minimum – isn’t approached.

Pleasingly, the manifesto commits the party to supporting South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice and to reinstating UNRWA funding to Palestine. Yet it also adopts the contradictory fudge passed at a recent party conference of supporting Nato membership, despite (quite rightly) continuing to support the abolition of nuclear weapons from British soil.

There is a lot missing: nothing on the need to abolish the monarchy and its cultural grip, not as much as I would like about stripping the City of London of its central role in British life. I’d also want to see more on the laws around corporate lobbying, funding for political parties addressing Britain’s colonial legacy and – well, I’m not here to write my own manifesto.

In fact, I should confess here that I did once get to do that: I had the job of writing the Greens’ 2014 European manifesto. Compared to my lengthy tome, GPEW’s 2024 manifesto is a slick, slimmed-down and elegantly presented document. It might not say everything I would like, but in reality a very, very good election for the Greens would mean getting four MPs. Yet the collection of things they are promising to campaign for or against are good and important, and offer plenty for, at best, a small group of parliamentarians to be getting on with.

Adam Ramsay is a Scottish journalist. He is currently working on his forthcoming book Abolish Westminster.

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