Manifesto Check: the Green Party’s top policies

Greens leader Natalie Bennett at the party’s manifesto launch. Alastair Grant/AP

Welcome to The Conversation’s Manifesto Check, where academics subject each party’s election manifesto to unbiased, expert scrutiny. Here is what our experts had to say about the Green Party’s top policies. Follow the links for further analysis.

Economy

John Fender, Professor of Macroeconomics at University of Birmingham

A key point in the Green Party’s manifesto is its opposition to the pursuit of growth as a measure of economic success. As has been explained elsewhere, they pledge to abandon GDP, and replace it with a measure of Adjusted National Product.

The Greens pledge to end austerity and increase the role of the state. To increase government revenues, they plan to impose a wealth tax, a “Robin Hood” (or financial transactions) tax and to raise the top rate of income tax. And although their numbers add up, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Greens’ estimates of the tax take from some of the measures they are advocating are incredibly optimistic, if not grossly unrealistic. Their proposals are also likely to have damaging effects on the economy as well.

Read more here.

Education

Daniel Muijs, Professor of Education at University of Southampton

The Green education manifesto proposes some radical changes to the current educational landscape. But the measures proposed do not come cheap; and this holds true for schools, early years, and further education alike.

Based on my calculations, the costed elements of these three parts of the manifesto add up to more than £19 billion of extra spending a year. This represents an increase of almost 20% to this year’s education budget, which stood at £98 billion. What’s more, the uncosted reforms are likely to add a significant amount on top of that.

Simon Burgess, Professor of Economics at University of Bristol

The Greens manifesto is clear on what sorts of schools the party does not like, but is imprecise on some of the mechanisms to eliminate them. Academies and Free schools are to be “integrated” into the local authority system. This might mean giving schools the same sorts of capabilities as academies (as Labour proposes) or removing those capabilities from academies, which is unfeasible and undesirable. Grammar schools are also to be “integrated” (“abolished”), which is a positive step as it will eliminate one source of inequality.

Read more here.

Environment and Energy

Hugh Compston, Professor of Climate Politics at Cardiff University, and Ian Bailey, Professor of Environmental Politics at Plymouth University

There’s little doubt that these pledges are ambitious and have strong academic pedigrees. Ecological tax reform, for instance, draws heavily on the ideas of Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, whose notion of shifting the burden of taxes from labour to pollution was deployed widely in Germany in 1990s and 2000s. Similarly, the idea of introducing carbon quotas for each individual and business in the UK regardless of wealth, with trading of allowances has been much discussed in recent years.

The commitments to energy efficiency and a wholesale shift from fossil fuels and nuclear to renewables – and the rejection of fracking – reflect Green principles but may be expensive and the ability of renewables to provide enough base-load energy remains hotly debated (see article by Mark Diesendorf in The Conversation and Jon Samseth in Environmental Development).

However, the Greens’ pledges are only likely to hold much sway if the party wins enough seats to secure a negotiating berth alongside the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru in the event of a hung parliament. Current predictions by Election Forecast are that it will hold Brighton Pavilions but not secure any more seats, despite possibly capturing 5% of the overall vote.

Read more here.

EU relations

Sofia Vasilopoulou, Lecturer in Politics at the University of York

It is noticeable that the Green Party manifesto has a very short section on Europe. Despite heightened discussions regarding British membership of the EU and a potential in-or-out referendum, the section on Europe is a third of a page long and features towards the end of the manifesto as part of the chapter on international affairs.

This is a sign that first the party does not consider the issue as particularly important and second that it sees Europe mostly as an issue of foreign policy – external to the domestic politics agenda – unlike anti-EU parties such as UKIP.

The party makes a pro-European statement arguing that Britain is part of Europe. It praises the EU for its progressive policies on rights, peace and security, culture and financial regulation.

It also praises the EU for environmental protection. This makes sense given that the EU has been a key driver of international negotiations on climate change, including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol. The EU has confirmed its commitment to a low-carbon path, it has set high targets for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions progressively up to 2050, and it has committed to cutting its emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020.

Read more here.

Health

Maria Goddard, Professor of Health Economics at University of York

The Green Party manifesto has the stated aim of creating a “national health society” and presents a picture in which employment, education, transport, housing, food and the environment all contribute towards the creation of a healthier and more equal society. The contribution their specific policies for health will make to this vision, centre around a number of main issues.

The Greens pledge that by 2020, they will be spending £20 billion more per year on health care, as well as spending an extra £9 billion to provide free social care for the elderly, along the lines suggested by the Commission for Health and Social Care set up by the King’s Fund in 2013.

This is a greater sum allocated to health than the other parties have pledged to date, and raises the immediate question of how it can be afforded. The section of the manifesto on health mentions the imposition of extra taxes on alcohol and tobacco, in order to help pay for this. Elsewhere in the manifesto the party sets out tax reforms, including “wealth taxes”, which they say will allow them to spend more on the public sector overall.

Read more here.

Stephen Weatherhead, Lecturer in Research Methods at Lancaster University

The Green Party manifesto is built on the premise that the solutions to problems are found by creating a series of virtuous circles – a cycle of events in which each stage aims to increase the benefits of the next. Within mental health, they highlight the various interactions between mental health and the welfare system, crime and substance misuse.

The party continues the call to end workfare (as it has since at least 2008) along with a statement that “Our current welfare system breeds desperation and stress”. Similarly the manifesto draws connections between psychological wellbeing, substance misuse and crime.

It appears the main proposal to overcome these and other social determinants of mental health problems is to finance virtuous policy circles. Areas for financial investment include staff training, mental health beds and crisis care, talking therapies, addiction services, as well as focusing on the needs of specific populations and groups who are commonly oppressed or stigmatised, such as refugees and LGBTIQ communities.

However, the manifesto is vague on what comes after the initial funding and how any changes would be maintained. This is where the gap appears to be, triggering a virtuous circle is admirable but the reality is that these processes will need lasting support, maintenance and care. This is magnified in the allegorical reference to mental health’s “Cinderella status”. Well Cinderella married the Prince and they lived happily ever after. If The Green Party is going to play Fairy Godmother, waving the magic wand of initial investment, it’s unclear what will fund the regal lifestyle which comes afterwards.

Read more here.

Immigration

Simon McMahon, Research Fellow at Coventry University

The Greens have set themselves apart from the dominant discourse on immigration. Political leaders over recent years have responded to surveys which show people to have a persistently negative view of immigration. As a result, the political debate has typically focused on the number of migrants (and whether this can be reduced), the impacts of migration (particularly the economic costs) and the (in)effectiveness of government attempts to control migration.

Against this backdrop, the Green manifesto has offered a distinctive message which states that “migration is a fact of life”. Whilst often a response to international inequalities, climate change, war and conflict, immigration is also, the party states “much of the time … voluntary, is on a relatively small scale and is a positive benefit for all concerned”.

However, by running against the mainstream on such a contested political issue, it remains to be seen whether the party’s proposals will be seen as providing a credible option.

Read more here.