Local Election Broadcast – The Greens

Contain your excitement, it’s political broadcast season! And the first of the bunch that is even vaguely worth talking about comes from the Greens. Have a watch below, and then let’s get stuck in:



They’ve gone with a humorous parody of the political landscape to form the bulk of the broadcast, and for the most part it works. The gags are funny and the children engaging. Then, in the last minute the message suddenly shifts gear to deliver a more sober appeal for votes. This is about what we’ve come to expect from the Green Party (in fact, didn’t they already do this concept before? Or have I just seen it on Newswipe or something?). In the last general election they parodied the other parties as boyband figures. The theme of “the rest are all the same and not as clever as us” is certainly the one they’ve been hammering away at for some time now.

So, does the video work? Well it’s funny, but I’m not sure it will switch many votes. If anything it makes these figures more sympathetic. It’s easy to loathe a politician, but a child dressed up as them humanises that figure. Most of the Green Party’s support will come from the left, and yet what left-leaning person wouldn’t sympathise with the well-meaning Corbyn child in the video? I think the Greens missed a trick by not including themselves. True to do so wouldn’t have fed the false assertion at the heart of clip (that the Greens are somehow grown up unlike other parties), but self-deprecation is a lot more endearing that being lectured at. Also, I come away from the video having been reminded of all these figures who I may or may not want to support in other parties, but with no green alternative, let alone who this random figure is at the end.

This brings us to the worst aspect of the video, which is the condescending speech. You can’t have an election broadcast which consists solely of dressing children up as your opponents and making them act silly, only to claim that you’re the grown up in the equation. The hypocrisy utterly destroys the video. It is as if late in the day someone pointed out, “In making this, aren’t we being the very children we’re making our opponents out to be?” and they panicked and quickly tacked on the end to make themselves look more serious. Not to mention the rather creepy way the children are being watched on the monitors.

But still, it got me writing about it so there’s that.

Cameron’s Painful Swing

It has been a while since we discussed politics on this wee blog. Since then we’ve had a local elections, a revolt over Europe, bitter division over gay marriage and the resurgence of terrorism as a political punch-bag. The big picture is one of a nation whose political parties are becoming gross caricatures of their former selves, lurching to extremes rather than straddling the often uncomfortable centre ground where elections were won.

So first off: the local elections. The big shocker of the night was just how crazy the electorate are willing to be to teach the political classes a lesson. UKIP, the cuddly face of the bitter right, managed to poll 23%. Pretty impressive, given that their vote was considered a “wasted vote”, but despite this they polled strong, coming in third behind Labour 29% and the Conservatives on 25%. The Liberal Democrats whimpered into 4th with 14%, disappointing but actually above what they usually poll nationally.

So why care? It’s not as if Nigel Farage’s eurosceptic party managed to gain control of any councils, and with that share of the vote they aren’t going to form the next government. Hell, with our awful first-past-the-post system they are unlikely to secure a single seat. But, as subtle a shift as it had been to the nation at large, to the political classes the shift was seismic.

You see, those loonies that voted UKIP used to vote Conservative. They were Cameron’s loonies, and the party had grown lazy depending upon them to turn out every five or so years to keep up the fight against Labour and the Liberals. Suddenly, the right wing swivel-eyed loon vote is split and now we’re into a four horse race, and this simple change in the landscape has caused all the nonsense we’ve had since.

It has always been Cameron’s agenda to move the Conservative party to the centre right. That was the reason for those painful huskie shots during his time in opposition. Unfortunately the centre is not a place his party likes to sit, as in the centre you can still catch the odd whiff of the unwashed left. And now that their ranks are breaking for UKIP, the pressure has been to follow them, ceding the centre ground to the despised liberals. This panic led them to rebel over their own Queen’s Speech, attempt to sign into law an in-out Europe referendum, try to bring down the gay marriage legislation and lately to stand tough over terrorism with a badly thought through ‘snooper’s charter’.

But it ironic that of all the things that Cameron has got spectacularly wrong, the move towards the centre is one of the few things he got ri… er.. correct. The right of British politics is similar to its left counterpart, the domain of the political pariah. The tory party (against the wisdom of its leadership) is banking on being able to move right and scoop back up the UKIP vote whilst still holding the rest of its support, but this assumption is terribly flawed. A conservative move to the right would allow the liberals to strengthen by appealing to pro-business centre-right conservatives reluctant to support a party that could pull us out of the EU. Moving right would also allow the Labour party to sneak into the centre, saving them from the leftist-protest persona they have fallen into.

David Cameron has become trapped. He needs to stop the UKIP threat, but he has no tools to fight them. So far every attempt by his back benchers to move the party right has simply handed UKIP better poll ratings. If he can’t convince his party of political realities soon they will find themselves in opposition in 2015. Tee hee.

Yummy Polls

It has been a while since we’ve discussed politics and my secret love: opinion polls. Yes, those dreary meaningless statistics that bear little relation to the real world are the small skirmishes between the battles and one such battle is approaching – Thursday’s local elections. Yesterday’s ComRes poll has the Conservatives on 32%, Labour 38%, UKIP 13% and Liberal Democrats trailing with 9%, but of course that is nationally and the elections that are taking place will not be fought under proportional representation. No indeed, these elections are going to be decided with good ole fashioned utterly bonkers first-past-the-post.

As a believer in electoral reform I should be shaking my head in disgust at how skewed the results on Thursday are likely to be, but there is a certain element of chickens coming home to roost, as it is the Conservatives who are about to taste a mouthful of feathers from the upstart right wing UKIP. The left has spent at least three decades being split and now it is the turn of the right. Even though support for right wing policies are on the rise (euro-scepticism, anti-immigration), having the vote split between two parties will help the liberals and labour parties in areas that they are consolidated enough not to bring down each other, a problem they and their supporters have grown accustomed to through years of bloody battles.

So ironically the Lib Dems best hope is Farage, and right now they should be delivering UKIP’s leaflets as well as their own. The more the Conservatives pull to the right to steal UKIP votes, the more sensible conservatives will flock to centrist Liberal Democrats, and the more to the left the Tories pull to defeat Lib Dems, the more they will lose to UKIP.

The only party that seems excluded from all this fun is Labour, who are still stuck with the same share of the vote they have had for ages with little impetus either way. Ed Miliband has been accused of turning his party into the party of protest (simply saying boo to cuts without giving any solution) but if that was his aim the plan backfired. No one wants to register their protest vote with Labour.

And then there’s the Greens who somehow, in a time of global warming, widespread disaffection with politics and grossly unpopular cuts, have managed to make themselves entirely irrelevant.

A UKIP Assessment

Google UKIP and the first line in their autobiographical blurb reads: “Libertarian, non-racist party seeking Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.” Frankly, if one of the first things an organisation needs to say about themselves is that they’re ‘non-racist’, people should be slightly worried. But before their, slightly guilty sounding, profession of non-racism, they highlight their libertarianism, so they can’t be all bad, surely?

Nigel Farage, UKIP Leader by European Parliament

Nigel Farage, UKIP Leader by European Parliament

“We, The People” is the title of the UKIP local election manifesto, which carries the rather patronising tag-line of being “straight-talking” which at best means ‘simplified’, and at worst ”dumbed down’. But, without feeling too prejudiced, lets jump on in.

UKIP claim to be a party of localism, pulling power away from national and international bodies and putting it in the hands of local people. A big part of this, unsurprisingly, is withdrawal from the EU, but despite their name, there is more to them than just this one policy.

Like most of the smaller parties, UKIP favour electoral reform, switching from FPTP to AV Plus. They also want to devolve power to local authorities, democratically electing members to controlling bodies of health, police and education. Yet at the same time they would abolish regional government, which seems slightly muddled. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they intend to devolve so much power to councils that these regional governments would no longer be necessary, but this does seem unlikely.

Interestingly, UKIP favour scrapping VAT and replacing it with a local sales tax that would raise money for the council instead of the standard council tax. This is an alternative to the Lib Dem policy of creating a local income tax to counter council tax, and both parties have it right that council tax needs to go. The flaw in the UKIP approach is that if authorities can set their own local tax, then there will be too much competition to cut this tax to draw shoppers to the area. Sometimes it’s easy to cross boundaries and I fear there would soon become tax-haven local authorities in rich areas that do not need as much council tax revenue and can afford to charge less, thus creating more trade and becoming even richer.

On the deficit, UKIP are against front-line cuts, but would scrap all ‘non-jobs’. I’m rather dubious about the existence of non-jobs. I guess people consider all jobs ‘non-jobs’ until they find out what the actual nature of the work is. In reality this policy is rather empty and crafted to simply sound pleasing.

On immigration, the party would like to freeze permanent settlement for five years as well as withhold state benefits from immigrants for five years and stop all cash benefits going to non-Brits. Whilst population control is an important subject, deliberately making life difficult for immigrants would only create a criminal underclass. I fear such policies would have disastrous effects.

Whilst there are policies on all sorts of areas, I’d like to point to one last section on the environment which includes ending all money going towards tackling climate change and banning wind farms. The money saved would be invested in nuclear energy and ‘clean’ coal. Whilst they are right to look at alternatives to oil, simply shutting off the possibility of getting energy from renewable sources does seem blinkered.

In conclusion, UKIP appear to be deeply confused. On the one hand they endorse the importance of liberty and devolved power, but only agree with that power being used to implement conservative policies (which are often very authoritarian).

So is UKIP a party worth supporting? If you want us to pull out of the EU right away, then yes. The Conservative party is split too deeply on the issue for throwing support behind them to have the effect you’d like. On the other hand, if you are a libertarian then the liberals is the place for you. However if you are ‘fake libertarian’ (you believe in freedom, but only freedom for a select few doing things you personally believe in) then the Conservatives is the party to get behind.

My prediction for UKIP is a healthy gain in local elections, but not significant enough to warrant much attention. The real story will be the river of liberal blood flowing through the streets…

A Green Assessment

Yesterday the Green Party, lead by Caroline Lucas, launched their drive for electoral success in the upcoming local elections. Those amongst their ranks must be pretty excited, this an unprecedented opportunity; the Liberal Democrats (greenest of the major parties) have seen their support decimated and Labour have shown themselves to be providing no alternative at all.

So are the Greens viable? Their leftist stance puts them in a perfect spot to take advantage of the unpopular cuts. As Lucas put it herself, “It’s crucial that there are Green councillors to protect people from the most harsh of those cuts.”

“Our whole analysis of the cuts project is that it’s the wrong approach. Yes, we need to address the deficit but a better way is to get people back into work to ensure there are more taxes coming in.
“Otherwise there is a greater risk of a double-dip recession. We can already see what extreme austerity is doing in countries like Portugal and Ireland.”

So on the issue of cuts the Green party appears to be singing from the same hymn sheet at the Labour party. Of course, in Labour’s case this is a mirage, they would have been cutting almost as much (16 billion to the government’s 17). The timing of the cuts isn’t simply about the distaste of being in debt, neither is it about the horrendous amount of interest paid every day, but it was about calming the bond market. Every country has a credit rating and this affects the rate at which a nation can borrow money. If they lose their AAA rating (as Greece did) this stops international investors lending money to that nation at a favourable and manageable rate. As of March Greece’s rating was B1, ‘highly speculative’.

It was the threat of losing this sacred AAA rating that forced the government’s hands in taking the axe to public spending, and thankfully it worked, the storm passed away from the UK and onto other countries too politically divided to implement an austerity measure.

Of course that storm could return. If growth is too slow then the deficit may not be paid off, bringing the eye of the bond market back upon our economy. George Osborne has managed to buy us a brief reprieve, but without growth that could soon end.

So is the Green stance correct? On the one hand Lucas is absolutely right to say that growth is what’s necessary at this point. If we don’t get it, then the deficit won’t be paid off and the UK finances will fall apart. However, without the cuts the bond market would lose faith in the British economy and condemn us anyway. We need both growth and cuts. This is the horrendous high-wire act the government must perform and it’s unfair to imply there is an alternative.

Yet not all politics is about the deficit, and other issues should not be forgotten. A quick visit to the Green’s website provides some key policies.

Banking System

“We will fight for a fair financial deal, with community banks, credit unions and mutuals.  This will ensure those who need financial help are given realistic loans, so they can survive the current economic hardship that we are facing today.”

A big problem small businesses face is the difficulty in securing loans. It is right that the Greens put emphasis on getting lending going. However, this is a rather vacuous statement. Every government would fight for a deal with the banks to get them lending to smaller businesses. Ultimately, you can’t force a bank to lend money. If they think it’s a good investment, they will, if they don’t, they won’t. Lending money recklessly is what got us into this problem in the first place.

“We also believe it’s unfair that these irresponsible bankers continue to earn extortionate salaries and bonuses, while 330,000 hard working people still earn less than the low minimum wage. Which is why we will fight to introduce a High Pay Commission to ensure bankers and other highly paid executives in the private and public sectors are not rewarded for their failure.”

True, the short term rewards for risky behaviour were obscene and the divide in earnings between the rich and poor is growing dramatically, but as a criticism of the banks, this is out of date. Governments are taking steps to never have to bailout a bank again, and now the myth that a bank is too large to fail has been shattered, share-holders will be keen to prevent another catastrophe. True, it still might, but rewards come with risks and there is little that can be done to prevent that. This Green pledge is more of a socialist attack on the whole system of Capitalism, a valid in its ambition, but the changes to our economy and way of life would need to be drastic to have any actual beneficial effect other than drive away business and investment.

Health and the NHS

“We believe in keeping the health service free – we would abolish prescription charges, re-introduce free eye tests and ensure NHS chiropody is widely available. We will also fight to restore free dental care and provide everyone with the choice of an NHS dentist.”

People in England should be pretty peeved that those in devolved areas seem to get so much more for their money. In Scotland they get free prescriptions and healthcare for the elderly. Where does our money go? To bankers? Duck ponds? That must be it, right?

In reality, different parts of the UK decide to funnel their money into different areas. In England the NHS spends a lot of money of cancer drugs that the Scottish NHS simply wouldn’t be able to afford. So on the one hand, it is great that everyone in Scotland can get free prescriptions for any ailment, but if a particularly horrendous one does strike, they may have worse chances of survival.

Now there may be a lot of perfectly benign sources that the Greens could find the money for these proposals (scrapping Trident, putting a tax on children) but without specifying where the money would come from we can only assume they’ll follow the Scottish model.

Pensions and the Elderly

“The Green Party would introduce a free home insulation programme for all homes that need it, with priority for pensioners and those living in fuel poverty. We aim to insulate 4 million homes every year.”

A very admirable policy. It would create jobs and reduce dependency on energy. How affordable it is, I’m not sure, but practical green policies like this are when the greens are at their best.


Jobs and Living Wage

“Top bankers continue to pocket your money in the form of unearned bonuses, while factories, firms and farms are forced to lay off more and more workers by the day, week and month.

“This must end. Our major and immediate priority is the creation of an extra million jobs and training places. An immediate £44bn package of measures would include workforce training, investment in renewables, public transport, insulation, social housing and waste management.”

Hmm. This is where it gets worrying. The continued slamming of ‘bankers’ is very populist at the moment. Where politicians used to be able to open a sentence by mentioning ‘drug dealers’ and then ‘terrorists’ in the hope the audience’s fury would encourage them to agree with whatever they say, now that lofty position is held by bankers.

So riding high after that inflammatory statement, they Greens suddenly find £44bn to splash out with. If there is a magic pot of money somewhere that only the Greens know how to find, then they might be onto something. However, if the truth is, as my cold cynical heart suspects, that there is no money other than what can be borrowed or taxed, then the snag in their plan becomes clear.

“We are demanding the introduction of a ‘Living Wage’. This will help ensure low paid workers earn enough to provide for themselves and their families and eradicate poverty in Britain for good. The Green Party will fight for a National Minimum Wage of 60% of net national average earnings (currently this would mean a minimum wage of £8.10 per hour).”

Interesting. As a minimum wage that seems very reasonable. Some research needs to be done to assess the impact on growth, but if that is negligible then who could oppose such a move? However, if there is an impact, then the only sensible thing to do is wait a term and implement it later when things aren’t quite so dire.

Transport

“We would spend £1.5bn subsidising existing public transport to make fares up to 10% cheaper and £30bn over the Parliament on investing in a better system.  This will have the effect of strengthening communities, promoting a greater appreciation of place, reducing crime, improving the health of the population, and reducing traffic fatalities.   And it would also create 160,000 jobs.”

Fantastic! I love it! Can we afford it? If we can’t, what else can we cut in order to be able to? The Greens suggest that the £30bn would come from road projects that they would abandon. If that is true, then good luck to them. Our railways need investment to lure drivers away from their cars. However, people should be prepared for some pretty dire roads in the meantime and no guarantee that there will be much of a noticeable improvement (£30bn only buys you a lot of railways these days if your shopping with Hornby).

Conclusion? To vote or not to?

Some Green policies are extremely admirable and should be given due care and attention. However, a lot of the current proposals are either unaffordable, or the tax hikes necessary would limit the growth they emphasise is so important. We would all like to see Corporation Tax go up, but to do so would be to drive away the investment we need. It’s a painful truth, but a truth nonetheless.

Ultimately the Green pledges seem to be a mix of sensible policies and nonsensical rhetoric lurching into a form of socialism that is now long dead. If they want to propose de-constructing capitalism, then they should campaign for that and not be ashamed to do so. However, if they aim to work within a global capitalist society, then they need to wake up to that fact.

The problem the Green party faces is that if you take all the policies that could work and cast off all the ones that wouldn’t you roughly end up with the Liberal Democrat manifesto. The Greens would argue that it is worth abandoning this established third party and move to them, because the Liberal Democrats shamed themselves by going into a coalition. But under first-past-the-post the only option for a third party is a coalition, and if the greens were to grow at the expense of eating the liberal corpse, they too would face a similar fate.

Unfortunately for the Greens their sensible option is still to throw their weight behind the liberals instead of trying to destroy them. Bolstering this party with which they agree with on so many issues, might actually get them some of the policies they claim to be in politics to implement. If they aren’t sincere about achieving any of them, then they can continue as they are: a side attraction that splits the green and liberal vote.