Comment: The Green Party are now the real threat to Labour

by Richard Heller

In the closing days of the European election campaign, Labour’s high command has suddenly noticed that the party’s core supporters could be tempted to vote for UKIP.

However, it has ignored the very real threat from the Green party for too long. It had better hope that few voters read the Green European election manifesto. This is far more ambitious than Labour’s. On some crucial issues it offers Labour supporters good motives to "loan" their votes to the Green party, in the hope of achieving more in the European Parliament and, more importantly, to send some messages to Labour in advance of the General election.

To give a simple example, the Greens offer an in-out referendum on membership of the EU, although they do not set a date for it and hope first to achieve a far-reaching set of reforms. Labour has set its face against a referendum, primarily because it would be bad for big business (so much for Ed Miliband standing up to vested interests). It will offer a referendum only if the EU proposes to transfer more powers away from member states to EU institutions. After the last Labour government’s performance on the Lisbon Treaty, few voters will believe this commitment. Voting Green therefore gives Labour supporters a good way to seek a referendum without holding their nose and voting for UKIP.

The Green manifesto has a firm commitment to keep this country out of the euro. Labour's has none. The omission is astonishing. Is it deliberate, to keep the door open for Ed Miliband’s government to join the euro? Or, more likely, is it accidental because no one read Labour’s manifesto carefully enough? The Greens have proposals to deal with the eurozone crisis and the infliction of deflationary misery on its weaker members, including relief or abatement of sovereign debt and provision for countries to leave the euro. Labour’s manifesto has nothing to say about the future of the euro, the biggest issue in the EU (a poor demonstration of Ed Miliband’s claim to "intellectual self-confidence"). Labour makes one bare reference to the eurozone crisis – an unsupported assumption that it is over.

Another huge issue for the EU in the next five years is the prospect of a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is being negotiated in characteristic secrecy. The Green manifesto gives voters major causes to worry about TTIP – weakened protection for workers, consumers and the environment, and a huge transfer of power from national parliaments and courts. All of these ills it promises to resist. Labour’s manifesto has a much weaker message, and more confused. It welcomes TTIP and throws in some unsourced figures for its economic benefits. However, it later promises to "monitor" the progress of negotiations, especially its possible impact on the National Health Service. It does not explain why, if TTIP is so wonderful, it needs to be monitored, and why something labelled "Trade and Investment" might have something to do with the NHS.

Although the Common Agricultural Policy is an important contributor to Ed Miliband’s cost-of-living crisis, Labour’s manifesto offers no proposals to reform it, only a vague hope that the EU will spend less money on it. On fishing, Labour boasts that its MEPs have helped to improve the EU’s rules but makes no offer for them to do anything more.

The Greens also boast of reforming the fishing rules, and offer more detail to support their claims. They offer nine commitments to do more, especially for the bluefin tuna and for dolphins and whales. The Greens promise to fight for fundamental change in the CAP and food policy. One slightly opaque paragraph on "food sovereignty", promising people "the right to define and control their own local food systems", even suggests that the CAP might be repatriated. If they mean this, it is the most radical offer on agriculture by any British party, even UKIP. Even if they do not mean this, the Green manifesto offers voters the chance to ask for a big shift in CAP spending from agri-businesses to small farms, to reject GM crops, to reduce pesticide use, to be kinder to farm animals, and of course to protect the landscape and biodiversity. The Green manifesto offers a set of policies on flood prevention: Labour’s has none.

The Green manifesto promises more support for bees, whose colonies are in collapse and whose disappearance would be a self-inflicted environmental catastrophe. The Greens also offer voters a chance to support the hedgehog and the Iberian lynx. Labour’s mentions none of these creatures.

As to the human species, the Green manifesto offers fresh promises on rights for children, older people, and LGBT people, issues missing from Labour’s.

After reading both manifestoes, I found that most, if not all, of Labour’s major policy commitments are at least matched and often outbid by the Greens. This is true of jobs and growth, banking reform, and rights at work. The Greens understandably do not match Labour’s promise of an energy price freeze, but this does not matter in the European elections and voters who really like that policy can ask for it by voting Labour at the General Election.

It is hard to find a "wedge" issue between Labour and the Greens, where Labour’s offer is clearly different and might appeal to more voters. One possibility might be immigration. Labour wants to make it harder for migrants to claim benefits: it will ask the EU for permission to do this to EU nationals, without assessing what this might mean for the many Britons living and working elsewhere in the EU. Labour’s stance is not matched by the Greens, which appears to be the only party committed to maintaining existing rights for migrants. However, Labour voters who want a crackdown on migrants are probably with UKIP already.

A "temporary" vote for the Greens forfeits little or nothing now on offer from Ed Miliband’s Labour party but allows people to ask for more on a range of crucial issues. It is also of course an anti-system vote, a chance to protest against the political class without the toxic associations of voting for UKIP. Ed Miliband could be in serious trouble if progressive voters discover what a Green vote might offer to them: Labour’s programme plus an EU referendum, plus a new European economy, plus added wildlife.

Richard Heller is an author and a journalist and has been a professional speechwriter for over thirty years. He does not like bees, but knows many voters who do.

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