Much has been made recently of the ‘Green surge’. Having had a big hand in the rise of UKIP, the media suddenly gave a lot of attention to the Green Party and the rumoured challenge to Labour from the left. There are many in Labour who have a distinct green tinge, quite rightly so, and a big increase in support for the Green Party could undermine Labour in some critical seats.
Three events last week whetted my appetite to have a look at the actual policies the Green Party has adopted. First, a statement by Bea Campbell, a Green spokesperson on Any Questions, who said that people should vote Green out of principle even if it led to Cameron being re-elected. Then Natalie Bennett’s interview with Andrew Neil on the Sunday Politics raised a lot of doubts, and we saw the case for a ‘Citizen’s Income’ fall apart before our eyes: the problems with it have since been discussed in the Guardian. And finally, in my little housing world it was said that the ‘old’ parties had nothing to offer private tenants and the Green Party is the only Party that supports rent controls.
It seemed reasonable to go the GP’s own policy website where, indeed, there are quite a lot of words about housing. Most of them are unexceptional and are worthy enough for most people to agree, blaming our housing crisis on inequality and a lack of investment. But a few points, like several references to funding from the Housing Corporation, confirm the impression that most of the policy was written more than a decade ago and that any updating has been a partial and imprecise exercise. The land section was last updated in 2000, although it does contain an outline proposal for an annual land value tax. The incredibly hostile section on ALMOs also feels distinctly outdated.
There are of course points to agree with, like housing associations should be more accountable, housing co-ops are a good thing, there should be aggressive action against empty homes, and tenants should be empowered. They would end the right to buy, devolving decisions on sales to local councils, and allow councils to build or buy houses where there is a demand for social housing. That sounds great, but I can see no estimate of how many are needed or the cost. It is nice to see the Labour Housing Group’s flagship 1980s slogan of the ‘right to rent’ adopted, but here it applies to home owners who cannot afford their mortgage. They would extend the homelessness duty to include single people and childless couples. It is no surprise to see lengthy references to energy efficiency in building and heating homes.
The outdated feel of the whole policy is illustrated by having no reference to the policies pursued by the Coalition since it came to power, for example the ending of funding for new homes for social rent, the advent of the unaffordable ‘Affordable Rent’ regime and ‘Help to Buy’, or recently arising issues like ‘Buy to Let’ and the rise in foreign purchases. There is no attempt to put a number on the number of new homes needed or to say how a big increase would be achieved or funded.
To go back to the beginning, the Greens say that the proposed Citizens’ Income, available to all individuals, would be ‘sufficient to cover basic housing costs’, whilst other benefits and tax reliefs would be gradually phased out. Housing benefit would be payable in the short term, available to anyone in any tenure. These are again uncosted proposals and the distributional impact is not discussed.
On private tenants, which is what provoked my interest, it says ‘The Green party supports the full registration of private sector rents as a precursor to monitoring health and safety’. That of course is different from rent control. In the introduction they say that the private rented sector ‘needs to have rents controlled’ but the point is not repeated nor is there any detail of what they mean – and as we have discussed previously on Red Brick, different people mean different things by the term ‘rent control’.
Reading the Green Party’s policy website was a surprisingly depressing experience. I had expected to be challenged by some radical and considered ideas. Instead I felt like I had been transported back via the Tardis or some such machine to the world of fifteen years ago, long before the Bank crash and the Coalition came along to wreak such havoc on housing.