The grass isn’t greener on the other side

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 The incredibly hostile section on ALMOs also feels distinctly outdated.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.

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4 Responses to The grass isn’t greener on the other side

  1. Tom – thanks for your comment. I searched widely for other Green Party statements on housing, but there was very little to find, and most were under the name of Darren Johnson on the London Assembly (who does a good job). I know the Manifesto is not yet published, but that is true of all of the Parties, and it is reasonable to comment on what is available. It also seems fair enough to rely for information on the Party’s own ‘Policy Website’ – your term not mine. If it is only a list of policies passed at your Conference, it is extraordinary to see no commentary on the Coalition’s housing policy over the 5 years of this awful Government.
    Natalie Bennett mentions rent caps every time she speaks, and it is reasonable to ask what she means by this, but there is no clue to be found. I am not unsympathetic to the Greens, or at least to your ideals, but I was appalled by Bea Campbell on Any Questions and wound up by Green supporters attacking Labour on the grounds that the Greens have a better policy on rents. The evidence says you don’t.
    I am more than happy to return to the issue when your new paper is published.

    • Tom Chance says:

      Steve, I do agree we need to make the nature of the ‘policy website’ more clear. It’s also not clear that there are other kinds of motions passed at conference commenting on current issues, which aren’t routinely published there. We obviously need to get much better at presentation! Here is an example, a motion I drafted which passed at the autumn 2013 conference:

      You’ll see that in essence the proposed policy on rent controls in that motion is quite similar to yours, and we will announce the full details (which will, I think, be ‘better’ than Labour’s) in the manifesto, if not before.

      Up until quite recently, Darren Johnson was the party’s spokesperson on housing, so his statements on housing are the party’s statements. I’m now the spokesperson, and we should be announcing one of our manifesto policies quite soon, which I’m sure you’ll find interesting!

      I’m personally not very into partisan politics, I have a huge amount of respect for the work that you and other Labour housing people do, and believe the best of all likely outcomes in the forthcoming General Election will be a minority Labour government with Greens in the mix to provide pressure for more progressive/green policies, as we have done at in the Scottish Parliament, many councils and the London Assembly.

  2. Tom Chance says:

    Steve, two things you may like to know for context.

    First, the web page you pointed to is not our manifesto, nor our detailed commentary on the present government and our priorities for the next few years. It is part of a large document created by successive motions to conferences, which paints our vision or a ‘white paper’ if you will.

    Second, it is very out of date and we have been going through a process for just over a year now of completely rewriting it to bring it up to date, and make it more comprehensive. A full draft is going to our spring conference for debate, and a final draft will go to the vote either in the autumn or next spring. Democracy, done properly, is often a slow process. But it ensures that it is the membership, not the leadership, that sets the tone and the framework for all of our policy.

  3. Mike Marriott says:

    Greens may not be up to speed on all housig detail yet but to be realistic they are not going to have much power next time will they? But they have some principles. For example they want to bring railways back into public ownership after your Labour lot spent years wrecking them & the NHS by privatisation

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