The Green Party have sometimes been described as the "UKIP of the Left". Are you bored with your old party? Do you want to trade it in for a shinier new model? Say goodbye to all those stuffy old politicians from the Westminster old boys' club; the Green Party is for you. We care about the environment, and making the rich pay their fair share, and all those other things that none of the other parties will do because they are all controlled by "the bankers", or something like that. A Green Party victory will wipe out our Gini coefficient overnight, restore the Amazon rainforest, and allow us to spend a life of ease sitting round a carbon-neutral campfire singing Bob Dylan songs. With their promises of a break from the old way of doing things, it is no wonder that they appeal so strongly to students; the Greens are soon to overtake the Labour Party as the number one party among young voters. Yet a brief glance at the Green manifesto serves as a timely reminder of the (over) optimism of the young.
Accusations of "doublethink" against the political Left in this country are generally unfair. Yet it is almost impossible to understate the amount of cognitive dissonance that underpins their manifesto. Presumably they wish to benefit the worst off by introducing basic income (itself not a totally unsound idea), but they want to pay for it by abolishing the tax-free personal allowance. Had any other party proposed taking money from the lowest earning workers in the country, there would be a justified outcry. They want to prevent football teams from going abroad to compete against countries which we cannot have "respectful diplomatic relations" with, yet are apparently entirely happy for British citizens to be able to join ISIS. Oh, and rather amusingly, despite being keen on environmental science, they currently endorse "alternative" medicine; that is, medicine which is an alternative to medicine that actually works. Most seriously of all, they do not pay enough attention to proposals for redistributive taxation (though they do want to tax gifts at a lower threshold, so Christmas with the Greens must be really fun), but they are entirely happy to talk about moving to a zero growth economy where a large number of people are not in work. The latter point is hardly surprising, since Natalie Bennett has publicly stated that poverty in India is not quite as bad since at least everyone is poor there. It is worth noting at this point that the particular study she presumably has in mind, Wilkinson and Picket's "The Spirit Level", only covers the psychological and social effects on inequality on advanced industrial economies, and not developing countries such as India where millions of people do not even have access to clean water.
Just as the Liberal Democrats have seen heavy divisions between the classical liberals (i.e. "Orange Bookers") and the social democrats, the Green Party is also subject to the tension between environmental radicalism and socialism. If one wants a paradigmatic example of just how far the one can be from the other, consider this; the late Baroness Thatcher's decision to close down a good deal of the remaining mines in Britain was absolutely disastrous for a good deal of the working class in this country. However, the environmental impact of transitioning from coal burning to gas was generally positive. What the Green Party have to be able to offer is a consistent account of how a transition to a low-carbon (and for that matter, zero or negative growth) economy can be combined with ensuring that the worst off in society see their position considerably improved. Their manifesto emphatically does not do this. At one time they want to build millions more council homes, which even with the greenest measures in place will still have a large environmental impact. At another, they want to impose hefty resource taxes on the same minerals required to produce them. They want to move over to fully renewable energy by 2030, which even with the current rate of scientific innovation is almost impossible without the (presumably energy intensive) production of hundreds of thousands of wind turbines and solar panels, because nuclear energy is of course just out of the question. Their proposals for the "informal economy" are frankly non-existent.
Natalie Bennett is coming to the Oxford Union in a matter of weeks to object to the idea that feminism is now dominated by middle-class women. This is somewhat of a cruel irony, given that the party she now leads is a case of socialism being dominated by middle-class intellectuals. I do not necessarily agree with everything that the Left in this country says, but I can respect the Old Labour purpose of improving the conditions of the working class that used to control it before Tony Blair came along and decided that the last thing that a socialist party should be doing was socialism. I just do not get the feeling from the Green Party that its most senior figures have ever known what it is like to be a member of the working classes, or the hardships that drove the creation of the trades union movement in this country. As Matthew Holehouse states in his article for the Telegraph, even the most ardent Marxists believed in creating prosperity for the proletariat, and simply believed that state planning was the best way to deliver economic justice. I may not agree that it does so, but the belief itself is not inherently objectionable. What I cannot stand is a party of middle-class intellectuals who are willing to drastically reshape society on the basis that they do not mind giving up a few of their privileges, without any consideration for those people at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid who are not fortunate enough to experience those privileges in the first place. Even the most ardent libertarian who recognises the need for his own private charity to step into the breach is at least acknowledging that there is a world outside the Islington dinner parties, the eco-tourism to the Amazon, and the endless fretting about how organic your child's baby food is.
I understand the frustration that a lot of students feel. It is not hard at all to feel bad for the Left when even "Red" Ed Miliband has never suggested nationalising a thing. There are undoubtedly huge numbers of people whose political opinions are not represented in this country, and whatever I may feel about the matter that is without equivocation a bad thing. What I urge people not to do is accept the shiny new faces of Bennett et al without considering the impact of the Green's policies on the people that we might think they represent. Remember, the last shiny two faces that the electorate (and particularly young voters) fell in love with were Nick Clegg and Tony Blair. We would all do well to be cautious and remember the old maxim; if something seems just too good to be true, that's because it probably is.