The Green Party manifesto for England and Wales, entitled If not now, when?” has been published and is available here:

It proposes a Green New Deal, remaining in the EU, constitutional reform, and ideas for improving quality of life and reforming the tax system. 

As everyone will have different priorities in this election, the aim here is not to summarise every policy. Instead, below are four areas of interest based on four good questions to ask when reading a manifesto: 

  • What are the headlines?
  • What long-standing ideas are applied to new problems?
  • What new issues is the party discussing?
  • What unanswered questions remain?

Headline: climate emergency

The headline of the manifesto: If not now, when?” is a clear call to action on climate change. The Greens believe that climate change is an emergency requiring urgent action. They propose a Green New Deal” as the central priority of Government: to reduce net emissions to zero by 2030, with a combined investment of over £100 billion per year. They write:

This is a comprehensive ten-year plan ambitious enough to tackle climate and ecological breakdown at the scale and speed set out by science. It will deliver a fast and fair transformation of our economy and society, renewing almost every aspect of life in the UK: from the way we produce and consume energy, to the way in which we grow the food we eat, and how we work, travel, and heat our homes.

You can read about the proposals in the first chapter of the Green manifesto. However, the main takeaway is that while most parties see the climate as an issue, the Greens see it as the issue. Many proposals on the environment by other parties would be implemented by a few departments in a wider policy context. In contrast, the Greens want the environment to be the focus of a whole Government. So it is worth asking Green parliamentary candidates about this priority, and how other aims and tasks will fit in. 

Old news: good sustainable living

There’s a cartoon I saw recently. It pictures a speaker at an environment conference giving a list of improvements to life from sustainability (e.g. green jobs, liveable cities, less pollution, clean water), with someone carping from the audience what if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?!” 

Sometimes the environmental movement is caricatured as seeking to lower people’s quality of life due to predictions of future disaster. However, under the heading of The Green Quality of Life Guarantee”, the Green Party explores how sustainable living will in fact improve people’s lives. For example, its proposals include broadening access to the countryside through ecotourism or support for small-scale farming, with access to nature being seen a basic right. It argues:

Our countryside is a precious resource – a home for people and wildlife, a source of employment, a place of enjoyment for those who visit its wealth of landscapes. It is vital for our common health, prosperity and wellbeing.

In a way, just as Christian faith transforms our life now, and isn’t just about what happens when we die”, so environmental policy should present a compelling vision for the present as well as the future. This broader, deeper vision of sustainability – as not just about averting a future crisis – should be something we seek from our parliamentary candidates. 

New ideas: simplifying the tax system

This is not a new idea in politics. However, calls to simplify” the tax system often come from the more libertarian political wing – where simpler often means lower. However, the Green Party writes:

Our current system of income taxes is hugely complex. Those seeking to avoid tax are able to use this complexity to their advantage.

Tax avoiders can shift their money in and out of different income and asset categories, switching category just before the tax official catches up with them. A whole tax avoidance industry exists to guide those prepared to pay to wriggle out of tax through the cracks in the system. 

The Greens propose merging many taxes into a new consolidated income tax, and to move from the current benefits system to a system of universal basic income. They also propose reforms to taxes on business (small and large), as well as changes to taxes on land and property.

Tax justice has been a key concern for many charities, and a focus on clarity over mere percentages is an important development in the debate on taxation. 

Unanswered questions: protest and consensus

The first unanswered question for the Green Party at this election is, perhaps surprisingly, the Extinction Rebellion (XR) – unmentioned by name in the manifesto. In demonstrations against various parties and candidates, some representatives of the protest movement declare themselves to be in rebellion not just against the Government, but against political parties. 

This is quite a challenge to the Green Party, which as a political party has sought the radical changes needed through parliamentary means. But XR are more radical still – they have demanded a more rapid net-zero date than the Greens, for example (2025 versus 2030). So how does the Green Party relate to the Extinction Rebellion in the future? Is protest merely seen as a symptom, to which a parliamentary Green New Deal” is the cure? Or is XR a better sign of things to come?

The second unanswered question is around the concept of consensus. The Greens are right to say, as many Christians would, that climate change is an urgent crisis to which we need a far better response – locally, nationally and globally. People who care about it are being encouraged to vote Green, to express solidarity with others across the political spectrum who share this urgency. There is, after all, a strong conservative case for preserving the planet – indeed, for conservation. So, a genuine consensus movement on this issue – from left and right – would be welcome

An obstacle to it, however, can be found in some of the other policies in the Green Party manifesto itself. Some of them may give pause to religious groups of conservative views, for example, as well as to others. Such policies include removing the opt-out from sex education, campaigning for greater access to abortion in EU countries, and proposals to legalise drugs. These proposals do not immediately concern the climate crisis, and may present issues of conscience to some who would otherwise support a Green New Deal. 

One response to this may be that such social conservatives should put their concerns to one side and vote anyway. Climate change is after all an emergency, and everyone has to make some compromises in order to vote for a party. Doubtless some will vote Green even if they fundamentally disagree with the policies above – perhaps on the strength of a local candidate. But the dilemma should also make us think about what a fuller consensus on the environment might look like, and how it could better include those of diverse views.