The joined up policies of the Green Party

The joined up policies of the Green Party
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
1 November 2014

With two recent national polls on voting intentions showing the Green Party ahead of the Liberal Democrats, it can only be a matter of time before the latter disappear into the oblivion of the “Other parties” category.

These results can only strengthen the Greens’s call to be included in the 2015 televised general election debates, which, if successful, will give the Greens the opportunity to reach millions of voters. And presuming party leader Natalie Bennett does her job what viewers should hear about is the party’s holistic policies that have countless positive, and sometimes surprising, knock-on effects on the rest of society.

Take the Green Party’s manifesto commitment of making 35-hours the standard full-time work week in the UK. Most obviously, as the UK has some of the longest full-time working hours in Europe, this would reduce the amount of hours people spend in paid work. Who could possibly object to this? More seriously, there are many more important spin-offs as well. Ill health and stress from overwork would likely reduce. The New Economics Foundation argues moving towards a shorter working week “would help break the habit of living to work, working to earn, and earning to consume.” This, in turn, would give people an opportunity to focus on friends and family, voluntary work, pastimes and other non-paid activities. From a feminist perspective, less hours at work would make it more likely domestic labour and childcare could be more evenly balanced between women and men. A move away from earning to consume would also help to address the climate chaos that is already engulfing the global. “A number of studies have found that shorter work hours are associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions and therefore less global climate change”, noted a 2013 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “The relationship between these two variables is complex and not clearly understood, but it is understandable that lowering levels of consumption, holding everything else constant, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Another key Green Party concern is to reduce private car use and increase funding for public transport. First, this would lead to a reduction in exhaust pollution that contributes to thousands of deaths a year. Fewer cars would also mean less traffic noise, which can have a negative effect on stress and sleep quality. Fewer cars on the road means a safer road environment which would lead to more people cycling and walking. And more people cycling and walking means more people will be getting more exercise. And people who take regular exercise are less likely to be overweight and depressed. And less overweight and depressed people means a reduction in numerous associated health problems, which will mean less stress on the NHS.

And like the 35-hour week, a reduction in private car use helps to address the Green Party’s core concern – climate change. And addressing climate change itself has many welcome spin offs – from consciously weaning the world off fossil fuels before they run out at a time and place not of our choosing to all the positive social impacts I mention above. Taking a global view, Naomi Klein argues in her incendiary new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate “Many of the changes that need to be made to dramatically cut emissions would also materially benefit the quality of life for the majority of people on the planet.”

In contrast to the Green Party’s joined-up thinking, arguably the headline policy for all the three main parties is austerity (the Greens are in favour of a Green New Deal). And using the same ‘dropping a pebble in a pond’ logic, we know this (highly ideological, counterproductive) belt-tightening has had, and will continue to have, a never-ending stream of negative consequences for wider society. Rather than being ‘all in this together’, austerity politics have led to increased levels of inequality, which Professor Richard Wilkinson and Professor Kate Pickett have shown has a deleterious effect on a whole range of issues from social mobility to mental health, drug use, obesity and trust of other people.

Austerity means more people living in poverty, more people visiting food banks, more depression and more suicides, as Dr David Stuckler explains in his 2013 book The Body Politic. More broadly, the political elite’s austerity obsession pushes society closer towards social breakdown, leading to both organised, overtly political resistance and more spontaneous, often criminal mass actions like 2011’s nationwide riots.

With the possibility of millions of voters being presented with these radically different political visions of the future, is it any wonder that much of the mainstream media and political elite are attempting to exclude the Green Party from the television election debates?

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