Well, you can't say they're not different. The Green Party launched a manifesto yesterday, openly promising to take quite enormous sums from the rich and hand them over to the poor.
The party that for the past 20 years has put the planet first has found a fierce new focus to sit alongside its environmental concern: social justice and inequality. Yesterday it set out an eye-popping programme of redistributive taxation that would have been considered radical even by Old Labour at its most extreme period in the early Eighties.
To pay for a wide range of benefits for people on lower incomes, the Greens in government would seek to raise £73bn in new taxation right away, rising to £112bn in 2013, and increasing the tax take as a share of national income by 25 per cent in just four years. This would come from large hikes in income tax, capital gains tax, corporation tax, financial transaction tax and a permanent tax on bankers' bonuses. The Greens would also increase taxes on motoring, flying, cigarettes and alcohol.
However, 87 per cent of the population would be better off under the Green soak-the-rich regime, the party claimed, as in return the public would be offered much higher pensions, higher minimum wages, free home insulation, free social care for the elderly, big tax breaks for people on lower incomes and reopened local post offices – not to mention large-scale improvements in public transport with renationalised railways, the scrapping of the Trident nuclear missile system, and a radical regime for fighting climate change.
Once single-mindedly environmental in its focus, the party is still passionate about the planet – it will still have nothing to do with nuclear power, for example, and wants "personal carbon quotas" to fight climate change – but it is now also espousing radically left-wing social and economic values. Its leader, the fluent and presentable Caroline Lucas, pointed out yesterday that these are policies of a sort associated with Labour, "before it became New Labour and forgot those principles".
Asked if they were now openly left-wing, she said the Greens were "A party of the left plus... We're not just trying to become a receptacle of what Labour once was. We're taking some of those best values, but putting them into a completely different economic framework."
The manifesto was launched in Brighton, which is a beacon of hope for the Greens, as it is the most "alternative" city in Britain and the Brighton Pavilion constituency is where the party scored its best general election result, securing 22 per cent of the vote in 2005.
Taxation in general
The Greens want to "rehabilitate progressive taxation", that is, bring back higher taxation on higher incomes. They want to raise taxation from 36 per cent of GDP in 2009-10 to 45 per cent in 2013. This would halve the gap between government expenditure and revenues by 2013-14, without having to slash public services. The party would support the idea of a "Robin Hood tax" on international financial transactions.
Taxes to reduce inequality
The Greens would impose a special tax on bankers' bonuses, which would be permanent, and a new higher rate of income tax of 50 per cent, on incomes over £100,000. They would raise the capital gains tax from 18 per cent to the recipient's highest income tax rate (ie up to 50 per cent) and increase the main rate of corporation tax from 28 per cent back up to 30 per cent. However, they would help lower earners by reintroducing the 10 per cent tax band and the 22 per cent basic rate, and raising the National Insurance threshold.
Taxes to protect the environment
The Greens would reintroduce the fuel duty escalator, raising the duty on motorists' petrol by 8 per cent a year, and they would replace vehicle excise duty by a new graduated tax to penalise gas-guzzlers. They would introduce VAT and fuel duty on aviation fuel, and tax plastic bags and other "unnecessary packaging", and bring in taxes on pesticides, artificial fertilisers and on the use of water by businesses.
Climate change and energy
The party would aim to obtain half of Britain's energy from renewable resources by 2020, and ensure that carbon emissions from power generation are zero by 2030. It would put £20bn over one Parliament into a large-scale programme for wind power and other renewables, and create 80,000 jobs in manufacturing and installing the equipment, but would phase out nuclear power. Most radically, it would introduce "carbon quotas" for every citizen. Once you have exceeded your quota, in air travel say, you will have to buy more units if you want to carry on flying.
The Greens would cut speed limits to 20mph in towns, 40mph on rural roads and 55mph on motorways. They would end the £30bn roads programme and reinvest it in public transport, returning the railways to public ownership.
The party would move to smaller class sizes by spending £500m on another 15,000 teachers to get class sizes down to an average of 20 pupils by the end of one Parliament. They would create smaller schools, saying large schools are "alienating", and remove charitable status from private schools. They would phase out Sats tests and city academies, and abolish university tuition fees.
The Greens oppose any private sector involvement in the NHS, such as PFI schemes. They would abolish prescription charges, reintroduce free eye tests and NHS dental treatment for all. They would also introduce free social care for the elderly, on the Scottish model, end mixed-sex accommodation in hospitals and provide complementary medicine on the NHS if "cost-effective and shown to work". They would support a ban on smoking on all enclosed public spaces.
The party would treat heroin and crack addiction as a health issue, and consider providing heroin on prescription. They would decriminalise the production, possession and sale of cannabis.
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