Can the Greens deliver ‘The Common Good’?

14 April 2015

The Green Party has given itself the unenviable task of launching their manifesto today, ‘For The Common Good’, at the same time as the Conservatives.

Whilst some have questioned the wisdom of this approach, this tactic certainly emphasises the very clear choice that they’ve spent the campaign trying to highlight – i.e. between continued austerity (as advocated by the majority of parties) or increased investment in progressive policies of the like we haven’t seen since the downturn in 2007.   
From a NIACE perspective, this must be applauded as the only Manifesto (so far) to make a clear commitment to lifelong learning – promising to “reverse the 20-year programme of dismantling the lifelong learning sector and support mature students”. This is underpinned by their proposal to “encourage local authorities to use some of the additional money given to them to restore the full range of local adult education programmes”.

However, this is sadly offset somewhat by proposals to ‘reverse the trend whereby 45% of apprenticeships are now taken by people over 25’. As we have long argued at NIACE – it is the stage of a career that is crucial, not the age of the individual.
Returning to the positives, the Green Party are also calling for £1.5bn a year extra funding for further education, a marked difference to the decline we’ve seen over the past five years.  They are also pushing a series of measures to improve access, including their call for the Education Maintenance Allowance to be restored, the Independent Living Fund to be retained and a national Widening Participation programme to connect universities with local schools and colleges.  
Looking at their wider higher and further education policies, their most high profile proposal is for Free Higher Education – with undergraduate tuition fees scrapped and student grants reintroduced –  alongside the cancellation of debt issued by the Student Loans Company.  Given the costs associated, it would be difficult to see how these proposals could be accommodated within any coalition negotiations.  
In line with their policies on curbing privatisation across Government (a central theme) they will oppose any further privatisation of further education provision, whilst returning colleges in private sector ownership to local government control.
So how will they pay for all this? The manifesto highlights a number of large scale proposals to generate additional income – such as the cancellation of trident (which none of the main parties they need to negotiate with will accept) or £30 billion from tax avoidance and evasion (5 times more than the government themselves expect to raise). These claims will inevitably lead many commentators to question their credibility.
For The Common Good’ is clearly packed with eye-catching, progressive and hugely populist policies that are difficult to argue against in a perfect world. We sadly don’t live in a perfect world and some may feel that these policies lack the fiscal credibility to withstand scrutiny – which will be important for any future negotiations. Good policy is only good if it’s deliverable.

And given the unpredictable state of polls – perhaps the Green Party should have used this opportunity to concentrate on identifying key bargaining chips to secure wins in coalition negotiations. Have they been a little too ambitious?