Now that all of the party Manifestos (and the Brexit Party’s “contract with the people”) have been published, it’s possible to make some comparisons between them – what are they offering to the electorate, and particularly those who place the environment high up their list of priorities?
Interestingly, some recent yougov polling suggests the environment is second only to Brexit as the most important issue for young voters. And given that 1.6 million people (mostly young voters) have registered since the 10th November, what the parties are saying about the environment matters. Whether it will have an effect on people’s voting, considering that Brexit is still by far the most significant issue people will be voting on, is another matter.
Let’s start with the Brexit Party as we can get that out of the way quickly. The Brexit Party is already a spent force, having done it’s job, of forcing Boris Johnson to move to the hardest possible Brexit, thus occupying the ground TBP had made its own (albeit briefly). They have now returned to the sort of surreal nonsensical territory that UKIP previously occupied. Farage’s big headline one day last week was that he was seeking to work with Donald Trump on a global tree-planting campaign.
Bearing in mind Trump genuinely believes global warming is a conspiracy theory created by the Chinese, and Farage just doesn’t believe in it, it’s plausible that this is a dead cat story, intended to divert from something else – perhaps the fact that TBP has thrown in the towel. Indeed, despite TBP’s contract with the people claiming that they would have a massive tree-planting campaign to “capture CO2” they fail to mention climate change once. Do they have some other reason for capturing this gas? Elsewhere it’s much as you would expect – relax planning rules around housing (BXP chair Richard Tice is a developer).
Another BXP policy is to reduced tariffs on “certain” foods imported from outside the EU (the US perhaps?). This would very quickly destroy large parts of the UK farming industry, freeing up more land for Mr Tice and his friends to build houses on, I guess. You get the picture.
The Green party manifesto is normally pretty radical and this one doesn’t disappoint. They consistently push for a wholesale change in land taxation to introduce Land Value Tax – even for undeveloped farmland, it seems. An LVT charge based on 1.4% of the current land value would mean a hectare of farmland worth £10,000 would generate a tax charge of £140 a year. GP state exemptions would apply – hopefully they would apply to land with high nature or historic value, land owned by charities – proper charities mind, not “tax- efficient” Trusts; and land where food is being produced under the most environmentally friendly practices – organic being an obvious example.
Labour’s manifesto is striking by the amount of public spending they are signed up to – £80bn a year, apparently. This sounds like is an unfeasibly large amount of money but then again the NHS costs around £130Bn a year to run, so it’s not that big. And anyway a lot of the spending planned is actually investment.
But that’s not the point. Because the Tories have committed to very little extra spending in comparison and this is the comparison they will now drive home, with the electorate. I think it was a big strategic error for Labour to make this huge spending commitment at a time when people are still feeling the full effects of the last 10 years of massive public sector funding cuts. It creates space for the Tories to argue that they are now abandoning “austerity” and turning on the public spending taps, while still appearing they have that mythical fiscal discipline they always claim is the natural policy of the Tory party (it isn’t.)
Another interesting thing about the Labour manifesto is that they rejected the proposals from the “Land for the Many” working group. LFTM, produced some radical ideas about land-use and the way land is taxed and subsidised. The report was attacked relentlessly in the right wing press – every smear tactic known to hard-right thinktanks was deployed. It appears to have worked and scared the Labour party into backing away. This is a pity as there were some excellent proposals in the report.
I was pleased to see Labour intends to review the tax break on Red Diesel though. This was something I raised in the People Need Nature report on farmland tax breaks.
There is remarkably little in the way of new policy proposals in the Tory manifesto, and even fewer on the environment. A few interesting snippets have come to light in the costings document – namely that they will implement the Glover Review on national parks. But disturbingly for Defra, the costs of the Glover Review, setting up the Office for Environmental Protection, meeting air quality targets; and creating a new northern coast to coast path, will all come out of the existing Defra departmental budget. There will be no new money for the environment.
On agriculture, all the main parties have offered something similar as a post-Brexit farm policy, with most of the money going towards public goods. And everyone has said they will build hundreds of thousands of new houses a year – all on brownfield land! I would take both of these with a big pinch of salt.
There is every prospect that, whichever party or coalition gets in, there will be much more pressure (from the NFU of course) to adopt a productivist policy for food. While Gove was there or thereabouts, an environmentally focussed agriculture bill was in play. If we were to get another Owen Paterson in Defra, that would go out of the window.
As for housing, I can confidently predict that hundreds of thousands of new houses will not be built, regardless of who is in power, or how much more of an axe is taken to planning controls. This is because planning is not holding back the creation of new housing. Read Land for the Many – it explains very clearly what the reasons are.
Finally, I feel duty bound to mention the parties proposals for climate action. Tories have stuck with net zero by 2050 (which is far too late as far as I understand what the climate scientists are now telling us) and the Libdems by 2045 (ditto). Labour abandoned their conference decision to go for net zero by 2030, now promising to get “a substantial majority” of emissions reduced by 2030. And they’ve certainly committed to spending a lot of money to reach that target.
Labour’s is probably the most sensible and realistic position to take on climate action, but I don’t think the public is yet sufficiently aware of the threat to their way of life, to be willing to vote for it.
one of the LFTM authors Guy Shrubsole, has been in touch to suggest that actually Labour has taken on board a lot of the recommendations from the report, albeit not the more radical ones.
” there are plenty of our asks in there, from opening up info on land ownerships to supporting county farms, reviewing allotments act, reviewing whether business rates should be replaced with LVT, letting public authorities buy land cheaply again, higher council tax on empty homes, tax on second homes, and an offshore property levy.”