"I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth." (Karl Popper)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Green party manifesto

The Green party launched its manifesto yesterday. At 36 pages it is half the length of the PD's manifesto, less than a third as long as Labour's 128 page offering, and less than a quarter as long as the Fianna Fail document's 153 pages. The Greens are possible kingmakers, as the April issue of Magill declared. Fine Gael and Labour are working on the assumption that the Greens, though campaigning as an independent party, will join them in government, if the numbers add up. That is probably a fair assumption. The picture becomes more complicated, in the event that the Fine Gael-Labour coalition fails to take about 75 seats. If that is the case, the Greens are unlikely to be able to make up the numbers. If Fianna Fáil loses (say) 15 or 18 seats, the possibility would emerge of a FF-PD-Green Government, but internal opposition within the Green party would seem to render it unlikely. The manifesto's title is "It's time".

So what's in the manifesto? It is a thoughtful document; mercifully concise, it's an improvement from what Mark Hennessy in The Irish Times calls "[t]he days of sandals, and woolly jumpers, and occasionally hare-brained ideas". Having said that, the hare-brained schemes are not all gone, e.g. the proposal to increase capital gains tax to 25%. As might be expected, the first topic is energy. The Greens would "change the Social Partnership process to include a third sustainability pillar putting energy targets at the centre of the national economic planning process." There is a good argument for saying that the partnership system needs to be, if anything, downgraded. 20 years ago, the country was in dire economic straits and all hands were needed on deck to get us out of the catastrophe. One wonders now whether the idea has outlived (and outgrown) its usefulness. On the great global warming controversy, the Greens promise to seek "an all-party approach to cut Ireland’s carbon emissions by 3% annually". How this would tie in with negotiating policy in this area with unelected trade union leaders and others is somewhat unclear. Other policies aim at improving building standards and boosting renewable energy sources. The latter in particular has support from most, if not all, parties.

Rural communities have long been hostile to the Greens. This time they might make some progress. In Carlow/Kilkenny, for example,
Mary White won't be a million miles from taking a seat. The Greens' manifesto says "Irish agriculture is at a crossroads." The party proposes to "lobby for changes in the World Trade Organisation to protect domestic agriculture from being undercut by imports that are not subject to the same quality, health and environmental standards", as well as banning animal cloning and ensuring Ireland becomes a "GM-free zone". The party also wants 5% of national acreage to be organically converted by 2012.

In relation to employment law, the party promises to consolidate the 40 existing pieces of legislation into a single statute. More problematically, and vaguely, the manifesto pledges to "strengthen our redundancy and unfair dismissal laws to prevent job displacement and a ‘race to the bottom’ in wages and working conditions".

On taxation, no Green manifesto would be quite complete without a paean to the wonders of the Scandavian system: "The Scandinavian countries continue to demonstrate that high levels of public social expenditure retain the support of taxpayers and employers and do not impede economic performance." The Swedish government consistently taxes and spends over 50% of GDP.
Not entirely coincidentally, the Swedish economy has created "not a single net job ... in the private sector" since 1950. Likewise, "Swedish doctors spend more than half their time on administration, so they see fewer patients than doctors in any other developed country." Sweden's relative economic decline over the last 20 years has occured while the State spent over half of GDP. (In 1988, the figure was 55.3%.) Is this what the Greens want to see happen in Ireland? The manifesto's statement (or is it a complaint?) that "Ireland spends a modest share of its wealth on social protection in comparison with most other EU countries" is an indicator of Green party budgetary policy. It is lazy to simply complain that we should be like the Scandavanian states (of which Sweden is usually held up as the exemplar), without addressing such questions. (By the way, I don't mean to suggest that Sweden has not set positive examples in some areas, such as its liberal vouncher-based school system.)

On the substance of the Greens' proposals, while there is a promise to leave the rate of corporation tax unchanged, the manifesto adds a caveat that the Greens would try to restructure corporate tax reliefs, thereby probably increasing the corporate tax burden. The manifesto claims that Ireland is over-reliant on foreign direct investment (FDI), without ever persuading this reader that the Greens know how to steer the Irish economic ship away from FDI without it going onto the rocks. We've done well form FDI to date; caution is advisable. Some of the tax proposals are unambiguously positive, however. The idea of "a system for regularly and rigorously assessing, auditing and reviewing tax expenditures including cost/benefit analysis for all tax reliefs" is a sound one, as is (even more so) the proposal to "index-link tax credits and bands to provide workers with protection from the effects of inflation and to avoid taxation by stealth". The latter should have been on the books long ago, but well done to the Greens for committing to it. The changes to VAT and PRSI are positive too.

There is much else in the document; it is worth a read.


Anonymous EWI said...

the great global warming controversy

Oh, really? Where, pray tell, is the "controversy"? (outside the twitterings of paid shills for certain corporate interests, that is)

Wed May 09, 05:50:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger Karole said...


I wasn't referring to conttroversy as to the science of global warming. I'm not a "paid shill for certain corporate interests". If the world's scientists tell me the planet's climate is changing, then I accept that. I've never written anything to the contrary.

What I had in mind by the use of that (admittedly loose) phrase was the fact that it is a contentious policy issue. The contention though is over the appropriate means of tackling the problem, not over whether there is a problem.

Wed May 09, 11:31:00 PM GMT+1  

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