26 January 2015

The Difference Between Our General Election Manifesto and the Policies for a Sustainable Society

One of the consequences of the #Greensurge is that the media are going to look in detail at our policies. I had a Twitter exchange with two local Labour councillors last week on one example, and Natalie Bennett was given a rough ride by Andrew Neil at the weekend over policies in the PfSS (Policies for a Sustainable Society). You can contrast this with UKIP, who don’t have stated policies and when they are challenged on them will rapidly flip them to suit the public mood.

Now many older members will remember that the PfSS was once the MfSS (Manifesto for a Sustainable Society). Inevitably, as we approached an election, opponents would wheel out policies and talk about the Green manifesto (meaning the MfSS). When we actually launched a manifesto before an election, it wasn’t distinctive and people didn’t know the difference. That was why many of us so-called modernisers within the party, against fierce internal opposition, advocated changing it to the PfSS.

The analogy to use is that our PfSS document, while a statement of policy, is the “Green Paper” for our Manifesto development. The PfSS is regularly updated by Conference thanks to the work of the members, and this underpins our Election Manifesto. As we approach an election, we produce our manifesto on which we contest that election (our “White Paper” if you like). The Election Manifesto will be much more up to date. It takes its input not just from the PfSS, but from Political Committee, GPRC (on behalf of the local / regional parties) and others. A European Election Manifesto will be different from a General Election Manifesto, but both will draw on the PfSS. This isn’t a complete run down on the process, but gives the public an idea how it works.

We’ve been hammered on a couple of points that are in the PfSS but these won’t be in the Manifesto. We (and I include myself as a PPC) should make it clear that we’ll be contesting the election on what is in the Election Manifesto once it is launched, not the full content of the PfSS, some of which will be out of date and out of context when thrown at us by our opponents. The membership of terrorist organisations is one of these. Clearly members of Al-Qaida don’t pay a subscription. The PfSS is clear that if people start organising in a criminal way to commit acts of terror, then they should be arrested, but by having the line that being a member of an organisation doesn’t necessarily make you a terrorist (think ANC in the 1980s or even Sinn Fein for context), there is an obvious out of context attack to be made. Now that the Greens have become a real threat to other parties in terms of vote share, we can’t expect any quarter in the run up to the election.

While we should be happy to defend overall policy aims from the PfSS, we have to accept that parts will be open to attack and are not easy to defend. Part of that defence is to rightly point out that as PPCs we will be contesting the election on our General Election Manifesto. As in 2010, our Manifesto should be thoroughly costed too, with references. In the meantime, if it helps you as a Green PPC to link here when challenged on something like this, please do so.


Jane Scott said...

You are right in your assessment of the situation. It's something which, at last, we have to get used to as a party. The close scrutiny of our policies will inevitability throw up some anomalies. We have a fascinating history and continue to evolve. Our philosophical base is what sets us apart. Best wishes to all Green Party candidates and activists.

Fran Barton said...

Even though I've been a Green member since 2010, I wasn't aware of this distinction. A very helpful post Peter, thank you.

I thought one of the most uncomfortable bits for Natalie on Andrew Neil's show was when she was asked about arms manufacture and supplying a national defence force (aka army etc). Was this difficulty something that can be explained by the distinction between the PfSS and the election Manifesto to come?