This weekend, the Green Party of England and Wales gathers in Brighton for its annual conference. Among the hottest topics for debate will be the plan hatched by some Brighton Green Party members for a Progressive Council Tax, a proposal that would mean voters approving a huge hike in Council Tax in a referendum (the working assumption is believed to be around 200% but the Party’s secrecy over the detail means that only the scheme’s authors really know) with rebates being handed to the majority of council tax-paying households, meaning that 80% would pay less. It is apparently believed that this could raise £30m in Brighton and Hove.
There will be a conference workshop this afternoon and – I believe – a debate at the weekend.
As a former Green Party member, and as someone who desperately wants to see a grounded, credible alternative to the austerity mindset – I want to appeal to the conference: for the sake of all of us who oppose austerity please, please, throw this appalling nonsense out. I’ve blogged before – here and here – about why this scheme is unworkable; I do not believe the proponents of the scheme have answered the questions I have raised. In particular, I fail to understand the politics of holding a referendum to approve a massive council tax hike before the details have been worked out; I think the proponents have grievously underestimated the confusion and administrative nightmare that such a scheme would cause; and they have not explained why, even if the scheme could be made to work, Whitehall will not just claw back the proceeds by cutting funding to the council. Above all, this proposal is not a policy for reforming local government finance; it’s a scheme to game the existing system.
I am extremely worried that some Greens are claiming that this proposal shows a commitment to fight austerity that Labour lacks. I am as critical as anyone about Ed Balls’ commitment to stick to Osborne’s SR2013 spending limits, but Greens need to understand this simple fact – by staking your claim to be opponents of austerity on a scheme that is unworkable and lacks any substantial credibility, you are reinforcing austerity, not opposing it. Half-arsed schemes like this simply reinforce the myth that there is no alternative.
Hold your workshop by all means. But why not spend the time discussing this report from the New Economics Foundation – about developing credible alternative narratives. And try and rise above the abject failures of Green politics in Brighton and Hove and show that you’re still an adult party with a serious message, and think instead about working with others about mounting a real and credible attack on austerity.