The best and worst bits: Greenpeace analysis of party manifestos

Posted by Daniel Jones — 24 April 2015 at 4:36pm - Comments
All rights reserved. Credit: Independent

We’re into the final fortnight of the General Election campaign and the parties are fighting day and night for your votes. With all the manifestos now launched we’re starting to get a clear idea of just what the parties stand for.

It’d be difficult to argue that the environment has been a key concern during this campaign but these manifestos contain some interesting stuff on green issues. We’ve pulled out some of the best and something worst offerings from the main 7 political parties. In alphabetical order:

Conservatives

The Best

The UK has a lot of Overseas Territories and they’re home to some truly remarkable sea life. The Tories are pledging to build on their current work by creating a ‘blue belt’ around the UK’s 14 Overseas Territories. They’d also create a further protected area around Ascension Island and would complete the network of Marine Conservations Zones that have been started off our own coastline. This means that a Tory government would give protected status to a larger area of the ocean than any other country in the world. So whilst the Tories may have “cut the green crap”, at least they’ve still got the deep blue in mind.      

The Worst

The Tories dislike for onshore wind (the cheapest energy source) is no secret and predictably they’ve chosen to attack the renewable in their manifesto. Should they form the next government the Party will end any new public subsidy for onshore wind and change the law so local people have the final say on applications. This is being spun as a move to empower local people to fight an unpopular development in their area. It’s an interesting approach to take given that the Tories drove the Coalition’s repeated moves to ignore local opposition to fracking. Perhaps it’s less to do with people power and more to do with the party activist’s preferences

Greens

The Best

Living up to their name, the Green Party’s chocked their manifesto full of green policies. But the environment isn’t just a green issue for the Party; it’s a matter of social justice. The Greens would end the “heat or eat” dilemma facing so many by insulating 9 million homes. This would lift up to 2 million homes out of fuel poverty and provide energy efficiency savings to many more. This policy featured prominently in the manifesto launch and was a key concern for the Party’s first MP, Caroline Lucas. We can expect her and any new Green MP’s to continue champion this over the next parliament.

The Worst

When it comes to the environment the Green’s manifesto is pretty all encompassing, which is actually part of the problem - it’s just so big! At 84 pages long it’s not an easy read and to make matters worse it was originally designed to be unsearchable. Just how are they expecting anyone to find all those great, green policies?

Labour

The Best

The Labour Party are making some encouraging noises on Climate Change; if in power Ed Miliband would put it at the heart of Labour's foreign policy. We can expect a Labour Government to “play a leading role in tackling climate change” and the Party would push for an “ambitious agreement” at the Paris climate conference.

Unlike the Conservatives they’re providing a bit more detail on what this actually means. If John Prescott is sitting at the table in Paris he’ll fight for measures including a net zero global emissions target from 2050 and greater support for poorer nations in combating climate change. There’s also a fair bit of detail on how carbon emissions reductions in UK are going to be delivered.

The Worst

Yet whilst Labour is pitching itself as the only real green alternative to the Tories, their continued support for fracking undermines this. The Party are happy to see fracking in the UK provided there’s a “robust environmental and regulatory regime”. But the document doesn’t linger long on the topic. In fact, the manifesto doesn’t even mention the phrase ‘fracking’ and gets around the issue by calling it ‘onshore unconventional oil and gas’. Hopefully this is a sign that the Party won’t be going all out for fracking and maybe we’ll see more Labour candidates sign up to our Frack Free Promise.

Lib Dems

The Best

The Lib Dems are styling themselves as the only major party with the environment in mind and their manifesto makes a pretty strong case for it too.  The Nature Act, one of their ‘Five Green Laws’, is a central part of this. It’s got something for all nature lovers; they’ll plant 750,000 trees a year, create new marine protection areas, new green spaces and costal paths and it even has measures to save bees and other insects. So with the Lib Dems in power we could hope for a greener, healthier natural environment.

The Worst

Unfortunately the Manifesto’s not without its problems and perhaps most striking is the Party’s complete U-turn on nuclear energy. In 2010 the Lib Dems pledged to “reject a new generation of nuclear power station”. But this position was abandoned when in Coalition and the Party have used their manifesto to cement this 180 degree turn. They now view nuclear as a part of a low carbon future and the document clearly outlines their support for the energy source, provided concerns about safety, disposal of waste and cost are addressed. None of these challenges are easy to overcome, and even if they were the environmental benefits of nuclear power over other sources of energy is often over stated. 

 

Plaid Cymru

The Best

This election has helped introduce Plaid to the rest of the UK. Crucially for us the Party have some really positive policies on the environment. They’re pro-renewable, pro-energy efficiency and anti-fracking.

Much like their SNP allies, they’re maintaining their support for a fracking moratorium. They’ve not yet called for an outright ban but they are after some strong measures including a ban on using Welsh water for fracking and extra power for local communities to stop it occurring.

The Worst

For all the positives in Plaid’s manifesto there is one issue that trips them up - fishing quotas. Whilst they do state they’ll support “sustainable sea fishing” they’ve failed to include detail on quota reallocation. Given that all the other parties have specifically mentioned this, Plaid are definitely behind the crowd. 

SNP

The Best

Nicola Sturgeon’s seemed more rock star than politician during this election and her vision of a better Scotland seems to be resonating strongly with Scottish voters. Luckily for us renewables feature pretty heavily in this vision. We can expect SNP MP’s to push for greater investment in both on and offshore wind, to enable growth in hydro power and to empower Scottish people to set up their community energy projects.

Renewables have been a real strength for the SNP. It was the SNP who committed Scotland to generating 100% renewable electricity by 2020 and this manifesto looks like another move by the party to achieve this aim.

The Worst

This vision of a renewable future is great but the elephant in the room is, as always with Scotland, North Sea oil. Oil featured pretty heavily in the SNP’s Independence campaign and they’ve maintained their support in the manifesto. In fact they would pressure the UK Treasury to do “all it can to protect jobs and investment in oil and gas”. So with support from a host of new SNP MPs the fossil fuel industry wouldn’t likely feel too threatened.

But there’s also a question over coal. Although the word ‘coal’ is absent from the Party’s manifesto they do find time to discuss Scotland’s last coal-fired power station, Longannet. Longannet is a pretty big polluter, in fact it’s in the top 30 most polluting stations in Europe. It’s due for premature closure next year and the SNP aren’t happy.  They’re blaming the negative effects of transmission charges and want these reformed but it’s unclear whether they will or won’t push for the station to stay open longer.

UKIP

The Best

On energy UKIP’s opening gambit states that “[the three major parties’] ‘green’ agenda does not make them friends of the earth; it makes them enemies of the people”.  So it’s pretty safe to assume the manifesto isn’t great on green issues. But with a significant amount of their support coming from rural constituencies, the Party have used the document to pitch themselves as the party of the countryside. So just what are they proposing?

Nigel Farage has made much of his promised ‘brownfield revolution’ in house building. With this UKIP are trying to kill two birds with one stone by solving the housing crisis and protecting greenbelt and rural land. They’ll prevent urban sprawl by ensuring all future affordable home building is done in a way that protects green fields and preserves the countryside. They’re clear on this; they don’t want to see “our green fields concreted over”. Yet whilst these statements are clear, they’re quite light on the detail – so it would need elaboration if they got anywhere near power.

The Worst

When it comes to ‘the bad’ it’s difficult to know where to start. One section does stand out though – coal.  UKIP want to see coal back, bigger and better and they’re proposing some pretty astonishing measures to make it happen.

The Party would promote ways to secure and expand the UK’s coal industry, focusing on deep, opencast and drift mining. This would be twinned with a “new and efficient” generation of coal power stations funded through private sources. And, crucially, to ensure coal can compete, UKIP would end all subsides for wind and solar power to allow for a “level playing field”.

It is remarkable that UKIP want roll the clock back to the heyday of coal when all the other parties have outlined support for ending unabated coal power. And with the price of renewables such as solar dropping dramatically it seems ludicrous to stifle the industry by cutting subsidies.

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