Page last updated at 15:44 GMT, Thursday, 15 April 2010 16:44 UK

Greens pledge for a fair society

By Louise Stewart
BBC News

Green Party leader Caroline Lucas
The Greens' slogan is 'Fair worth fighting for'

"It's not easy being green," as the song says and the Green Party can relate to that. Despite gaining seats in Europe, the Scottish Parliament and local councils they have never won one at Westminster.

But undeterred, they are fielding more than 300 candidates (more than ever before) and were in confident mood as they launched their manifesto in sunny Brighton.

The party has traditionally done much better in Europe, their high-water mark was in the 1989 European elections when they won almost 15% of the UK vote and did not lose a single deposit.

The party's leader, and star, is Caroline Lucas. She has been an MEP for more than a decade, a role she says she will give up if she is successful in winning the party's first Westminster seat.

The Greens, as their name suggests, are obviously best known for their environmental credentials and unsurprisingly, this manifesto promises plenty on that front, including a low carbon economy and plans to scrap all nuclear power.

But it also contains pledges on a whole raft of other policy areas - everything from raising the minimum wage to £8.10 an hour, increasing child benefit by £20 a week and the state pension to £170, plus abolishing student tuition fees and creating a million new green jobs. And the list goes on.

Tax plans

Their focus is on a fair society and, although she said she did not want to argue over which political party had coined the word "fair" first (it also features prominently in the Liberal Democrat manifesto) she is proud of her party's slogan, "Fair is worth fighting for".

Ms Lucas said she wants to challenge the "fantasy" that public services will have to be cut to deal with the deficit and says their spending plans are "fully-costed".

Caroline Lucas

But critics accuse them of living in "fantasyland" by unveiling a list of promises as long as their arm which will have to be paid for by tax increases - never a vote winner.

When challenged on the figures, Ms Lucas introduced the party's economic expert - the former Whitehall civil servant, Brian Heatley - to answer the tricky questions. He said that the majority, in fact 87%, of people - would be better-off under a Green budget.

That means the remaining richest 13% would have to pay - largely through increased taxes - by the introduction of a 50p tax rate for those earning over £100,000 (it is currently over £150,000), no limit on National Insurance contributions and clamping down on tax avoidance. They also have the bankers in their sights - they would introduce a permanent tax on bonuses.

Powerful influence

But it is unlikely the small percentage of the country's richest would shoulder all of the burden for the increased spending - inevitably the majority of people would end up paying. They say they would increase environmental taxes to try to change people's behaviour - that means re-introducing the fuel price escalator and cutting subsidies for air travel.

It is not just green taxes - remember the recent outrage at plans to increase the duty on cider? - well, they plan to increase duty on alcohol and cigarettes by 50% in order to raise revenue for the NHS.

The Greens insist even if they only take one or two seats at Westminster they can have a powerful influence - and point to successes in the Scottish Parliament and London Assembly.

They say they would vote on an issue-by-issue basis but would not give the Conservatives their vote of confidence. Ms Lucas dismissed David Cameron as someone paying lip service to green policies - she cited the example of him cycling to work while the car followed him with his briefcase and change of clothes as evidence of that.

There is no doubt the Greens have in recent years raised environmental issues up the political agenda. Their worry is that they face being squeezed out by the main parties parading their own green credentials.

On 6 May, Caroline Lucas and her colleagues will be hoping they can persuade the public not just to think green but to vote it.

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