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Off-message? Natalie Bennett launches the Green Party's election campaign on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Off-message? Natalie Bennett launches the Green Party’s election campaign on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Environmental issues were startlingly absent from the Green Party’s election campaign launch today (February 24).

Instead, party leader Natalie Bennett concentrated on policies that encroach into traditional Labour territory – a wealth tax; increasing the minimum wage to £10 by 2020; half a million new social rented homes; nationalising the railways; scrapping tuition fees; and a people’s constitutional convention “with the aim of achieving democracy for everyone”.

Of course, Labour has already announced plans for a wealth (mansion) tax; would increase the minimum wage (although not as high as £10 per hour); wants to build 100,000 homes a year (making 500,000 in a five-year Parliamentary term); would launch a national rail company to compete for franchises with the private firms; would reduce tuition fees; and wants a constitutional convention to sort out the democratic issues that have been debated since the Scottish independence referendum.

You see, the differences are all a matter of degree. The Greens would do the same as Labour, only more so. The only question is, who will provide the money?

Where were the policies to reduce pollution with green energy?

Why did the Green Party not restate its position on fracking?

Does it have policies on animal welfare (Labour does)?

What about defence?

Why only nationalise the railways, when other privatised utilities have been misbehaving left, right and centre?

So many unanswered questions, yet this is a party that has grown exponentially over the past year. Doesn’t it owe its new members better?

One thing that won’t be part of the current election campaign is the Green Party’s aspiration for a “citizens’ income”, replacing personal tax allowances and most means-tested benefits with a £72-per-week basic payment for all citizens, regardless of income.

Green leader Natalie Bennett was unable to explain how such a policy would be funded in a previous BBC interview. On Radio 4’s Today programme this morning she said it won’t be something for the 2015-20 Parliament, but added: “A commitment to the citizen’s income will be in our manifesto… it’s a massive change in the welfare system and it’s something we want to consult on and offer over time.”

She said it was a long term policy idea, “moving towards a system, getting away from where we are now, where so many people are living in fear of not being able to put food on the table, not being able to keep a roof over their head. Citizen’s income is an important way of moving forward with that.”

Perhaps sensitive to criticisms that she could not explain how it would be funded, she said: “We will be releasing a full costing before the election. The costing won’t be part of the manifesto. The costing will be before the election but the commitment to it [the policy of a citizen’s income] will be in the manifesto.”

Moving to Radio 5 Live, the Green leader discussed her commitment to enforcing a maximum wage ratio between the highest and lowest paid within a company. This is another good idea which Vox Political supports.

Asked whether some kind of wage cap would prevent organisations attracting the best staff, she said, “I think you have to look at how much money motivates people” – implying that the amount of money people are paid is less important to them than people are led to believe.

Moving over to LBC radio, she floundered when Nick Ferrari asked how much a plan to build 500,000 social rental homes would cost.

“We want to fund that particularly from removing tax relief from mortgage interest for private landlords,” she said. Apparently she thought that would rake in no less than £6 billion a year – but fell back on her line about “a fully-costed programme” to be released before the election.

Someone should have warned her that she can use that line too often – especially when taking it in conjunction with fellow Green member Jenny Jones’ comment at the press conference that followed: “You can ask as many questions as you like about our manifesto but we won’t be answering them today.”

So why hold the conference – and the launch – at all? Press teams left confused at the behaviour of a party that trailed so many juicy-looking policies but was either unwilling – or unable – to provide the essential details that could make them seem workable.

The BBC’s Norman Smith (whose own credibility was dealt a serious blow by Ed Miliband at a Labour campaign conference a few weeks ago) summed up the general feeling by questioning the validity of a Green Party that was no longer significantly “green”.

“Most of the things they are focusing on have nothing to do with greenery,” he told the BBC News website.

“Transport, housing, tuition fees – yes – but saving the planet seems to have been shuffled off to the side a bit.”

Won’t that alienate the Greens’ traditional constituents?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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