Caroline Lucas outlines how she'll work with Labour. Photo: Anoosh Chakelian
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What do we know so far about the Greens working with Labour in government?

Progressive alliances, no joint tickets, and ruling out working with Tories: the Greens clarify how they would work with Labour.

Green policies, red lines, watermelons, mangoes. It was the Green campaign launch this morning, and aside from rumblings about leader Natalie Bennett’s poor media performances, there was talk about how the party would work with Labour in government.

“We would be open to supporting a minority Labour government on a case by case basis,” Caroline Lucas told the press conference. “Working with parties like the SNP and Plaid Cymru, with whom we’ve always had a formal arrangement in the European parliament, we would form a progressive alliance that would put real pressure on a minority Labour government.”

We have already heard from the Greens that they would be open to a confidence-and-supply arrangement, if they were to prop up a government at all, but Lucas went into further detail than we have previously heard from a party that refuses to discuss “red lines” – other than on scrapping Trident.

She said that the alliance of smaller parties, “would be able to get things like a ban on fracking, as a clear thing on the agenda of a future government, major investment in clean energy and energy efficiency, scrapping Trident...”

When I spoke to Lucas after the event, I pushed her on the “red lines” the Greens would draw ahead of working with Labour in any capacity. She insisted: “We haven’t got to that point, but what we do know is the kind of things we want to be able to promote and push as part of our agenda. And so that means the kind of results around voting reform, Trident, or fracking, or austerity – some of the worst aspects of austerity, and so forth.

“But we have not had that discussion, because as soon as you start saying what you wouldn’t work on, you’ve started drawing the ‘red lines’, which I’ve just said we’re not talking about.”

However, Lucas did reveal that the Greens will be having “internal discussions” about red lines, “whether or not we’ll make those public I think is another question”. She added that the party is also having private discussions with Plaid Cymru and the SNP about “the building of a progressive alliance”.

“In terms of putting that to voters, there’s an awful lot of interest, even from traditional Labour-voting members of having a minority Labour government subjected to a progressive force pushing them on these issues on austerity, the environment, or rail in public hands.”

Lucas’s aim is for this small party alliance to “help make Labour be the party many backbenchers, Labour voters would like it to be, as well as pushing on our own strong environmental policies too”.

She denies that she has spoken to Labour politicians about this prospect “yet”, but says “certainly talking about how the small parties will work together – that is happening now”.

One Labour shadow cabinet aide recently mentioned to me that some plans had been mooted in the party to work with individual Green candidates to avoid them splitting Labour’s vote in certain seats. “A similar idea to when Ukip and the Tories were going to have local peace pacts,” they tell me.

I put this prospect to Lucas, who rules out working with individual Labour MPs. “I can’t imagine joint tickets,” she says. “But what would be nice would be to have a change in the electoral system which would then mean the Greens and Labour are not having to fight each other.

“I think we’ve ruled out having any arrangement propping up the Tories; we are a left of centre party, therefore Labour is a much more likely party for us to work with. But at the moment the electoral system is such that we do end up fighting each other, and that’s unfortunate in a way.”

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May's U-Turn may have just traded one problem for another

The problems of the policy have been moved, not eradicated. 

That didn’t take long. Theresa May has U-Turned on her plan to make people personally liable for the costs of social care until they have just £100,000 worth of assets, including property, left.

As the average home is valued at £317,000, in practice, that meant that most property owners would have to remortgage their house in order to pay for the cost of their social care. That upwards of 75 per cent of baby boomers – the largest group in the UK, both in terms of raw numbers and their higher tendency to vote – own their homes made the proposal politically toxic.

(The political pain is more acute when you remember that, on the whole, the properties owned by the elderly are worth more than those owned by the young. Why? Because most first-time buyers purchase small flats and most retirees are in large family homes.)

The proposal would have meant that while people who in old age fall foul of long-term degenerative illnesses like Alzheimers would in practice face an inheritance tax threshold of £100,000, people who die suddenly would face one of £1m, ten times higher than that paid by those requiring longer-term care. Small wonder the proposal was swiftly dubbed a “dementia tax”.

The Conservatives are now proposing “an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs”. The actual amount is TBD, and will be the subject of a consultation should the Tories win the election. May went further, laying out the following guarantees:

“We are proposing the right funding model for social care.  We will make sure nobody has to sell their family home to pay for care.  We will make sure there’s an absolute limit on what people need to pay. And you will never have to go below £100,000 of your savings, so you will always have something to pass on to your family.”

There are a couple of problems here. The proposed policy already had a cap of sorts –on the amount you were allowed to have left over from meeting your own care costs, ie, under £100,000. Although the system – effectively an inheritance tax by lottery – displeased practically everyone and spooked elderly voters, it was at least progressive, in that the lottery was paid by people with assets above £100,000.

Under the new proposal, the lottery remains in place – if you die quickly or don’t require expensive social care, you get to keep all your assets, large or small – but the losers are the poorest pensioners. (Put simply, if there is a cap on costs at £25,000, then people with assets below that in value will see them swallowed up, but people with assets above that value will have them protected.)  That is compounded still further if home-owners are allowed to retain their homes.

So it’s still a dementia tax – it’s just a regressive dementia tax.

It also means that the Conservatives have traded going into the election’s final weeks facing accusations that they will force people to sell their own homes for going into the election facing questions over what a “reasonable” cap on care costs is, and you don’t have to be very imaginative to see how that could cause them trouble.

They’ve U-Turned alright, but they may simply have swerved away from one collision into another.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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