The Greens are likely to succeed in chipping away at Labour support

Worryingly, what the Greens have to offer is very appealing to Labour supporters like me

Worryingly, what the Greens have to offer is very appealing to Labour supporters like me

As Sam Fowles on these pages yesterday pointed out, while Ukip has split the right the party will still have a negative impact upon Labour. Nigel Farage wants to be the worst nightmare of both Cameron and Miliband, and this will happen at a local as well as national level, worryingly with Ukip taking Labour votes.

But on the political soul of the Labour party the worry seems to be squarely with the Greens. Today Caroline Lucas goes to her party’s conference with the intention of reminding voters just how weak the Labour party has been at opposing the Tory-led government.

She will say:

“Secret courts as part of the justice and security bill? Labour refused to oppose [them]. On the appallingly illiberal immigration bill, they abstained. They support workfare sanctions. Even on the issue of bringing the railways back into public ownership – a hugely popular policy – Labour has flunked it.”

Natalie Bennett, the Green leader, is expected to tell her conference that the party wants to see the minimum hourly wage increased to £10 for all by 2020, a direct hit at Labour. But why hasn’t Labour been stronger on radically changing the minimum wage?

Perhaps the Greens can say this with the safety of being a relatively small party, but they are growing. She will go on to say at the conference:

“The fact that the Green party are consistently polling at some of our best numbers since 1989 goes to show that our message of the need to reshape our politics and economy to work for the common good is really hitting home.”

The case for massive increases in wages is a strong one. For example, and aside from the fact it will put more money in the pockets of Britons (which is always good), it will have a positive knock on effect on the economy, with more people buying things, which in turn is good for local businesses and job growth.

When James Ball for the Guardian carried out a mini-experiment about how much people spend on their rents alone, he found that in four areas of the country, including Barnsley and Hull, just 13 hours a week of minimum wage work will fund the rent on the average flat, while in London, that average jumps to over 30 hours. In Kensington and Chelsea, it hits 70.

Shelter found in 2013 that Londoners spend 59 per cent of their incomes on rent, while, the company that compiled a rental index in 2011, said asking prices had risen every month of that year, and were up 4.6 per cent in 12 months, adding £468 to the average annual rent bill. British families, the index concluded, could spend up to half their incomes on rent.

While people spend too much on where they live they are not spending on the high streets and their local communities, which in turn puts a strain on jobs in those areas, results in shop closures and affects future local investment.

The inability for government to make sure people are paid more has a huge negative impact on the country as a whole.

While this typically would have been natural Labour turf the Greens are now swooping in and making a good case. In fact this is happening across a range of issues.

The party wants to see a drastic change from austerity to investment in the UK, they want our public utilities in our hands not those of faceless corporations.

As Owen Jones in his new book The Establishment points out, back in November 2013 Ed Miliband had the chance of taking a radical turn with calling for the renationalisation of energy, after a YouGov poll showed nearly seven in 10 voters backed the move. But he didn’t take it.

As Lucas says, Miliband has flunked it.

So while the right is fighting itself the Labour party has a chance to show they are a real party sticking its neck out for working people, to offer a real social democratic alternative to the economic illiteracy of the coalition government.

The trouble is it isn’t pursuing this loud enough, and as the records show the party actually is passing up the opportunity to make those radical changes, so much of which has the backing of the public.

The Greens, however, are – and even to Labour supporters such as myself that is very appealing.

Carl Packman is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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