Interview: Caroline Lucas

LAURA EDWARDS talks to CAROLINE LUCAS MP about the Green Party’s roots, principles, and the challenges it faces.

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I caught up with Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party and MP for Brighton amidst a ‘whirlwind tour’ of prospective constituencies. She is a ridiculously busy woman, but is obviously hugely passionate about her cause. Amongst her many notable achievements, Caroline can list campaigning and writing about green economics and localisation, and working with charities such as the RSPCA and Oxfam.

Caroline described her time as an MP as: “an extraordinary few months.” She continued: “I’ve been a member of the European Parliament for over ten years, but nothing quite compares to the weirdness of Westminster.” Weird, it may be, but exciting it certainly is. Almost as soon as we met, Caroline told me: ‘‘There is something particular about green politics. Just to be part of that whole passion and enthusiasm is very, very exciting.’’

Caroline did, however, admit that she finds the government lecturing individuals about changing their lifestyles “deeply frustrating.”  She explained: “I mean, if they can change then of course they should, but government has got to make it easier.”

So, is Caroline herself the stereotypical ‘super-green’? ‘‘We do try and do green things in the home,” she said. “Just the obvious things: properly insulating the house, energy efficient light-bulbs and so on. But, sometimes I kind of feel that it’s wrong for greens to try and set themselves up as some kind of ‘model’.

“What we need from government is for them to make it easier for everyone to lead green lifestyles. Other parties will say they care about the environment, but actually what they are doing is adding a few green tinges to business as usual.’’

Caroline’s interest in the Green Party was inspired by Jonathon Porritt’s Seeing Green in 1986. “It was a real light bulb moment,” she explained. “I was doing a PhD at the time in 16th century literature, but the Green Party, being very poor, were looking for a press officer on a tiny salary.’’ And so Caroline’s journey into Green politics began.

When questioned, Caroline did not hold back on scrutinising Parliament. She called it: “undemocratic and untransparent,” and when asked how her experience there has been, she replied: “Shocking… to see how extraordinarily inefficient it is.”

Known for being proactive and forward-looking, Caroline is currently trying to bring about reforms to this “archaic” system: ‘‘I did a report and calculated that in the life of an average Parliament each MP wastes up to 250 hours just queuing up to vote. At a time when Government is telling everyone else to cut out the waste, Parliament itself is working in an enormously wasteful way.”

Having watched the three big parties battle it out from the sidelines, Caroline rejected the idea that the Green Party would join a coalition: “I think coalitions are very dangerous when they are very unbalanced. My own personal view is that we shouldn’t join a coalition government until we have got a lot more leverage to really make sure that we don’t lose our integrity and our principles.”

“I would not want to bind ourselves into an agreement that we really didn’t have much freedom over,” she explained, in what I took to be a subtle and articulate dig at the Lib Dems.

As far as education cuts are concerned, it sounds like Caroline would have been more than happy to join Cambridge students in the Occupation: ‘‘The Green Party’s position has always been against tuition fees. We’re against people having to pay for higher education. The sense of education is in the public good; society as a whole benefits from a more educated society. That bit of education seem to have gone, it seems to be more about: ‘what bit of the economy can you fit your skills into?’ rather than saying that education is about developing more inquiring, curious, imaginative people.’’

Caroline, who herself has an English degree from Exeter, was also furious at the way the arts have been “downgraded and not properly funded at university.” She explained: “it’s a reductionist view of what education is all about.”

But, why should we should listen to the Greens when so many other parties have let us down? Caroline’s answer was simple: “You can trust Green Party people. We’re a small party and we don’t have a lot of money, but what we do have is a passionate conviction.’’

Judging by her wild hand movements and frank, uncompromising answers, passionate conviction is the one thing you can bet on Caroline Lucas having in bucket loads.