17:20 Thursday 30th December 2010 5PM BBC Radio 4
CAROLYN QUINN: The new intake of MPs elected in May 2010 included a member of a completely new hue, a Green. Caroline Lucas, the Leader of the Green Party, pulled off a victory in the long-nurtured seat of Brighton Pavilion. But it’s potentially a lonely furrow to plough, as an Opposition member with limited influence. I asked her if she felt that the long haul to becoming a solitary Green in the House of Commons had been worth it.
CAROLINE LUCAS: I do sometimes ask myself that. No, I mean seriously, I think it definitely was worth it. We always knew it was going to be a big battle. I don’t think when the Green Party set off in 1973 we necessarily thought it would take quite this long to get the first MP elected. But I do think it’s incredibly important that we have that Green voice right at the heart of politics in Britain.
CAROLYN QUINN: I suppose that’s a point, because people will say look, you had far more impact as a part of a big pressure group, the head of that group, than really part of a very small political party inside Westminster. In fact, the only MP at the moment.
CAROLINE LUCAS: Well in the European Parliamnet of course, yes I was one of fifty Green MEPs, and we had real influence over policy. It was absolutely about being co-legislators on environmental policy for example. And that was really exciting. And yes, to some extent, I do miss that. But in a sense the trade-off is also that sadly you could have twenty or thirty Members of the European Parliament, and here in Britain, people wouldn’t know it. Because we have a media that, with a few honorable exceptions, is deeply disinterested in what happens in Europe. We need to have people at Westminster if we’re to influence political debate. And that’s the difference really, influencing policy, or influencing political debate. Both are important, but of course my place in the European Parliament has been taken by another Green, so we still have the voice there. But I think it’s desperately important and incredibly urgent now, to have that voice at Westminster, to try and influence the debate there as well.
CAROLYN QUINN: Now here at Westminster obviously you have a whole range of policies. You’re not just focusing on the environment. But nevertheless that’s what people associate you with. Do you think that you’ve had to accept that because of austerity, and the recession, that the environment and green issues have slipped down the political agenda?
CAROLINE LUCAS: I think it’s certainly true that they have slipped down the political agenda. But I don’t accept it in the sense that I don’t think it’s right that they have. And the irony really is that there are ways in which we could tackle both the economic crisis and the climate crisis at the same time, and make significant progress on both. The Greens absolutely resist the analysis that says the best way to tackle the deficit is by throwing a million people out of work.
CAROLYN QUINN: What about those moments after the Election, the running up and down Whitehall, and the parties trying to get the number together to form a government? There was talk at that point possibly of a rainbow coalition, and you could have been a member. Was there a moment where you thought, my goodness, I’m Caroline Lucas, I’m the first Green MP, and I might be in government in a few minutes?
CAROLINE LUCAS: Very fleetingly, to be honest. Because that moment of an alternative vision, if you like, didn’t last very long. As you say, the numbers were always going to be very tight. And it was very clear really, I think, that Labour wanted a period of regrouping, that they weren’t really interested in having that coalition with the LibDems, and more widely. So it was less about that, and it was more about thinking how do you, as one MP, really try to have some influence here. And I think it’s possible to show that one can, although that challenge is one that you wake up with every morning, trying to think how best to use the amazing privilege really, (it) is to be here.
CAROLYN QUINN: I take it from your interaction then, in the AV referendum debate, that you want a change in the voting system. And presumably you will be voting Yes in that referendum, will you?
CAROLINE LUCAS: That’s right. We want to see a much wider, a much broader reform of the electoral system. But we do see that AV is probably one small step in the right direction. So yes, we will be campaigning for it. I brought out a report looking at the ways in which we could try to drag Parliament really into the 21st century. Because coming from a different political system, seeing for example how electronic voting is so much quicker, so much more efficient, than this frankly crazy system where you have to run from one end of the Parliamentary estate to the other in eight minutes, then file through the lobbies to vote, then get back to your office. And then just a few minutes later probably the bell will go again. You do the whole thing all over again. It’s been estimnated that over the lifetime of a parliament you can spend two hundred and fifty hours just waiting to cast your vote. This is not a good use of time. And I think particularly at a time when the Government’s trying to crack down on waste in other parts of the way in which we do things, we ought to look at our own actions. We really ought to look at how we act within Westminster, and start to bring that into the 21st century.
CAROLYN QUINN: But you’re not the first to try and raise that sort of reform, and it hasn’t happened yet. Why do you think that you might be able to make it.
CAROLINE LUCAS: Well I’m not being arrogant enough to suggest that it’s just because me, but it’s certainly the sense I have from many of the new Members. When we talk as we’re waiting to file through that so many people who’ve come from different walks of life, they’ve come into Westminster now, a big new intake. And I think my sense of horror is pretty widely shared by a lot of new Members. Now of course people will say, older members will say, don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. That frankly is the fear. If people get used to it, they get institutionalised, and then the momentum for reform goes. And that’s why I think it’s important to try to strike while we’re still feeling a bit younger and fresher.
CAROLYN QUINN: Caroline Lucas.