29 Oct 2011
Caroline Lucas 'Well-behaved women rarely make history.”
Lol it is the same Green Party, nice article from the FT though. Caroline is very sensible on confidence and supply, coalition is not always the way to power!
The banner in Caroline Lucas’s office is uncompromising: “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” It seems an odd epithet for this neat, well-spoken 50-year-old in a sensible grey outfit.
But Ms Lucas, the first Green MP in the House of Commons, is not afraid to antagonise ministers as she holds the coalition to account over its environmental promises.
This is a tough ambition for a single MP in a parliament of 650. Yet Ms Lucas has proved herself an adept operator in the Commons, asking sharp questions in committee and chamber. Even the Conservative-leaning Spectator magazine placed her as “Newcomer of the Year” in its annual awards for MPs last year.
This is not the same Green party of 20 years ago which denounced economic growth, suffered internal feuding and at one point used David Icke as a spokesman.
Under Ms Lucas’s leadership the party has sought to shed its lentil-eating reputation in favour of mainstream credibility. It now controls one council, Brighton, and has large groupings in Lancaster and Norwich.
But Ms Lucas knows as well as anyone that power can be elusive. She was press officer for the Greens in 1989 when they won 15 per cent of the vote in the European elections, more than double that of the SDP-Liberal Alliance. Within months, as Britain was gripped by recession, support slumped.
At the next general election the Greens plan to target Liberal Democrat seats, in particular in the south-west, in an effort to capitalise on disappointment at their “betrayal” over tuition fees and spending cuts.
Meanwhile Ms Lucas is determined to shine a spotlight on the coalition’s failures to make good on their green promises.
Preparing for success
The leader of the Green party was brought up by Conservative parents in “a conventional middle-class upbringing”, writes Jim Pickard.
In the 1980s Ms Lucas was an ardent anti-nuclear campaigner, taking part in the Greenham Common protests. “It was joyful, cheerful, fun, there was music, strong friendships were forged there.”
Her life-changing “lightbulb moment” was reading Seeing Green, a book by environmentalist Jonathan Porritt, in 1986.
Ms Lucas was the press officer for the Greens in 1989 when they won a record 15 per cent in the European elections.
“I just remember sitting there, watching the bar for the Green Party get bigger and bigger, and thinking, my God, this is really huge,” she says. “The lesson of it was you need to prepare for success.”
Ministers claim to have made progress on the renewables agenda, setting up a “Green Investment Bank” and introducing tough targets for carbon reduction. But their environmental stance is rapidly being eclipsed by a focus on economic growth.
Last month George Osborne, chancellor, boasted he had won an opt-out clause for carbon cuts if by 2014 the European Union is lagging behind. And the Treasury has said the green bank will not be able to borrow until 2015 at the earliest.
A pioneering “carbon capture and storage” scheme has been dropped and a range of renewable energy subsidies including solar feed-in tariffs are being cut by ministers.
“The Tory party has used green policies as a way of trying to detoxify the Tory brand, but as soon as you dig a little deeper they have a habit of just disappearing in front of your eyes,” said Ms Lucas. “It calls into question any seriousness about the so-called green ambitions of the hugging-a-husky era.”
Ms Lucas argues that the main three parties are “contaminated” by having been in office.
“On a range of issues there is no real political opposition coming from Labour,” she says, citing the Greens’ call for an early troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and opposition to Trident.
This is not to say that her manifesto is a slam-dunk vote-winner, with policies including a 55mph motorway speed limit.
On the wall of her office hangs a front page from the Brighton Argus – “History is made” – in what appears to be faded newsprint. In fact it is the original printing plate from election day. It is a reminder that Ms Lucas has now been an MP for 17 months.
Reflecting on her experience thus far, she says she has been frustrated by the archaic practices of the Commons: the lack of electronic voting, herdlike behaviour among MPs and the unilateral power of the Speaker. Yet she has found ways to make an impact, through alliances, amendments, reports and committee attendances.
Tim Yeo, the Tory chair of the energy select committee, said he did not agree with Ms Lucas on everything: “But given the challenge of being the only member of her party in the House she has forged a very distinctive position and is exploiting it successfully, with a higher profile than the rest of the new intake.”
At one point after the general election there was talk of a “rainbow” coalition including Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens.
For now Ms Lucas is cautious even of offering a “confidence and supply” agreement – backing motions of confidence and funding for government business – of the kind the Greens gave Ken Livingstone as London mayor.
“If you only have one MP or are fairly small, then in order to keep any sense of integrity and clarity about what your party stands for, then to go into a coalition 100 per cent is very risky,” she said.
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