Gaining access to the country’s most exclusive club in 2010, Caroline Lucas offers testimony to Parliament’s absurdities, inefficiencies and baffling customs. Her new book ‘In Honourable Friends?’ examines an institution fossilised by tradition and self-interest.
Offering a message to anyone doubting the importance of voting, the Brighton Pavilion MP discusses reflecting the interests of her constituents, challenging the establishment and balancing the demands of work and family. Part diary, part reflection, part passionate call-to-arms, this unique book aims to empower and inspire all believing democracy is under threat.
BN1 wanted to find out more, and as our local MP she couldn’t turn down a reasonable request…
Your new book examines elitism in Westminster. Why can we not demand the best people for the most important jobs?
Demanding the best people for the most important jobs doesn’t mean drawing them from a narrow elite who are often completely out of touch with most people’s concerns. Westminster is overwhelmingly male and white – if it’s to regain credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the public, then it needs to better reflect the people it’s meant to serve. Less than a quarter of MPs are women, leaving Britain way down the international league table of fair representation. We’re below countries whose parliamentary traditions are far less deep-rooted than ours, like Mozambique, Afghanistan and Rwanda – so much for the Mother of all Parliaments!
Is it acceptable that austerity measures financially harm the lowest levels of society, yet benefit those responsible for our economic downturn?
It is nothing less than obscene that the Government’s austerity measures are hitting the poorest hardest, and women most of all. It wasn’t the poor who caused the economic crisis. It wasn’t people on Jobseeker’s Allowance who brought down the banks. It wasn’t people with disabilities who wasted billions speculating on risky financial markets. The global financial crisis has given the Conservatives the chance they’ve been waiting for to wage an ideological battle to shrink the state.
Democracy is meaningless without the majority of the electorate engaging in the political system. How do we make politics “more interesting” again?
The huge excitement over the Scottish referendum shows that people do care about politics, when they believe their vote can make a difference. The current winner-takes-all electoral system turns people off politics, because so many constituencies around the country are so-called “safe seats” – in other words, the chances of the seat changing hands are practically nil. We need a fairer voting system, so everyone’s vote counts; votes at 16 to engage younger people; greater honesty from politicians and greater accountability of MPs.
Is there still a place for passion and idealism in politics, or is everything driven by self-interest and PR advisers now?
There absolutely must be a place for passion and idealism! The politicians who are most respected by the public are precisely those who are driven by conviction, rather than those who are constantly “on-message”, parroting the party-line even when they don’t support it. You’ve discussed nationalising the British railway system. Aside from the massive financial burden it would incur, how would this provide a better service?
I’ve got a Private Members Bill due for debate in parliament very soon that would bring rail back into public ownership. In fact it wouldn’t incur a massive financial burden at all – the franchises currently in private hands would simply be taken back by the state as they expired. The experience of the East Coast mainline, which was temporarily in public hands, offers a powerful case-study. When it was in public hands, it had higher punctuality and passenger satisfaction rates, it established industry leading approaches to waste recycling and reducing carbon emissions and also returned more money to the Treasury. It’s been estimated that if we ended the fragmentation associated with privatisation, we could save around £1bn a year – money that could be used both to reduce fares and improve the network.
What non-parliamentary campaigns have you been involved with in Brighton?
Lots, including the campaign to save Exeter St Hall for the local community; trying to keep local Post offices open in the city – they’re often the lifeblood of local communities; and preventing a local school from becoming an academy. I’m also involved with local campaigns to Keep Our NHS Public, to put pressure on Picturehouse cinemas to pay their staff a living wage, and to improve the rail service between London and Brighton.
Obviously you have few spare hours as a Member of Parliament, but where do you visit when you want to “hit the town”?
Probably revealing my age here, but my idea of a great night on the town is going out with friends to a film at the Duke of York’s, followed by a meal at The Chilli Pickle or Food for Friends. I can also often be found with a hot chocolate at Marwoods, and on walks on the Downs with the family and Alfie our rescue Labrador.
You famously wore a “Ban Page Three” T-shirt in Commons. What would it take for you to wear a “BN1” T-shirt during a debate?
Parliament has some odd rules, including that Members shouldn’t wear T-shirts with slogans on. I was swiftly told to cover up! But I’d be happy to try again with BN1, but it would need to say “and also part of BN2” because one area of my constituency has a BN2 postcode!
Can you say one nice thing about each of your opposing party leaders?
That’s a bit challenging! I respect the way David Cameron stood up for gay marriage, in the face of widespread opposition within his own party; Ed Miliband, to his credit, stood up to Rupert Murdoch over phone-hacking and media ownership; Nick Clegg once gave me some useful advice about standing as an MP; And Farage? Hmm, still thinking about that one….
‘Honourable Friends? Parliament and the Fight for Change’ By Caroline Lucas MP is published on Thu 12 Mar.