Caroline Lucas at St Nicholas Church, Brighton

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Posted 22 Jan 2011 in Environment, Politics

Me and Lyndsey went to see Caroline Lucas giving a talk at a local church in Brighton last night, and it was very interesting indeed. Not a party political meeting at all, this was a chance for Caroline to bring some of her constituents up to speed on what she’s been up to since she was elected to Parliament and explain how she has been orienting herself in her new workplace.

The first observation made was terribly simple, and hardly original – what a likeable, down to earth and straightforward politician Caroline is. Although I and many other Brighton residents would in theory lean more towards having a Labour than a Green MP, she remains terrifically electable. What right-thinking, left leaning social democrat would not want her on their side? Well, doubtless many partisan politicos and local activists could find arguments against her, but like I say this was a largely apolitical meeting – more of a half-term report than anything – and on the first test there’s no faulting her.

Her default style is laid-back, plain-speaking, and at times wryly amused at the situation she finds herself in. As a new MP there are many things about Parliament which she makes no effort to disguise she finds pretty ludicrous. She clearly sees herself (and the majority of the new intake, she was at pains to point out) as being apart from the professional political class and, as such, well-placed to take on a reforming mantle. And it’s true that the only time she really feels like the kind of measured, career politician we’re so used to (and tired of) is when she talks and feels the need to illustrate every nuance with hand gestures, as if every point she makes is rendered understandable only by a pointed finger or a roll of the wrist. Goodness knows how politicians got their arguments across when their primary medium was radio.

Of her time so far, there was nothing shocking. She’s pleasantly surprised by how willing politicians from across the spectrum are to collaborate on shared ideas (she’s spent much of her time with rightwing Tories working on PR and Jeremy Corbyn on anti-Nuclear – hard to imagine which is less appealing), she’s tabled a few motions but not had much luck with legislation, and is perplexed at how antiquated our systems are compared to Brussels. She never ranted, but is firmly, rationally opposed to much of the cuts agenda and animated on the privatisation of the NHS. She struck me as exactly the sort of person we want us representing Brighton, and it is only a shame that she is isolated as the only Green MP.

Walking away afterwards, Lynds and I debated the point. As admirable as Lucas is, I argued, having an environmentally conscious Labour MP might actually prove more productive when it came to drafting legislation. Yes, Lyndsey agreed, but perhaps Caroline’s status makes her uniquely well-placed to collaborate across the benches. And limited though her influence may be, she acts as a lightning rod for attention, ensuring green issues far more coverage than a Labour representative might manage. Then, we wondered, who would find it easiest to gain an audience with Ed Miliband to discuss environmental matters? The leader of the Green party or a backbench Labour MP? We honestly didn’t know the answer.

Other residents – unsurprisingly – were more vexed with local questions. Every point, every subject, which Caroline raised was national; the NHS, green energy, the privatisation of our forests, Higher Education. Every point raised from the floor seemed to center round parking fines and council matters. Just once or twice I thought I detected her stopping her face from falling. Her mind is on bigger things. And her heart – on the evidence of last night’s relaxed chat – is in the right place.

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  1. Jonathan Shipley 23 01 11

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