“One of the world’s bravest and most principled politicians”: Naomi Klein on Caroline Lucas.
Three times winner of Parliamentarian of the Year, after 13 years as the Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion constituency Caroline Lucas has announced her intention of stepping down at the next election. She will be an enormous loss, not only to Westminster but also to her constituents, many of whom have had cause to be grateful to her over the years.
A friend’s experience is a typical example of Lucas’s deep commitment to her constituents. She had written to Lucas about the next-door house which had been empty for a long time and was being vandalised and used as a drug-dealing centre. Hearing nothing after a week or so, she naturally thought that it was too minor an issue for the MP to bother with – until one evening there was a knock on the door, and she was amazed to see Lucas standing on the doorstep. She had come in person to discuss the letter and see the problem for herself.
A great Parliamentarian
Lucas was the first Green to be elected to Parliament, and she has remained the sole representative of her party at Westminster since her election as an MP in 2010. It must sometimes have felt like a lonely and uphill struggle to get her voice heard. In spite of this, she has achieved an enormous amount in her Parliamentary career, often through a collaborative approach rare in the tribal atmosphere of the House of Commons. She has chaired and served on numerous Parliamentary groups and committees, many directly linked to her key interests in sustainable energy, the environment, proportional representation and equality for women.
Throughout her political life, Caroline Lucas has been a passionate advocate for the need to fundamentally change our system of governance, and in her book Honourable Friends? (the question mark is important), she describes her first impressions as a newcomer to the Palace of Westminster – and they are not rosy. A crumbling building, an outdated and malign voting system, constant manoeuvring by the two main political parties to gain petty advantages over one another through perks like the allocation of offices…the list is endless.
And depressingly, not much seems to have changed over the last 13 years, as she made clear in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday. When asked what she would least miss about Parliament, she cited the ridiculous weekly bear-pit performance at Prime Minister’s Questions.
The former Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow – not a man who is in the habit of handing out compliments – wrote of her that she had:
“by sheer force of personality, Parliamentary insistence and dogged commitment to the chamber, the committee, the procedures of the house…advanced her causes. It shows that it can be done. She has made one hell of an impact in the House.”
Tributes pour in
As the tributes pour in from colleagues of all political shades, it is clear that Lucas is not only held in enormous respect, but is also viewed with deep affection across the political spectrum. Steve Davis, convenor of the Green group on Brighton and Hove Council, describes her as “an unflinching beacon of hope to many people in the city and across the country.”
Ben Thomas, who stood in Kemptown Constituency in 2019 for the Liberal Democrats says:
“I remember Lucas visiting our politics society multiple times at Varndean College when I was a student there. Whatever my thoughts on the Green Party, I still believe she energised me and millions of others to be passionate about the climate emergency. Lucas has been a tireless environmental campaigner, a champion for refugees and a real stalwart for our city and for Pavilion.”
She will be sorely missed.
Caroline Lucas’s letter to her constituents:
Dear Brighton Pavilion residents and friends,
When I first stood to be your Member of Parliament back in 2010, I knew I was asking a lot of you. It was the closest election for a generation, in the midst of the worst recession since the war, and after people’s faith in politics had been trampled into the mud of the expenses scandal. Not the best time to come to people and ask them to take a risk and put their trust in a new kind of politics.
But on the day of the General Election in 2010, 16,238 people in Brighton did exactly that – and with the election of Britain’s first ever Green MP, together we made history. It has been the privilege of my life to serve this extraordinary constituency and community, both those who voted for me, and those who did not, ever since – and to see my majority increase at each of the subsequent three General Elections.
And when I think back over the past 13 years, my strongest emotion is deep gratitude. Thank you so much to all those who put your faith in me and put the politics of hope above the politics of fear. To every person who has stopped me on the bus and in the street to ask how I am and to share your personal stories, and who has offered encouragement as I have stood up in parliament to champion your concerns and to hold this government to account, thank you.
I love this city and its people, and I know how incredibly blessed I’ve been to have been given the opportunity to represent you, and to work alongside you. I have always prided myself on being, first and foremost, a good constituency MP. The people who have come to me in my regular surgeries are often desperate, feeling like they have nowhere else to turn – they’re looking for care and compassion not the tangled bureaucratic web that passes for a safety net, and that all too often just causes confusion and complication. I’ve done everything possible to help wherever I can and always worked to ensure that people feel heard, that their concerns matter, and that they are not alone.
But the intensity of these constituency commitments, together with the particular responsibilities of being my Party’s sole MP, mean that, ironically, I’ve not been able to focus as much as I would like on the existential challenges that drive me – the Nature and Climate emergencies. I have always been a different kind of politician – as those who witnessed my arrest, court case and acquittal over peaceful protest at the fracking site in Balcombe nearly ten years ago will recall. And the truth is, as these threats to our precious planet become ever more urgent, I have struggled to spend the time I want on these accelerating crises. I have therefore decided not to stand again as your MP at the next election.
The reason I came into politics was to change things. Thirteen years ago it’s inconceivable that Parliament would have declared a climate emergency. And I’ve put issues like a universal basic income and a legal right to access nature on the political agenda; secured the first Parliamentary debate in a generation on drug law reform; and thanks to my work in Parliament, a Natural History GCSE will soon be on the syllabus. I have said the previously unsayable, only to see it become part of the mainstream, on coal, on the myth that endless economic growth makes us happier, on a Green New Deal.
My determination to trying to make change is stronger than ever. I look forward to having the time to explore ever more imaginative and creative ways of helping to make a liveable future a reality. Watch this space!
My heart will always be in this most special city, and with the inspiring communities and individuals I’ve been privileged to get to know. On election night 2010, I pledged that I would do my very best to do you proud. I can only hope that – whether you voted for me or not – you will judge that that is what I have done.
With love and gratitude,