Interview with Brighton's Green MP Caroline Lucas

Green Party leader Caroline Lucas has been variously described as formidable, forthright and tenacious. Her stunning victory in May 2010 when she was elected MP for Brighton Pavilion is proof positive of these attributes. Words: Veronica Groocock

A week after she was elected, Britain’s first Green MP Caroline Lucas, was appearing on Radio 4’s Any Questions in Brighton, where the atmosphere was euphoric. She said: “It was a wonderful moment when we won, and it felt like the climax of so much work by so many people over so many years.”It has been, she says, a huge learning curve and 10 years in the European Parliament was no preparation for the “weird and wonderful” ways in which Westminster works. It is, she says, so archaic. And, as viewers of BBC TV’s Question Time will have noted, Lucas has been one of the few panellists who manages to complete her point uninterrupted by chairman David Dimbleby. No mean feat in itself – and one which “amazed” her, as she laughingly recalls the programme in March broadcast from Eastbourne’s Winter Garden.   A year after her election, a key campaign of hers is to push for more family-friendly hours, more women MPs.  “We need to have a Parliament that more accurately reflects the society that it’s supposed to represent.”

Incredibly long nightsShe has written a report on this and is liaising with the Speaker and the Leader of the House about a way forward.  “A lot of the new MPs share my frustration at the incredibly long nights,” she says. “There’s no necessity for it: you just start the day earlier – it’s not rocket science!”  She has no car and makes good use of her railway season ticket. When she was an MEP (she was first elected in 1999), the family moved to Brussels.  Her two sons were then just three and six. “It was a way of keeping the family together and I feel very strongly that as a woman, and a mother, in politics we ought to be looking at ways to make that easier.”  During the campaign for Brighton Pavilion she lived at a friend’s in Brighton, and since then has been renting a flat in the centre of the city.  “All the family are due to come over (from Brussels) in June, which is fantastic. I can’t wait for that.  My elder son, now 18, has been doing his sixth form exams so it was impossible to move him when I was being elected… so we’ve had to wait a year. But in June his exams are finished and the whole family come here, which will be lovely.”    Living in Brighton, she feels, offers the best of all worlds, the “most wonderful” countryside and the sea, two minutes’ walk from her office.  She loves the “fantastically vibrant cultural life” and is excited about the city’s Festival with this year’s guest director, the Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Along with these major attractions, Lucas is very much aware of issues such as child poverty, and the lack of affordable housing in the city.  She is – outwardly at least – an extremely positive person, cool and pragmatic, yet exuding a pent-up energy. It is hard to imagine her succumbing to moments of despair.“What keeps me optimistic is meeting so many people who are committed to working for the welfare of the people of the city. Just to walk into Community Base on Queen’s Road,  and see all of those small organisations, run largely by volunteers, is immensely inspiring. And that still goes on, despite the cuts.”Lucas is the living embodiment of that old saying: If you want something done, ask a busy person. She packs a massive amount into each day. There is no mystique attached, and no time for any personal fitness regime. “I think the more you have to do, the more you make the space to do it,” she says, simply. And unlike Mrs Thatcher, who claimed to get by on four hours’ sleep a night, Lucas admits she loves and needs her sleep.Her priority is to be a good local MP, but she sees a definite “synergy” between working for the people of Brighton and being a voice for the national Green Party.  There are plans, for instance, to build an offshore wind farm.  “Here in the city,” she says confidently, “we have some fantastic skills. I believe we have the potential to be one of the Greenest hubs in the country.”  Meanwhile, Lucas will not hesitate to join demonstrations, as she did when she attended a mass protest in London against students’ tuition fees. “I think it’s hugely important that politicians keep one foot in their communities and one foot in active protests in the streets… If politicians see their role as being solely what they do in the Chamber of Westminster, then that diminishes politics as a whole because it makes other people feel that politics is just what men in grey suits do behind closed doors.”