Caroline Lucas 'Honourable Friends?...' at Henley Literary Festival

It was a full house for Caroline Lucas’s talk, chaired by Daniel Hahn at the Kenton Theatre on Friday 2nd October. She has written and published ‘Honourable Friends? Parliament and the Fight for Change’ which records some of her experiences over the past five years as a Green party M.P. at Westminster.

Caroline Lucas became Britain’s first Green MP in 2010 and was re- elected in May, with a majority of almost 8,000, after being endorsed by David Attenborough and Joanna Lumley. The book details Parliament’s archaic traditions, some of which are harmless (such as an entitlement to take snuff before you enter the chamber and being given a pink ribbon upon election) and others that seem perverse and interfere with M.P.’s carrying out their jobs effectively.

Examples are that in the European Parliament (which Caroline worked in for ten years) M.E.P.s are able to vote on bills and amendments to bills electronically but in Westminster M.P.’s must queue to vote which takes hours and is a huge waste of time.

Another is that M.P.s are only allowed to speak in a debate if the Speaker of the House of Commons allows it, but M.P.s don’t know if they will be given the opportunity to speak unless they attend the debate. This could mean up to a whole day of sitting in a debate where they are not allowed to speak.

Party whips decide which of their M.P.s should sit in on drafting bills (of new legislation), even if these M.P.s do not have relevant experience.

If a bill is amended and M.P.s have to vote on it, they are only given 8 minutes in which to walk or run from their office to the voting chamber, and the amendment will not have any explanation so they won’t understand what they are actually voting on, and are just instructed by the party whips which way to vote.

If there is more than one amendment to a bill, the Speaker has the autonomy to decide which amendments get voted on, which can mean that drafted amendments are dropped completely from new legislation by the Speaker.

Once M.P.s start to speak in the House of Commons they can keep talking ‘filibusting’ (to prevent other M.P.’s from responding) and Caroline cited examples of M.P.s giving off topic speeches about recipes and 15th Century European history. She suggested all M.P.s should have a maximum of twenty minutes speaking time enforced by the Speaker.

Caroline talked about working with other political parties to try to bring about positive change not only in Parliament but in all the areas that affect the general public and touched on the Green party’s manifesto where they have policies on all key areas such as housing, NHS, defence, etc - the environment remains the cornerstone of their approach.

Caroline seemed keen for the Green Party to work with Labour (particularly Labour led by Jeremy Corbyn). She spoke about proportional representation and how the Conservatives only got 24% of the overall vote and have a majority in Westminster yet Green, Lib Dem and UKIP combined had 25% of the vote and only have 1.5% of total M.P.s. (This is because we operate under a ‘first past the post’ system where whoever got the majority of votes in a constituency ‘wins’ the election and all the other votes don’t count.)

Support for solar power energy has gone from the government because they want to invest in fracking and fossil fuels – not only is this source of energy finite and diminishing but burning fuels creates climate change and there is a £15bn cost to the NHS from health issues caused by air pollution.

A member of the audience asked if Caroline had seen male M.P.s jiggle their chests up and down to mimic and degrade women. Caroline said it is usual to hear male M.P.s comment on female M.P.s attire. It wouldn’t be tolerated in any other workplace, there is still misogyny in Westminster and it ought to be completely stamped out. Caroline is known to support the No More Page 3 campaign.

Caroline Lucas seems to be one of those rare politicians who is in parliament for all the right reasons and I will definitely be purchasing her book ‘Honorable Friends? Parliament and the Fight for Change.'

(c) Wendy Thomson 2015 @topgirls

4.30pm Kenton Theatre Friday 2nd October

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