Green Party activists will be celebrating the election of their first MP as they gather in Birmingham for their conference this week. But leader Caroline Lucas told Political Editor Jonathan Walker her victory is just the start
Green Party leader Caroline Lucas is returning to the West Midlands in triumph after becoming the party’s first ever MP.
The politician, who grew up in Malvern, Worcestershire, made history after winning the seat of Brighton Pavilion in May’s general election.
But the party conference, being held at Birmingham Conservatoire, will be a serious policy discussion as well as a celebration.
Activists will debate issues such as the party’s policy towards high speed rail and Government spending cuts. And Dr Lucas won’t be resting on her laurels.
Speaking to the Post in advance of the conference, she said the party’s long-term goal was to be in Government.
She said: “Green party members are in this party because they are serious about making changes.
“Greens are already in many governments right across Europe and beyond.
“But we have an electoral system in this country which is set up to stop that happening. The system is extremely undemocratic.”
As well as reforming the voting system, Greens would like to see the introduction of state funding to give smaller political parties a fair shot against their larger rivals. But she predicted that the decision of the Liberal Democrats to join a coalition Government led by the Conservatives would lead to a growth in support for the Greens.
Greens and Lib Dems have similar policies on some issues, such as reforming the voting system and not replacing Trident, and fight for the same votes in many constituencies.
But anger at Nick Clegg’s decision to join the David Cameron government, and a belief that the Lib Dems have “sold out”, would lead to former Lib Dem voters moving to the Greens, she said.
“The premise they went into the coalition on was that they would make the Tory government fairer. But we haven’t seen that happen. There are a whole range of issues where people are recognising the Greens are an alternative.”
Despite Dr Lucas’s Midland links, the party doesn’t have a strong presence here. It received 6.2 per cent of the vote in the European elections in 2009, less than the BNP, and despite having councillors in Herefordshire, Malvern Hills and Solihull, it has never come close to winning a Parliamentary seat.
Winning in Brighton could provide a springboard for gaining seats in other parts of the country, Dr Lucas said.
“Once you get the first person elected it gets through the barrier of people thinking that it can’t happen.”
The Greens also had high hopes of winning Norwich South during May’s general election, but the seat went to the Liberal Democrats.
“To an extent we suffered in Norwich, where we thought we would get a second MP, from the bounce Nick Clegg got.”
The party would demand a fairer share of airtime in future general elections, even if that did not mean playing a full role in all the debates alongside the three larger parties, she said. “We will be arguing that there needs to be some way of including the smaller parties.”
The party conference decides Green Party policy, and so the Birmingham gathering will be far more than a celebration of Dr Lucas’ election success.
Topics being debated include plans to build a new high speed rail line between London and Birmingham, which are backed by all three major parties.
Although this is often portrayed as a “green” policy on the grounds that it will discourage travellers from using motorways and air travel, not all environmentalists agree.
Some argue that it will encourage unnecessary long-distance journeys when what is needed is better local transport links. There is also concern that high ticket prices will turn high speed rail into a luxury for the wealthy.
Dr Lucas said: “In Germany, high speed rail hasn’t actually diverted people from flying overall.
“And high speed rail in many respects could be described as regressive. There will be a big debate about that. Our policy at the moment is that we support it in principle, where it can be shown to have a positive impact in terms of reducing the number of flights.
“There are a number of members that want to keep the policy.”
But despite her role as party leader, she insists she has no more influence over policy than any other delegate, and will accept whatever the conference decides.
Indeed, the Green Party’s commitment to internal democracy is such that it didn’t even have a leader until 2008. Before this, she was one of the party’s “principal speakers”.
One of Dr Lucas’s frustrations is the way the Greens are portrayed as a single-issue party focused entirely on environment issues, although she admits the party’s name also added to this impression.
In fact, it has a programme for government on a full range of issues, something she hopes to demonstrate.
Dr Lucas said: “Green jobs was a big theme of our general election campaign. We don’t need to chose between tackling the climate crisis and the economic crisis. We can do both.
“What we want is the media to change. The Green Party has never been a single issue party. If you look at our website or manifesto, you can see we have policies on everything from health to education to the economy. What are able to say to people in manufacturing industries in the West Midlands that we have policies for them.”