Thursday, 19 March 2015

Honourable Friends? – parliament and the fight for change
by Caroline Lucas
Pubs. Portobello
Pbck £14.99
Under Caroline Lucas’s leadership the Green Party was transformed from a tiny, single-issue organisation into a mature party with clout. Under her guidance it has developed radical policies on the economy, on burning social issues and the environment, and mounted a fundamental critique of  the capitalist system itself. She has managed to do this without resorting to extremist or wild utopian rhetoric. Her challenge to the establishment and its implicit iconoclasm comes across as sane, rational and humane. Nor does she, as so many politicians do when they write biographies, use it as an ego trip. She emphasises co-operation, collaboration and working with others.
This book, as she herself emphasises, has been put  together in between meetings, parliamentary committee sittings, on scribbled notes during late night train journeys from London back to Brighton, culled from emails and notes taken by her assistant Cath Miller. It is no long-deliberated and honed political philosophical tract, but is a ‘record of progress so far, the challenges and setbacks as well as some successes. It is an “of the moment”, from the trenches snapshot of the first five years of coalition government.’ This is not necessarily a disadvantage, it reflects her genuine passion and commitment, her honesty and vision.
She picks up the central issues facing the country and humanity as a whole and demonstrates how our present political structures and the enormous power wielded big companies and financial interests undermine parliament’s ability to deliver the policies that people and society need.
Generations of Labour MPs, instead of challenging the public school or gentlemen’s club arcane rituals of parliament have submitted in awe and felt honoured to be admitted and not dared suggest change. Margaret Becket told Caroline when she first arrived in the House of Commons, ‘don’t worry, you’ll get used to it’. But she hasn’t and she refuses to.  She is determined to challenge and to help sweep away the dust of centuries, taking inspiration from the  Suffragettes. She rightly argues that parliament should be there to serve the people and its procedures should facilitate that and be brought into the modern world, ceasing to be a comic opera. 
To have silk slings in the cloakrooms for hanging up one’s sword, a snuff box at the entrance to the chamber, to have to physically walk through the Aye or No lobbies to register one’s vote, to be reliant on the party leader’s patronage to obtain a decent office are just some of the silly anachronisms of  the system.
Lucas ridicules and demolishes central platforms of the coalition one after the other with a devastating simplicity and rationality, she exposes the blatant lying of leading minsters and makes strong arguments for public ownership.
Against the unwritten rules of parliamentary procedure she used her maiden speech, which by tradition is anodyne,  to attack the polluting firm Trafigura which had already sued the BBC and forced journalists to remain silent about its activities.

‘I have come to see up close, how unless parliament changes, progress in every other area of our national life faces delay or obstruction,’ she writes. Lucas might be only a one woman show, but she packs a political punch far beyond her own or her party’s weight. A wonderfully refreshing and empowering read.