LDV Interview: Caroline Lucas talks about The Alternative Part 2

This week I had the chance to talk to Caroline Lucas, newly elected co-Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, about the book “The Alternative.” She co-edited the book with Labour MP Lisa Nandy and her erstwhile 2015 Liberal Democrat opponent Chris Bowers. The three will be taking part in a fringe meeting at Conference tomorrow at 1pm in the Buckingham suite in the Hilton Metropole. The event is organised by the Social Liberal Forum. Part 1 is available here.

Part 1 ended with a discussion on a more collaborative politics. That’s not quite what we see even within the Labour Party at the moment. After what the Tories did to scare people witless of a coalition between Ed Miliband and Alex Salmond, what would they do with anything that involved Jeremy Corbyn, even if he were inclined to be a part of it?

Caroline is clear that this is not something politicians can stitch up between themselves:

It’s got to come from the grassroots up. If this is perceived to be politicians carving things up between them behind closed doors, the public will be put off and that will be something for the Tories to attack.

If on the other hand there is a groundswell coming up from communities as there is in Brighton and I’m sure it is in other places from ordinary people who aren’t necessarily members of any party, saying “Can you get a bit smarter about your politics and work out a way so you don’t keep fighting each other to the death and letting Conservatives through”.

I do think there’s an appetite in Labour to look at that. The election result in Scotland for Labour will have concentrated minds with just one MP and the boundaries will lose them at least another 30 seats. It’s clear that whoever their leader is,  the chances of them winning a majority are vanishingly small.

It is concentrating minds. Unite, John McDonnell, Chuka Umunna and Jeremy are all backing some sort of electoral reform. I get the sense that people are beginning to see the writing on the wall and once electoral reform and constitutional change become in the interests of labour rather than what we have to persuade them to do out of the goodness of their hearts, then that really is a game changer.

But how do we get the voters interested in it after the AV Referendum?  Dry, constitutional stuff leaves them cold, but, I wondered,  if we phrase it in language like “giving people the Parliament they asked for, could we win the argument?

Yes, she said. It’s about giving people a voice.

Many people who voted Leave did so out of a sense of anger and alienation from the so called political elites and were surprised to find find they had a vote that counted. Much as we might not like the result, that experience of having a say was something that’s really important.

We can learn from the way in which the Scottish referendum was fought – it was not a dry subject, it was about identity and it was about what kind of governance and Parliament we deserve. If we have a debate about that, we can engage a lot more people.

The urgency of the situation, with a maximum of less than four years before the election motivated Caroline and Jonathan Bartley to stand as leaders of the Green Party on a platform of finding common ground on the progressive side of politics. She thinks it can be done:

There are a lot of conversations happening in this space just now. That’s not to say that we will get to where we need to be fast enough but we sure as hell won’t if we don’t try.

One of the things I really appreciated in the book was Duncan Brack’s essay which put this whole debate into historical perspective. What we are trying to do is not rocket science. It actually did work.

There is, she says, a sense of people looking for a positive way forward after the referendum whichever way they voted and the silver lining of this Brexit scenario is the fight for real democracy.  That’s what this is about.

Duncan’s essay highlighted more covert co-operation between the parties. Caroline doesn’t strike me as a covert sort of person and she certainly has reservations about this approach this time.

The way to get public support this time is to demonstrate public appetite for this or the politicians won’t move. The context is different now and anything that smacks of things being done behind closed doors would be so negative. That approach might have worked in 1996  before social media and when scrutiny was less but even if I was minded to try it, which I’m not, I think it would backfire..

What, I wondered, does she think of the initiative backed by Paddy Ashdown, More United?

It’s interesting. I would feel more reassured if it was a bit more grassroots led. All credit to Paddy,  it came from a very good intention to galvanise and focus people round some core values.

The next step, I think is for it to demonstrate that it really is owned by particularly young people. Again looking at the referendum and that real sense of betrayal that many young people felt could be really well harnessed by enabling them to take hold of this thing.

The idea of it, of harnessing people’s desire for a better politics and a cleaner, more ethical politics is positive.

How do we build that momentum?

More United got over 35,000 people signed up to it on the basis of a tv show and a couple of articles so if you can do that basically on a shoestring, it shows there is an appetite out there. Progress now depends on how we speak to that and harness it and I feel quite positive.

It really does feel that this is an idea whose time has come.

In the final part of this interview to be published tomorrow morning, find out what she thinks about Nick Clegg

The Alternative is published by Biteback Publishing and you can buy it here.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Floating Voter 17th Sep '16 - 2:27pm

    How can Lib Dems co-operate with a Party currently led by IRA groupies Corbyn & McDonnell. Labour should be shunned until they clean up their act.

  • Richard Easter 17th Sep '16 - 2:29pm

    As unpalatable as this may be to the party, we should seriously consider working with UKIP, as well as the Greens, Plaid, TUSC and sympathetic Labour figures on promoting proportional representation.

    Dan Hannan is also pro PR so if there are Tories who are up for it too, then they should be involved in any discussions.

  • This week it was pointed out that the un-elected House of Lords is expanding while the elected House of Commons is shrinking, and we know that this will help secure Tory seats rather than giving the public a more representative group of decision makers. The changes needed won’t come easy.

  • Leekliberal 17th Sep '16 - 6:33pm

    @Floating Voter ‘Labour should be shunned until they clean up their act.’
    I disagree. My red-line for co-operating with any party is that they will vote through PR for Parliament, preferably by STV. The job of the rainbow alliance on gaining power would simply be to enact PR and then call a general Election under PR. This would allow Labour’s social democrats to stand separately from Corbynite fundamentalists with each faction given a proportionate say in a Centre /left coalition that might follow.

  • Floating Voter, Does your “IRA Groupies’ include the Queen? After all, she has shaken the hand of Martin McGuinness…

    If she, of all people, can ‘move on’…Why can’t you?

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