Webchat with Caroline Lucas
Caroline Lucas, MEP and leader of the Green Party, joined us for a webchat on 1 June 2009. This is an edited transcript of the discussion.
ahundredtimes: I've got some really simple, possibly stupid, questions: What does an MEP do? Do MEPs have constituency surgeries? I don't know who my MEP is! This is possibly my fault. But once I've found out and if I wanted to contact them, what might Isay to them? I have no idea what they are doing, or how they might be representing my interests in Europe! If you're an MEP for UKIP or someone like that, what do you DO? Do they just complain and block votes and things? How does the European Parliament work?
Are the Green Party a sort of lobby group in Europe then? Or do Green MEPs also, erm, do whatever MEPs do, on a range of matters not just those to do with the environment?
I find the whole notion of the European Parliament really distant and a bit bewildering to be honest. Is the Eureopean Parliament all about trade? That's the impression I've got. What sort of decisions do the European Parliament make that are different from what the House of Commons discusses? Isn't it just a bureaucratic nightmare?
CarolineLucas: Most regions of the UK have about 7-10 MEPs. I represent the South East, which is a vast area, so the main ways I am in touch with constituents are via email, letters, the website and the media. Holding surgeries is not really practical in a constituency this size, but I do meet with people if that is the best way to help them.
I work really hard to try and tell people what MEPs do, produce lots of leaflets and papers, but inevitably we cannot reach everyone. I know this is something MEPs need to get better at and sites like this are a great opportunity to reach new people - so thank you for having me!
The media do have a great deal to answer for, as there usually is very limited coverage of the European Parliament - and the stories that do get reported are usually completely misrepresented, like the EU apparently wanting to make bananas straight (not true).
There are around 35 Green MEPs in the European Parliament, working on everything from traditional environmental issues like controlling how much pesticides can be sprayed on our food, to recommending minimum maternity leave conditions across all the members of the EU. Our main job is to scrutinise proposed new laws or revisions of existing laws, which will then apply to every single country that belongs to the EU. These laws are drawn up by the European Commission and MEPs can also try and influence what topics are covered. So, for example, recently I got support from a majority
of MEPs for the European Commission to investigate the way that supermarket monopolies across the EU are impacting on consumers, workers, growers, independent shops and so on. The ultimate goal is that some kind of legislation will be introduced that will restrict the power of the largest supermarkets. All the laws that are developed at EU level must also be agreed by the Council of Europe, which is made up of all the heads of all the members states - so, Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel, Sarkozy and so forth.
When the EU was set up everyone who joined agreed which laws would be developed at EU level and which would be left to national governments. So, the EU determines trade policies, but it also decides on workers rights and health and safety at work, for example. It sets waste recycling targets and decides what information about food should be provided to consumers.
The EU is also active in areas that the Green Party does not think it should have a role in - such as privatising public services, including the post office and the railways, acting collectively in a military sense and having a common policy for farming.
ahundredtimes: Are the MEPs who are standing then standing with a commitment towards the laws they are going to make and the policies they will develop? Does each party have a European Parliament manifesto as such? The only leaflet that has come through my door started by telling me that this man felt just like I do about Europe, and like me, he wants to see some reforms too. I hope he has considerably more knowledge of Europe than I do.
CarolineLucas: I'm sorry to hear you don't feel you've been given the information you need to understand what happens in Europe, how it affects you (because it really does in so many ways) and what your choices are in the coming election on June 4th. It's not for want of trying, believe me. Even though a great deal of legislation which affects all of us, every day, comes directly from the European Parliament, it has always been a struggle to get the media to report the information – yet in countries like France and Germany there's so much more engagement. Our team's working flat out to leaflet, canvass and hold stalls.
The European Parliament doesn't have what's called "the power of initiative", which simply means that, sadly, we can't initiate new laws ourselves. But we can, and do, amend, revise and improve proposed legislation which is drawn up by the European Commission (unelected officers). It's pretty undemocratic, as you can see, and we'd very much like the Parliament to have the power to propose legislation itself. Each party does indeed have a European Election manifesto – you can find them on their party websites. Ours is at www.greenparty.org.uk
Fibonacci: One of the Green Party policies is free healthy school meals for every child at a state school in the UK, regardless of means. I think it's a great policy, but wondered what it would cost and how it would be funded?
CarolineLucas: The health of our children is obviously fundamentally important as is getting them into good eating habits at a young age. Obviously healthy school meals, free for all, would be costly and we'd need to raise money through general taxation. Looking at the larger picture we're convinced that the benefits would save money on healthcare in the long run.
Spidermama: Greens are sometimes accused of being a little serious. What do you do for fun? Also do you really, honestly believe we will ever make the massive switch in focus required to pull back from climate chaos?
CarolineLucas: Spend time with my boys, play the piano (not very well), relax with friends, watch episodes of West Wing, gin and tonic in hand. I confess that the huge mountain of resistance that we need to overcome in terms of climate change does keep me awake at night. But the many inspiring, committed people I meet across my constituency, for example, and through movements like Transition Towns and Climate Rush give me hope.
We need as a society to move towards what many call a zero-carbon economy, which is about every transaction we make being free from the damaging emissions that are causing climate change. The really exciting thing about such an economy is that it has the potential to offer incredible benefits that reflect what most of us aspire to - for example, more secure jobs, less time commuting, more time with our family, warmer homes, easy access to affordable local food, belonging to a community, a healthier environment and so on. I genuinely believe that on the whole the public are ready to embrace a zero-carbon future and it just needs politicians to show some leadership and starting talking about what we would gain from pulling back from climate chaos.
As to whether this will happen any time soon, we have only a tiny window of opportunity, less than 100 months, before we risk going past the point of no return for dangerous global temperature increases. This autumn in Copenhagen a new international agreement on reducing emissions will be negotiated and may well be the last opportunity to take concerted global action. So, at the moment I am cautiously optimistic, but ask me again in a few months time and I may say something different.
AddisonMontgomerySheppard: Ooh! A fellow WingNut! Who's your favourite character (with apologies for quite such a shallow question)? Why do you think Americans don't have the same apathy for politics that we do?
CarolineLucas: My favourite West Wing character is old Bartlet himself - I love his sense of humour! As far as I know, Americans were pretty apathetic themselves until Obama came along, so we need a few more Obamas over here, along with a good deal of electoral reform.
champagnesupernova: I try to be environmentally aware but there are times when it's just too HARD once you have children. I have been known to chuck the occasional recyclable in the bin, for example, and I am not very good at doing the washing at a low temperature. Do you manage to live the green dream all the time? I would imagine with such a busy schedule that you must be guilty of the occasional slip up.
CarolineLucas: I wouldn't want to set myself up as perfect at all. But what I do strongly believe is that government action should make it easier for everyone to live a greener lifestyle. In many EU countries, for example, it's much easier to recycle, and there's much better, more affordable public transport.
NotPlayingAnyMore: Next year I'll be undertaking an environmental studies degree project, focusing on making my own lifestyle more "green". As could be illustrated by a recent thread here on Mumsnet (about the balance between free range food and affordability), the average voter trying to "do the right thing" often involves making very difficult decisions. While time and money is a luxury many families don't have, it's also very confusing when trying to consider prioritising one issue over another in our consumption choices, such as animal welfare, organic food, reducing energy use, recycling, supporting local communities and so on. The Green Party has obviously researched many of these areas for their policy manifesto, so what advice would you give to those who are trying to balance what is best for their families with what is best for the wider environment?
CarolineLucas: I've had a quick scan of the thread you linked to, which throws up lots of issues. It can often be a tough choice with a family to feed, especially in this climate when, for example, chickens which have had a higher standard of welfare are often more expensive than those which have been cramped in a box and treated with all the compassion of a bag of spuds.
Green Party policy is about making environmentally friendly (or welfare friendly) choices more affordable. For example, organic food doesn't have to be more expensive than non-organic – it's a result of the taxation system we've chosen to implement. if we taxed labour less, and pesticides more, we could completely reverse the current price signals.
People often ask me whether it's better to buy local (which might not be organic), or to buy organic (which might have been flown in from the other side of the world). Not easy! On balance, i'd say local first, and obviously, best of all, local and organic. Allotments are great, and obviously a more affordable option. And some friends of mine have got together to share one, so they don't have to give up huge amounts of time to keep it going. Good luck with your environmental studies degree project.
Gizmo: A number of questions here:
- How does the Green Party go about conveying to the ordinary punter that you have a complete manifesto, as well as your strengths in environmental matters? I was in a Green Party meeting a few weeks back, for example, and nobody was discussing schools or healthcare, surely that's a minimum for engaging people?
- At the same meeting we had a bloke from Hackney making the good point that the Green Party is seen as a middle class irrelevance in the estate he lived on. Do you think that's true? How do you change that?
- Very specific one here: what is the Green Party's position on smart metering and the smart grid? Does the party have any plans to stimulate the market for home energy products (microgeneration, demand response systems, home energy control and displays)?
CarolineLucas: Completely agree that the party needs to get better at communicating its social policies, not just its environmental ones - that's a real priority for me. Ever since the party was first formed back in the 1970s, we've had policies on everything from health, education, trade and the economy, but it's still a challenge for us to get those messages across. Partly it's because we're known for our environment policies, and that's what the media come to us about - and partly, I accept, it's because we need to get better at finding opportunities to talk about them.
Where Greens are elected on local councils, though, I think people can see at first hand that we're deeply engaged with social issues, for example promoting small businesses, providing community centres for young people, opposing the privatisation of public services and so on. The Greens on the London Assembly were instrumental in the setting up of the Living Wage Unit in London, and Greens on Councils around the UK are proposing similar policies.
I think it's a real indictment of 12 years of a Labour Government that inequality is at a higher level now than when they came to office - and to me, social and environmental justice are completely linked. We're increasingly working with unions, and I'd strongly make the case that our policies are relevant to everyone, not just the middle classes.
On your last point, yes we support both smart metering and the smart grid, and would promote and incentivise home energy products.
Peachy: I am wondering how the Green Party proposes to attract membership from those in professions that feel threatened by the environmentalists? I am specifically minded of my husband's ex-profession - haulage - where a great many people felt their jobs were being personally targeted by the environmental movement. It's one of the industries massively suffering in the current climate and already making many redundancies (my husband was one but fortunately has found other paths to follow). In a time where people fear for there very livelihoods, do you feel the Green Party might become a victim of desperate seeking of job security?
Oh, and I totally agree with the point about a wider manifesto. Whilst I am interested in green matters, I still could never commit to a party where the effects of that election on those things that affect every day - for me, education, welfare / tax credits, disability, carers - might be unknown
CarolineLucas: The Green Party is very definitely not just a single issue party: check out our policies on social welfare, workers rights, health care, education, the military, trade, criminal justice, immigration... I could go on. http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/
One of the messages we're working really hard to communicate at present is that tackling environmental problems creates jobs - and I helped write a radical report on this called the Green New Deal. In the region I represent we predict that Green policies could create at least 140,000 new jobs. This is important to me because I agree that we need to reach out beyond people who are naturally sympathetic and might feel threatened by what they read about Greens in the media.
I guess the main point to stress is that Green means so much more to us than the environment and I am certainly not working for the kind of future where we abandon whole sections of society just because they, for example, work in haulage! A Green future is about taking everyone with us and our jobs message is a genuine attempt to do this.
PolicyWonk: I know you're typing like a banshee trying to keep up with all these questions, but please tell us the Greens' policy on income tax. I can't see it on your site. If it helps at all, I'm all in favour of income tax rises, and I like the Greens' idea about abolishing/reducing VAT (not sure which it is).
CarolineLucas: I'm typing faster than I ever have since I did my typing exam about 30 years ago - my fingers hurt - hope there aren't too many typos...
Re income tax, sorry you can't find it on the site - when you've got a moment, it should be accessible via a link to the Manifesto for a Sustainable Society. Essentially, we're in favour of more progressive taxation - ie those on higher incomes should be paying more.
I think the government has done us all a great disservice by not having the courage to say that if we want better public services, we need to pay for them.
On VAT, we see it as a regressive tax (ie it hurts those on lowest incomes most), and we'd like to move towards abolishing it, and replacing it with environmental taxation instead.
Leningrad: Do you support voting electronically? Should citizens be made to vote? How will all these initiatives (particularly like one mother, one midwife and a citizen's income) be funded?
CarolineLucas: I have mixed views on whether people should be forced to vote - we should look into it. But I'd rather we changed the electoral system, so people feel more inspired to vote. With the first-past-the-post system, it's not surprising lots of people feel it's not worth voting, because the result is a foregone conclusion.
In terms of paying for our policies, the Citizen's Income will cost a lot less than people think, because it's not means-tested, so it requires a lot less bureaucracy. But we'd also reallocate a lot of existing spending priorities - no Trident nuclear weapon replacement (£78bn over 30 years), no ID cards, no huge road building, a windfall tax on energy company profits - for starters.
Gamut: The massive disillusion with Labour, Lib-Dem, and Conservatives right now makes this just the time to look hard at the Green Party as a possible new focus of allegiance. The Green movement has traditionally been at least as much associated with campaigning interest-groups as with party politics. At a time when party politics is looking extremely tired and compromised, what can the Green Party do to invest party politics with some of the fervent, principled campaigning we associate with interest groups? How does it avoid being compromised itself?
How does the Green Party stand on the kind of constitutional tweaks that need to be made to restore power and principle to Parliament - electoral reform, the reduction of 'whipping' of MPs, fixed-term Parliaments, and so on.
CarolineLucas: The Green Party is rooted in local communities, and has a very decentralised structure – I think that helps us keep our integrity, and our links to local campaigns. We're committed to a different way of doing politics, through empowering others to take action. We don't believe that politics is all about men (usually) in grey suits (almost always) shouting at each other at Westminster. Politics is just about every decision you make, from the moment you get up in the morning, to the moment you go to bed at night.
I think we avoid being compromised ourselves by keeping very democratic and accountable structures within the Party (eg as Leader, I have to stand for re-election every two years, and there are a number of ways that members can recall me if they don't agree with what I'm doing). I also think that, on balance, it's better for Green Parties to wait until they have more power before they enter coalition governments (eg in Germany). Otherwise, they don't have sufficient power to stand up to their senior coalition partners, and are likely to be held responsible for decisions which they don't agree with.
hanaflower: I think the plan to stop the flitting back and forth to Strasbourg is a good one, but how are they even going to approach this? And what about the SiSO culture in the European Parliament (Sign in and sod off). Are there other European political parties who are also against this snout-in-trough mentality that the Greens will work with?
CarolineLucas: The politics behind having the Parliament sit in Strasbourg is madness! But essentially the decision is not one which the Parliament itself has influence over – it's down to the Member State governments. The only way it can be changed is if all 27 member states unanimously agree – and France continues to block any change, because they enjoy the economic advantage of MEPs continuing to travel to Strasbourg every month. But I can honestly say I loathe having to do so – it's an enormous waste of money and time.
Greens have definitely taken a lead in terms of trying to make the European Parliament allowances system less open to abuse. And, to be fair, UK MEPs as a whole, with some notable exceptions, are generally more progressive on this than MEPs from other countries. There are some individuals across
political divides who are genuinely committed to transparency and accountability, but in terms of parties, or groups as they tend to be known in the European Parliament, I am not sure that anyone has the same kind of track-record on pushing for reform as Greens do.
The Parliament tends to be less combative than, say, Westminster, so it is common for MEPs from different groups to work together on issues and we are certainly open to cooperation if it can deliver a fairer system.
Ninjacat: I am a Green voter but feel so worried that the Tories will get in at the next election I fear I may have to vote Labour. What would your advice be?
CarolineLucas: I can understand why you'd be worried about letting the Tories in and leaving us open to the same old business as usual, which has been failing us for decades, and this is precisely why we need a change in the system of voting. People like you don't feel you have a real choice to vote for what you believe in, because of the perception that only the three main parties will ever make it into power.
Things are exciting at the moment thanks to the expenses scandal. The current government, and to a large extent all the parties in Westminster have lost all moral authority. We have an unprecedented chance to make changes to the system of voting and to bring into parliament people who look and sound like the people they represent.
With a system for proportional representation we can get more diversity into Westminster: more women; more ethnic minorities. People are angry at the current electoral system which practically guarantees a minority government (only 37% voted for the current Labour government). We've long campaigned for a fairer voting system and this could be the best chance we've ever had to get it.
Even if we didn't get a change in system we deserve, it's still worth voting Green because the more people show their support in us, the more the other parties will HAVE to adopt our policies and listen to our ideas.
And the good news about the European Elections on Thursday is that they are under a form of proportional representation, so that Green votes can really translate into more Green MEPs.
uberalice: Caroline, I heard you talking on Any Questions? last Friday about the need for parliamentary reform. I didn't know who you were because I missed the introduction and end of the programme, but I was so impressed with what you were saying that I went straight to the Radio 4 website to find out your name. Do you think that we are any closer to seeing fixed term parliaments and proportional representation at Westminster now, in the light of the expenses scandal, or do they remain dreams that will never be fulfilled?
CarolineLucas: Thank you. I did enjoy that edition of Any Questions. As for whether we're any closer to proportional representation at Westminster, the expenses scandal has laid bare the rotten system for all to see and as the anger subsides there seems to be a real appetite for positive change. How and what form that will take, none of us yet knows as the story is still unfolding. But as Rahm Emanuel, one of President Obama's chiefs of staff said some months back, it would be a shame to waste a crisis!
Jux: In the light of the gravy train that would appear to be Westminster, what would you suggest we do about the even larger gravy train that is Brussels?
CarolineLucas: Greens members of the European Parliament have been at the forefront of efforts to clean up the Brussels expenses system. For example, we proposed years ago that receipts should be provided for at least 50% of office expenditure, but the majority in the two largest political groups, the Conservatives and Labour, blocked the move. We are also part of a wider cross-party Campaign for Parliamentary Reform, which aims to promote much greater transparency, and – crucially – to end the ridiculous situation whereby MEPs have to travel to Strasbourg for one week every month.
Some good news is that some changes are starting to happen. From July onwards, for example, all travel allowances will be reimbursed on the basis of the actual cost of the journey, not on a lump sum basis – something which Greens, again, have been calling for for many years.
More broadly, we also want to see powers taken away from the unelected Commission, and the elected Parliament given more influence, and to open up the whole of the EU processes to much greater transparency and accountability. I genuinely think people would be shocked if they truly understood the power that the corporate lobby wields over the decision making process and on matters which affect us all every day.
queenie: I'm really interested in knowing what the Green Party's position is on parenting. I've been reading about green parenting and wondering what the Green Party itself thought?
CarolineLucas: This covers so much but I will try and be brief. Green parenting often seems to be portrayed simply in terms of consumerism, whereas for me it is about so much more. So, for example, I think green parenting is about giving parents flexibility and support - be it to carry on paid work, reduce hours, find a job or stop working all together. So, the Green Party want each and every citizen to receive a non-means tested Citizen's Income, which would replace most existing social security benefits. This is intended to give every member of society the opportunity to do things that have enormous social value, like parenting, or caring for eldely relatives, or doing voluntary work and so on, without worrying about whether they can afford to.
The Green Party does want to ensure that products like nappies, for example, meet strict environmental standards, but we also want to focus on there being good quality libraries, playgrounds and swimming pools in each and every community.
We agree it is important that you should be able to get organic baby food and have a range of policies designed to push companies to act more responsibly. But we also want education facilities to be based on meeting children's needs, and for you and your child to regularly see the same GP so there is continuity of care, for example. So, I think from a Green Party perspective, what we want to do is encourage green parenting in the sense that it is about parents making positive choices and contributing to a greener, fairer, happier future for their children.
Spidermama: I read something about you helping to get the European Parliament to ban toxic toys. It was alarming! What were the toxins and what exactly happened? Were they banned?
CarolineLucas: Basically, the toxins were substances that can cause cancer. The toy industry weren't too pleased about having to make changes, but the pressure we built up in the Parliament and among the public was extensive, and I was delighted with the result (some of the worst ones are now banned), although there's still more to do
VestibularProwess: With more and more young children having rotten teeth and needing fillings at younger ages, why do you oppose fluoridation of the water supply to try to help dental health?
CarolineLucas: I guess the point for me is that people should be able to choose whether or not to take fluoride. Many people are genuinely concerned about the health impacts of compulsory fluoridation - including thyroid problems, skeletal fluorosis and bone cancers. Others point out that fluoridation is not proven to be effective for teeth, particulary when the bad effects of dental fluorosis are taken into account. Many other countries are ending their fluoridation programmes for these reasons.
hunkermunker: I'd be very interested to hear what the Green Party are doing to actively promote breastfeeding as the green option for feeding babies.
CarolineLucas: Breast milk is a natural and renewable resource and I'm quite keen on those on the whole. Although we'd certainly want to give as much support as possible to women who choose to breastfeed (and that means ensuring they get as much time as they need with midwives and health visitors), I'm anxious that women who don't or can't aren't made to feel bad about the decisions they make. I'd say that Green Party policy would be about supporting women in whatever they choice they make, and making sure they have enough information to make an informed choice.
I think we need to make it easier for people to breastfeed – I vividly remember that, as a Green Party county councillor in Oxfordshire, I was thrown out of the debating chamber for breastfeeding my three-month-old son, and accused of bringing the council into disrepute.
We want better quality midwifery care where the midwife continues to see the woman for a month after the birth because, let's face it, it's often after the birth where we really need help and advice. At our spring conference we passed a new strong maternity policy:
HE305 All women will be entitled to the care of a single midwife through prenatal care, birth and the first month of post-natal care, in line with the model of care currently provided by independent
midwives. This will be made possible by initiatives to improve the recruitment and retention of midwives.
I very much support the work of Babymilk Action, a wonderful group that campaigns against Nestle's policy of trying to persuade women in developing countries that bottlefeeding is a better way to feed their babies. In some of the poorest countries of the world, this can be an absolutely terrible thing to do, because the water which they need to use to dilute the milk powder is frequently contaminated, leading to babies becoming ill, or even dying.
I've taken action recently against some publicity from the European Parliament which used a bottle-fed baby to symbolise family life, as I was concerned that once again breastfeeding was being made invisible.
TalentedLoser: How do you juggle motherhood with being the leader of a political party and and MEP?
CarolineLucas: My husband is incredibly supportive and I have a team of staff who make sure I know where I am meant to be and what I need to be focusing on at any one time. I also try and involve the boys in my work - my youngest son has been on a fair few peace marches in his time, for example.
But is is difficult and I recognise that if my children had been toddlers, for example, when I was first elected, I might have struggled even more. As it was, I am lucky enough that during their early childhood I was not away from home quite so much.
I think it has become a bit of a cliche to say that mothers are often great at multi-tasking but, as with all good cliches, there is some truth in it, so in many respects the fact that I am a mother has given me a good grounding in trying to keep lots of balls in the air - and accepting that it's probably not the end of the world if I occasionally drop one.
Legacy: I too saw you on QT last week and thought you were FAB! I've had an interest in economics/politics for a long time (including a degree in the same) and when I was a teenager/ at uni I always wanted to become an MP (didn't know about MEPs then) and decided it was something I'd pursue in my 40s, after an initial career and family. Scarily that time is NOW (eek!) but I am so depressed by everything that seems to be going on in Parliament(s) these days, I am constantly questioning why ANYONE would want to be an MP/MEP. So my questions are more focused on personal/family issues:
- What support do you have in place to allow you to fulfil your role?
- What is it that 'keeps you going' in the darkest hours?
- What are the highlights and lowlights of trying to do all the things you seem to do?
- Do you have a highly supportive family, or does your demanding role sometimes create tensions?
- It still seems to me that the UK Parliament is a hideous place for women with families to work within. Is Brussels any better/ different?
- At the end of the day, WHY do you do it - what do you get out of it (and I don't mean financially/ expense-wise)?
- Can you tell us more about what it's like being a Party Leader/MEP/mum?
CarolineLucas: Legacy - sorry to be a bit slow in getting back to you - the questions are coming faster than I can type. And thanks for your very kind comments on Question Time (I always get so nervous before doing it). I'm very lucky in having a supportive family and fantastic staff, but I must say I do still find it hard to juggle everything. I spend a lot of time wishing I could be with my kids more, but I honestly believe that I'm doing my small bit to help try to make sure there's a liveable planet for them, and for all other kids. It's as serious as that, though I hope that doesn't sound overdramatic.
It's definitely not too late for you to get involved and stand as an MP or MEP - and in terms of what you get out of it, well, a fantastic group of people who share the same ideals and goals as you do, a real sense of purpose, and a lot of grey hair.
ThingOne: Why are you standing again for the European Parliament when you have been selected as the candidate for the Westminster seat of Brighton Pavilion? Which do you want to do?
CarolineLucas: Essentially, I want to do all I can to ensure that the Greens keep our seat in the European Parliament, as well as making a breakthrough at Westminster. But let me assure you that I wouldn't try to do both jobs myself (it's illegal, even if you were mad enough to try). If I were to win in Brighton Pavilion at the General Election, the MEP seat would pass automatically to the next Green candidate on our list, so it wouldn't trigger a by-election – the Greens would be assured of keeping the seat. In the European elections, voters put their cross against the name of the Party rather than against an individual – each Party puts up a list of candidates, and the number who are elected is in proportion to the number of votes the Party gains in the election.
policywonk: What's your opinion of the draft climate change treaty that will be discussed in Bonn over the next couple of weeks? Do you have faith that recent movement by China and the USA mean we will see a really effective treaty in Copenhagen at the end of the year?
Further to ThingOne's question, what do Brighton Pavilion Green activists think about you parachuting in to their seat? Is there some local tension or is it accepted that this is the best way to get a Green MP into the UK Parliament?
Finally, what one thing (other than voting Green, which I already do) can UK voters do to put pressure on this, and any other, government about environmental issues?
CarolineLucas: Hello Policywonk, my real concern is that the vast majority of politicians still have no grasp of the urgency with which we need to act to avoid the worst of climate change. The new Obama administration in the US is certainly very helpful, and it's true that China is much more engaged than it has been in the past, so I think we will get some kind of treaty in Copenhagen. But I'm still concerned that the targets it contains will be nowhere near ambitious enough. The Green Party believes we need to start making emission cuts of around 9% a year from now on – yet the targets other Parties are discussing come nowhere close to that.
LupusinaLlamasuit: What will we do when the oil runs out, actually?
CarolineLucas: We'll try to act before it finally does! We need to be weaning ourselves off fossil fuels NOW - and groups like the Transition Town movement are doing fantastic work in local communities all over the UK, raising awareness about this, and taking practical action. Oil has become so essential to our modern way of life - eg in terms of food production (fertilisers, pesticides, packaging, transportation etc) - so promoting things like local food can make a real difference.
Governments also need to take urgent action, in terms of a massive investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy, which would create up to a million jobs in the UK as well.