Live webchat with Caroline Lucas
Caroline Lucas, MEP and leader of the Green Party, joined us for a webchat on 26 March 2010. This is an edited transcript of the discussion.
It was Caroline's second Mumsnet webchat - she first joined us in May 2009. The Greens are fielding a record number of candidates at the 2010 election and have high hopes of winning their first Westminster seats - Caroline herself is hoping to win Brighton Pavilion.
greenbiscuit: I'm going to be a parent soon, which is why I'm concerned enough to post about the £97 billion estimated cost of Trident (nuclear weapons, not the chewing gum, that is) and how it will affect future public services spending. I know that the Greens are committed to nuclear disarmament, but could you say more about what you plan to do on Trident if you (or other Green candidates) get elected?
CarolineLucas: Congratulations on the imminent parenthood. You are quite right that the Green Party is opposed to renewal of Trident – and that this is on both cost and safety grounds. If elected, I would hope to make the case to my fellow MPs (many of whom by the way already agree) that £97 billion is better spent on hospitals, schools, green energy etc. I'd try and work with people from Brighton Pavilion to send a strong message to whoever was in government and I'd hopefully ensure that the committees looking at this decision got to hear both sides of the argument. There are some great examples of disarmament already taking place, eg in South Africa, so I'd like MPs to hear from there about why nuclear weapons actually make the world a more dangerous place. They also do nothing to protect us from genuine threats like international terrorism or climate change.
Each Trident submarine carries up to 48 nuclear warheads, each of which can be sent to a different target. Each warhead has an explosive power of up to 100 kilotons, the equivalent of 100,000 tons of conventional high explosive. This is eight times the power of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, killing an estimated 140,000 people. Does having this on our soil make you feel safe?
As a Green politician I am used to fighting unpopular causes but this one actually feels very winnable given the economic situation. If we get the hung Parliament some people are predicting it becomes crucial to have MPs who are genuinely independent and won't end up sacrificing their principles on an issue like this – yet another reason to vote Green!
StewieGriffithMum: I have asked every politician who has come through here about whether or not renewing Trident is a direct violation of the nuclear non-proliferation treaties we have signed. Obviously, as a Green candidate you are against nuclear weapons but do you also think replacing Trident is illegal under the international treaties we have signed. This isn't meant to be semantics since Greens are for nuclear disarmament but rather looking at the specific legal question itself. [As a tally: Gordon says we're not violating any agreements by replacing some but not all, Cameron had no opinion and Clegg thinks it is illegal].
CarolineLucas: In a nutshell – yes, it is illegal. The international treaties we have signed include the 1968 Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, which commits us to eliminating our weapons arsenal. This was reiterated by the UK in 2000 when global leaders met to review progress towards disarmament and we signed a further agreement to reduce the operational status of our nuclear weapons, and to accomplish their elimination.
The UK also signed a programme of action for nuclear disarmament, which seems to have been put in a drawer somewhere and forgotten. I am pleased you are taking this up with all the Party leaders – and disappointed, although not surprised, by the mixed response you have received.
Policywonk: Mumsnet has recently called on the main parties to include a commitment to the reform of English and Welsh libel law in their manifestos. Can the Green Party sign up to this?
CarolineLucas: Yes, I have signed up to the campaign for libel reform already and have been encouraging other Greens to do the same. Protecting freedom of speech is vital to me and I think the law needs to get the balance right between that and protecting privacy and copyright, for example.
Clarissimo: This morning I had a long chat with our local Green candidate who is attempting to persuade me to consider standing as a councillor next year. She believes that women are the sensible solution to the woes and seeming lack of standards affecting politics at the present time. I, on the other hand, feel very much that even being associated with politics as it currently is would put off most decent people. What are your views, please?
CarolineLucas: Really pleased to hear that you have joined the Greens and that your experience so far has been positive. Being a politician can be tough and especially at the moment when there is a temptation to tar everyone with the same brush. But that's why we need decent people to stand for election more than ever. People whose motivation is to really try and make a difference – who have a clear commitment to building a fairer and greener world.
Whenever Greens get elected – as councillors, London assembly members, MEPs - people seem to like what they see and our support grows and grows. I think that is because what they get is hard-working, listening politicians with some integrity. If that sounds like you then you'd make a great councillor!
cakeywakey: Are you really hoping to win the Pavilion? The dusting alone would put me off, far too big a house! Seriously though, why will a vote for the Green Party be a first choice over other parties when, in many constituencies, it may just split the Left vote? Why is a vote for you not a wasted vote? BTW, I thought you did very well to keep on a dignified face when David Starkey was getting ranty on Question Time.
CarolineLucas: Firstly, thanks for the feedback re Question Time – I was biting my tongue a little! If you look at the polls here in Brighton, Greens are consistently ahead. We got more votes than any other Party in last year's European elections and in the local elections of 2007. An ICM poll in December put us at 35%, eight points ahead of the Tories, and ten points ahead of Labour. All the electoral data shows that if people want to keep the Tories out of Brighton Pavilion, the best way to do so is to vote Green.
So, voting for us will make a real difference and I hope we can make history here by electing the first Green MP. And even in constituencies where we are not so strong, voting Green sends a clear message to the other parties. I genuinely believe that the only wasted vote is one for a candidate or party you do not believe in. (PS Dusting not my strong point, I have to admit!)
igglepuff: Apart from Green issues, could you please summarise what the Green Party stands for? I have voted Green in the past for local elections, but haven't considered it for general elections as I have no idea what your other policies are.
CarolineLucas: Lots of people know us for our environmental policies but we are about so much more – and I am really glad you have asked this question. Our main message ahead of this coming election is about fighting for fairness.
What that means in practice is policies designed to promote equality (like making sure the wealthier people in society pay just as much of their income in tax as the poorest – at the moment the less well off pay a larger share) and to give everyone a chance of getting on in life (so we want to create a million new jobs and train people to do them).
It is also about a better deal for young people – in Brighton, for example, we want to see a new secondary school and two new primaries because we recognise that most people want their children to go to a good, local school.
It is about safer streets, which is why we are campaigning for a 20mph speed limit where people live and outside schools, for example.
Fairness is important too when people access public services. So we want to guarantee that single parents get the childcare and support they need; that the healthcare postcode lottery ends; and that policing tackles people's day-to-day concerns.
I hope that gives you some idea of where our priorities lie – but do ask again if you want to know more about any specific examples. And you can always visit our website where the general election manifesto will soon be available to download – www.greenparty.org.uk
MrIC: I'm sure you are aware of the Transition Movement (seeing as Brighton is a Transition Town). I was wondering whether a) you agree with the premises and principles of the Transition Movement and b) if so, what role you see central government playing in encouraging and supporting greater community resilience?
CarolineLucas: I do know about the Transition Movement and am a great admirer of it. Moving away from our dependence on fossil fuels is a huge challenge and it's very exciting seeing people coming together to take this on in their communities and neighbourhoods. I want government to do lots more too and provide a framework that makes it easier for people to take action, but that won't remove the need for us all to take responsibility as well.
A movement like Transition Towns has so many added benefits as well, like putting people in touch with one another, helping us learn new skills and strengthening the local community. It also focuses on the positives associated with a greener lifestyle, highlighting that it is not about giving up things, and that is a message dear to my heart!
mummy1973: I don't live in Brighton so if you win a seat there how will you use your influence to affect policies that touch us all?
CarolineLucas: If I am elected here in Brighton my first commitment will be to the people I represent. However, I have spent several years meeting people across the South East and the country more generally, and know that on the whole people care about very similar things. I also know the people of Brighton well enough to know that they would want a little bit more than an average constituency MP.
So, I think that standing up in Westminster for Brighton Pavilion will also mean I can affect policies that touch you. In the first instance I am thinking about things like job creation, support for small businesses, warmer homes and lower energy bills, hospitals focused on patient care rather than making a profit, a regular reliable, affordable rail and bus service - and an increase in the minimum wage. All these things are important to people living in Brighton and elsewhere. And of course, as a Green MP I want to make a difference on issues like tackling climate change and scrapping Trident as we have been talking about, which impact on everyone.
Merial: Do you think that the Greens have an issue with the green image? I've recently launched an environmentally motivated website to let communities lend and borrow items, skills and spaces - thereby reducing their collective impact. Although our goals are green, we're playing to as many other motivations as we can to encourage uptake. These motivations include making money, charity fundraising and improved access to the things to make life better.
I just wonder if the 'greenness' of the Green Party is a put off to some people who have other agendas but might actually benefit if they could see through the green.
CarolineLucas: Yes, Greens do suffer from a fair bit of typecasting, I agree. However, what I see when I am out campaigning is that people are increasingly looking beyond that and are listening instead to what we have to say - and they like what they hear! Your website sounds interesting and I will try and take a look when I have finished here.
I like the fact that you are focusing on the many benefits to being green - as I have said in another post it is all too often portrayed as being about giving up stuff, when for me what we gain is so much more worthy of attention. Good luck with your scheme.
Choosyfloosy: Since we appear now to have a 'great arms society' replacing Thatcher's 'great car society', what is the economic reality for the UK of constraining sales of arms to nightmare regimes? What job losses from that should we expect?
CarolineLucas: Selling arms to corrupt regimes makes a handful of people very wealthy – and a huge number of other people end up getting killed, maimed, made homeless and so forth. Greens at European level have played a key role in securing the current controls on arms exports, but I think we need to go much further. Yes, that might result in some jobs being lost but the Green Party has a well costed plan to create a million new jobs in industries like renewable power, public transport and energy efficiency so I'd hope that the impact on individuals could be minimised.
Lulumaam: I would like to ask how can we be greener? Our local authority collects refuse every other week, which means driving to the tip, which is not eco-friendly. Also, they don't collect plastic or cardboard, which are the bulkier items, so again, a drive to the tip. When you get to the tip, the recycling bins are often so full, you can't get your own stuff in there! And food waste recycling on the doorstep is disgustingly unhygienic, with the bins left lying on their side, and still with bits of food, attracting flies and vermin. Then we hear how our recyclables might not be recycled if the quotas have already been filled and it all gets sent to landfill. So what is the point if local authorities are not actually supporting recycling? We are all pushed and pushed to be greener, but it is made harder and harder.
CarolineLucas: One of my personal bugbears is that being green is not made much easier. As you say, it can be time consuming and a bit of a struggle, so I'd like to see government get it right - they seem to manage it perfectly well in lots of other European countries.
It's very frustrating to feel your rubbish is not collected often enough and that the alternatives don't work. In Germany there are recycling facilities on pretty much every street corner so I'd like that to be the case here. In the European Parliament, I've been doing everything I can to put the responsibility on producers to use less packaging in the first place.
Finally, if you have a garden, composting or a wormery is probably greener than the council collecting your food waste.
Darcymum: How would the Green party make in easier to be 'green'? I have recently bought a new house which doesn't have any heating. I live in a small village with no mains gas and it is a 300+ year old detached cottage. I have spent quite a few months looking into all our options regarding heating and am now planning to get oil. When we bought the house we knew we would get a heating system but oil was the last on the list. Other options such as wood pellet and air heat pumps proved to be many many thousands of pounds more expensive than oil, with payback times of decades. We really wanted to avoid oil mainly for environmental reasons.
I know that our cheapest and greenest option would be to leave the house unheated but having been here through the last winter I don't want to be that cold again.
CarolineLucas: First point to make is that shivering in an unheated house is definitely not a green option! I'd like to see more grants and support for people wanting to use renewable options like ground source heat pumps as I understand that cost can be a prohibitive factor. The cottage sounds pretty idyllic though and hope you are enjoying it.
Daysoftheweek: The European Parliament is really very un-green isn't it? All that moving around between sites and travelling back and forth? Costs a huge amount, too. Will it ever be rationalised or is it too much of a gravy train? And do you think air travel should be rationed?
CarolineLucas: On the European Parliament I agree 100% about the moving around and have been campaigning against it since first being elected an MEP. The decision to end the travelling circus is in the hands of the member state governments so that is where we need to see some change - most MEPs want a more sensible system.
On air travel, we urgently need to look at ways to reduce the impact of aviation. Personal carbon quotas would be one way of reducing the amount people fly; another would be to ensure the airlines pay the true cost of aviation. At the moment, they pay no VAT on new planes, and no tax on aviation fuel These huge subsidies mean that flying to Scotland, for example, costs peanuts whereas the train costs a fortune. So step one is to sort that out!
policywonk: What is your position on health visitors?
CarolineLucas: The Green Party has made two specific policy commitments when it comes to health visitors. Firstly, that baby clinics are open for adequate hours, so that women can get access to health visitors and take their babies for regular check-ups at a location and time that is convenient for them. Secondly, that health visitors will make regular visits to all early years establishments. Continuity of care from health visitors over time is also important. Both of these rely on proper funding and training which we are also committed to providing across the NHS.
I know that investment in health visitors has declined since they are no longer 'in statute' and there is a chronic shortage of health visitors in some parts of the country. Greens are opposing cuts to public services, as - unlike the other parties - we don't think this is the way to tackle the recession, especially when it can be the most vulnerable people that suffer from cuts and closures. Our general health policy focuses on opposing privatisation and on promoting wellbeing – and we see a crucial role for health visitors and other community-based advocates there.
I want to see health visitors operating fully within the NHS and getting the support they need and deserve. I am worried, in particular, by the way that insurance cover works, and was involved in amending some EU legislation that would have worsened the problem by only allowing health visitors to be covered by private personal insurance.
So much comes down to funding and priorities but, for me, taking care of children's health in particular has to be up higher up the list – and higher up than eg ID cards or building new nuclear power stations. I'd like to learn more though about what people on the forum think and you personally – are we headed in the right direction or do Mums out there actually want something different?
CameraLady: I recently read an article about John Lewis and its worker-owned business model. The bonus system works on a percentage meaning a fairer distribution of profits and creating a much greater motivation to work hard, from the cleaners to the heads of department. John Lewis has weathered the downturn very well even making profit where others are closing down. Do you think this kind of model could be applied to some public services (Transport) and perhaps even the council itself? Something to motivate the staff to want to go the extra mile in their work, and keep those council executive's pay checks in line?
CarolineLucas: On using the John Lewis model worker-owned model for public services I can certainly see the appeal. Greens are in favour of encouraging cooperatives like John Lewis in the private sector and, as you know, this kind of set up can help protect workers as well as companies when times are tough economically. I am not convinced, though, that this is the best approach to our public services – although I think we can take some of the best practice from co-ops and apply them elsewhere. So, for example, the emphasis on workers having an equal say in decision making is definitely something I'd like to see more of, and it's a key part of Green Party policy.
Both the Tories and Labour have recently expressed an interest in public services being run as co-ops – on the grounds that it is good to massively reduce any kind of state involvement in provision. My fear is that this might be a distraction from the important issue of guaranteeing proper state funding for public services – a way of opting out and abdicating responsibility. After all, it would be much easier for a government of any colour to blame a cooperative if hospitals start to shut down.
CaptainNancy: May I ask what the Green's position is on the UK Space Agency? (Rocket travel probably not being v environmentally friendly and all)?
CarolineLucas: My initial sense is let's get things right on this planet before we turn our attention elsewhere! It's got to be about priorities too - I think I'd rather see money spent on the NHS and schools but I am open to persuasion.
Daysoftheweek: Bailing out banks/bonuses/public sector pay restraint - do you have any comments about your views/policy what the greens would have done?
CarolineLucas: Bailing out the banks or bailing out public services - I think I'd choose the latter! I definitely want to see something in return for our investment in the banks and future regulation to stop them acting so irresponsibly.