Politics can seem pretty hopeless at times, and perhaps now more than ever, when self-interest seems to be the order of the day. Getting your voice heard feels impossible, but it’s not long ago that green issues were marginalised. Now Brighton has a Green MP and a Green-led council, so we thought we’d ask Caroline Lucas – who just got voted Best Newcomer in Parliament – how to get your views about the things you care about taken seriously.
Can normal folk even get the government to listen to us?
It’s really important for people to think that their voices can be heard and that their voices matter. One of the biggest myths that governments put out is that individuals are powerless, and that’s a very effective myth. The very first step is believing that you can make a difference.
What are the main ways people can make themselves heard? Does the old ‘writing to your MP’ actually work?
Don’t underestimate writing to MPs, even if you think your MP already agrees with you it is quite handy to be able to have the evidence that you’re speaking on behalf of a large constituency. There are all kinds of other ways, particularly through social media. We’ve seen the rise of 38degrees.org.uk or Avaaz.org – different ways of bringing communities of interest together around particular issues. They’ve been incredibly powerful.
How about direct action – can that affect political thinking?
UK Uncut have been fantastic in the way that they’ve used imaginative and peaceful ways of direct action. They’ve been able to make something as complex as tax evasion and tax avoidance into something that everybody feels very
passionate about. Simply by sitting down in Top Shop they’ve been able to bring that message home.
Why do you think the anti-austerity People’s Assembly group important?
It’s about gaining the confidence that comes when you’re with lots of other people that feel the same as you do. And to hear some of the many, many alternatives that are out there. We’ve got some really high powered economists – and even the IMF – on our side on this one, saying that, when you’re in a recession, if you massively cut public spending you drain any demand you might have had in the economy out of it. And then it’s not surprising the economy isn’t recovering. Gatherings like the People’s Assembly can help in both the psychological way of saying, ‘Yes, there are alternatives, believe in the power of them,’ but also in a practical way, in terms of planning future activities, joint campaigns and so on.
Do you get despondent ever? It’s a tough fight.
I understand why people will be feeling despondent. But there is power in feeling that we can change things, and things have been changed in the past. It doesn’t help you when you’re on the receiving end of it but the more people can recognise the government’s position for what it is – when you can name it as a misguided ideology – does help with the analysis, and helps get more people to join together to oppose it.
You have quite a unique position in Parliament in that you’re a single representative of a party. What do you see your role as?
It enables me to bring to the table issues that otherwise wouldn’t be discussed. I see my role as kind of being an outsider, but being an outsider on the inside, in the sense that I don’t fear any whips, I can follow my conscience and I can follow the issues that the other parties aren’t really talking about. I will be the first to recognise that, in being one person out of 650, I’m not going to swing majorities. What has been positive has been recognising that there’s the opportunity for working in alliances.
Illustration By Sarah Julia Clark