Getting to know the new leaders

Getting to know the new leaders
Caroline and Jonathan answer our questions about their lives and ambitions

Caroline Lucas

Who is your greatest inspiration? 

Although she died many years ago now, I am continually inspired by the German Green politician Petra Kelly. She understood what it means to be radical in the truest sense of the word – always testing people’s assumptions and resisting the conformity of ‘grey party’ politics. 

What first inspired you to get involved with Green politics?

I’d been involved in anti-nuclear campaigns for a number of years when, in 1986, I read Jonathan Porritt’s book Seeing Green. It was a real ‘light bulb’ moment: the book brought together all the things I was concerned with – feminism, CND, the environment – into a single package, and set out a political approach to that focused on the causes of the problems, rather than just the symptoms. On the day I finished reading it, I went straight to the Green Party’s Headquarters and joined. 

When have you been most satisfied in your life?

I’m not sure that I’m ever ‘satisfied’, as that implies enough has been done, and the battles are over! But in my work life, I’m never happier than when, with the help of my amazing staff, I’m doing all I can to stand up for the people who elected me, and doing my best to speak truth to power. 

What frustrates you the most about the UK’s political system?

Perhaps the starkest aspect for me as an MP is how unrepresentative it is, with less than 30 per cent of women MPs and around six per cent of members of both houses from an ethnic minority background, compared with 13 per cent of the UK population! That this government was elected by just 24 per cent of the eligible vote adds insult to injury. 

What’s your top bit of advice to others for improving the world – either socially or environmentally?

It’s important to celebrate our victories. Who would have thought a few decades ago that we’d be seeing the last days of burning coal electricity? Or that marriage would be open to same-sex couples? And imagine telling the people of Balcombe a few years ago that they would resist fracking and set up a solar farm instead – these are victories that really matter. 

Given your hectic schedule, what do you do to relax? 

My perfect day relaxing would be spending time with my family and walking our dog Harry on the South Downs. Just having some time in nature – with nothing but the sound of the wind and wildlife – is incredibly relaxing. It would be that, or in the winter months, curling up with a drink watching The West Wing (again). 

 

Jonathan Bartley 

Who is your greatest inspiration? 

There are so many remarkable, famous people I could cite, but in terms of true, long-lasting inspiration, it was probably in fact my Dad. He was an amazing man. He rushed through his medical training in time to go to serve at Normandy in 1945, and was there at the founding of the NHS in which he served all his working life. He was a man of deep principle. We had very different politics, but his sense of duty and care was astounding. He was also an incredibly loving man. It’s not very usual to talk about that kind of thing in a political context, but it profoundly shaped who I am and, although he died in 2012, he still inspires me today. 

What first inspired you to get involved with Green politics?

The turning point for me was the 2010 election. I’ve always been interested in politics, but I was radicalised by witnessing both a government and official opposition committed to a market in our NHS – and signing up to austerity programmes that would hit the poorest in society. As someone with a child with disabilities, I am acutely aware of the damage that is done when governments cut back on the services people rely on – and I joined the Green Party as the only ones making a case for a different kind of economy and a truly better future for my family. 

When have you been most satisfied in your life?

Wow. That’s a challenging one. I think, if I am honest, it would have to be right now. I feel incredibly privileged to be doing the work that I am doing, and it feels to me like the best job in the world. That’s not to say it’s not hard. But going around the country, meeting so many amazing people, and being able to campaign and put the case for what you believe in and are passionate about really should be satisfying, shouldn’t it?! 

What frustrates you the most about the UK’s political system?

The voting system. It’s unfair, it penalises smaller parties and it locks people out of our democracy. It also encourages a destructive tribalism. We could achieve so much if we worked together where there is common ground. No one in the real world believes that one party has a monopoly on wisdom, so why do parties pretend that they do? We urgently need to crack open the system, and do a better kind of politics. The stakes are too high not to. 

What’s your top bit of advice to others for improving the world – either socially or environmentally? 

It’s hard to answer that kind of question without sounding preachy! I guess it’s to choose your battles, and take one step at a time. The questions that we are all dealing with are so big, and so life-changing, that it’s easy to get discouraged. 

Given your hectic schedule, what do you do to relax? 

I have a pretty busy diary, but I do still have time to play a few gigs in my band The Mustangs. I actually am hoping we will get to play at the Spring Conference in Liverpool. We play right around the country and occasionally abroad (do come and see us – you can find out more at www.themustangs.co.uk – shameless plug!) There’s nothing better to distract you from politics than playing the blues!