Green MP Caroline Lucas’s announcement that she might be leaving parliament on the subsequent normal election could have come as a shock to many. Elected in 2010 because the get together’s first ever MP, overturning a fairly thumping Labour majority, she has change into one thing of a power to be reckoned with in Westminster.
From the minute she stepped foot within the House of Commons, Lucas was conscious that her place as the only real member of a political get together made parliamentary life harder to navigate. Party is every part within the House of Commons. It determines how usually you get to talk and, most significantly, how a lot info you get about what might be taking place and when. The authorities controls a lot of the parliamentary timetable, deciding what enterprise is to be debated every day and finally, when votes will occur. Lucas even wrote a e-book on her experiences because the Green’s solely MP, highlighting the absence of any “honourable pals” in Westminster to information her.
It can be improper to say that these pressures have made her an unsuccessful MP. In truth, fairly the other. Lucas might be one of the best instance of how a sole MP ought to function within the Commons. She punches effectively above her weight as Green MP, asking almost 4,000 written inquiries to authorities ministers since 2010, with a formidable variety of spoken contributions in addition, together with a major variety of inquiries to the prime minister.
In current years, House of Commons audio system have been rather more express in recognising the place of smaller get together MPs within the House of Commons chamber, guaranteeing that Lucas (together with Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and others) are all known as to talk in vital debates. This has helped to make sure a assured platform for her and her get together in the course of the huge debates on Brexit and its fallout, in addition to the COVID pandemic.
In her resignation letter, Lucas talked in regards to the “explicit tasks” of being the Greens’ solely MP and the influence this has had on her means to do the job she desires to do as an MP.
Every MP wears two hats – as constituency MP and as parliamentarian. And there’s a rigidity within the parliamentary position of a sole get together MP that’s absent for the common Labour or Conservative Party backbencher. For they basically put on a 3rd hat – they’re the one voice of their total political get together within the House of Commons.
There is one other added weight within the information that they aren’t only a constituency MP however the one obtainable consultant in parliament for everybody who voted for his or her get together. Lucas recognised this in her first speech within the House of Commons. She isn’t just the voice of her constituents in Brighton Pavilion, she is the voice of the 835,000 individuals who voted Green within the 2019 normal election.
In this manner, sole get together MPs occupy a singular area. They should function each backbench and frontbench members of their get together, basically shadowing each single authorities division.
In apply this implies an excellent deal extra stress on their time. If a minister attends the House of Commons for questions or to offer an announcement, if there’s a debate on an vital piece of laws or a subject of a lot significance, they may must be current to be able to be their get together’s voice.
Other small events have the identical dilemma. Plaid Cymru’s Ben Lake, for example, is shadowing no fewer than seven authorities departments in the meanwhile. It’s onerous work and it requires a great assist workforce in Parliament. For this, events are depending on Short cash – public funding for the opposition that is dependent upon get together efficiency in elections. Where this has been inadequate, Lucas has been assiduous in crowdfunding to be able to preserve a assist workforce and “skewer ministers” with parliamentary questions.
Stretched too skinny
The must be all the parliamentary face of the get together makes it troublesome to specialise and to carve out the time wanted to deal with coverage priorities. It is that this that appears to have been the rub for Lucas. Those trying on may discover this difficult to consider as her work on local weather and environmental points could be very distinguished. She’s been a member of the Environmental Audit Committee for nearly her total time within the House of Commons and is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change. This is on prime of her common interventions. But she clearly desires to do extra.
More usually than not, opposition events are on the again foot, responding to the parliamentary agenda set by the federal government moderately than having the ability to form it. It could be irritating to be on this place.
Lucas has all the time been eager to get out of the Westminster bubble and be on the frontline of the campaigns she is enthusiastic about. Her arrest whereas becoming a member of anti-fracking campaigners on the Balcombe oil drilling website in 2013 is commonly raised for example.
We may additionally level to a time shortly after her election again in 2010 when she interrupted a parliamentary debate on the fixed-term parliaments invoice to voice her disgust at what she had seen whereas becoming a member of tuition price protesters down the highway from parliament. Having seen first-hand the pointless kettling of scholars and schoolchildren she demanded that the house secretary come to the House of Commons to make an announcement.
Any inexperienced MP elected instead of Lucas may also have to navigate these tensions. If, nevertheless, we see a couple of extra Green MPs elected then the job may change into barely simpler. And with report outcomes on this 12 months’s native elections, that appears like a higher chance than it has been earlier than.
Louise Thompson acquired funding from the Economic and Social Research Council