Putting party politics to one side, the central message of Caroline Lucas’s book, Honourable Friends?, is a very strong one: our politics are rotten to the core.
This is not to say that all politicians are bad, or that the entire system is corrupt. However, through the eyes of Caroline Lucas, we can see that politics in the UK are in a sorry state. And you don’t have to take her word for it. Look simply at the recent TV debates and David Cameron or Nick Clegg’s repetitive and awfully uninspiring mantra of vote for this, get that, vote for that, get this.
Almost every party leader seems to be encouraging us to hold our noses and vote for the least of the evils on 7 May. Whatever happened to voting for what you want, and getting what you voted for? Perhaps that notion never existed.
Whether you support the Green Party or not, Caroline Lucas provides a looking glass through which to view the inner workings of our political system, and it really isn’t pretty.
Whether it’s the absurdly out-of-date voting system that requires MPs to physically walk through a doorway to have their votes counted, often not knowing what they’re even voting on but very sure of how they should vote. Or instead being literally pushed into the lobbies against their will by the whips. Or the vast array of bars littered throughout parliament where MPs and their guests enjoy heavily subsidised fine food and drink at the taxpayer’s expense. Or the despicable practice of MPs appointing corporate stooges as their parliamentary aides in exchange for donations. Or any of the other foul-smelling shit that you already know about through secret filming and decent journalism.
Things desperately need to be reformed. And Caroline Lucas is one of a disconcertingly small number of MPs who sees this.
In a sort of fly-on-the-wall memoir, Caroline takes the reader on a whistlestop tour of her time over the last five years as the UK’s first, and only, Green MP.
From her first days in parliament, when she had to work from a café because the major parties hadn’t decided which office she was going to get yet (yep, they decide that); to her invitation to the DSEi, a festival of killing people at London’s ExCel Centre where snappily dressed marketing spivs showed off their latest machine guns, tanks and explosives in glitzy surroundings; to the countless amendments she has tabled and MPs she has coaxed into joining forces with her on key issues. Caroline demonstrates just how good value for money an MP can be. But as well as this, she clearly defines how effective a lone MP can be and what an incredible impact they can make, especially when free from the shackles (and whipping) of the larger political parties.
The UK is entering a post first-past-the-post (FPTP) era. The main pro of FPTP, according to its adherents, is that it provides a clear outcome and allows us to avoid those ghastly coalitions like they have in godawful countries like Denmark and Germany… (You know the ones, where corporate and political sexism is almost entirely a thing of the past and healthcare is really good. Shitholes if you ask me.) However, FPTP failed at the last election, and this election looks to be even less clear. Worst of all, FPTP is becoming increasingly undemocratic.
In 2010, 265,243 people voted Green, and one Green MP was sent to Westminster. Just 33,359 people nationally voted for each MP that the Labour Party sent to Westminster. For 2015, this figure is looking to be only more extreme. If the polls are anything to go by, the Greens could receive around a million votes nationwide. However the expectation is that the party will still only have one MP, and there’s actually a chance the party won’t even get one!
Bringing party politics back to the table, surely therefore, voting Green is a wasted vote? I disagree. If one million people vote Green, and the Green Party gets one MP (or not even one), the case for reform will only get louder. If there’s one thing a minority government can do to make things better, it will be to introduce proper proportional representation, and they could do this even if they only last six months.
The excellent comedian Jake Yapp summarises the impact of voting for what you actually want in his response to Russell Brand’s review of the contenders’ election debate:
I’m about to send my postal vote, and I’m proud to say I’m voting Green. I’m not voting Green because they’re perfect or because I agree with literally everything in their manifesto. However, rather than being the least of the evils, they actually tip the balance into being rather good.
Whichever way you vote, things are going to be messy on 8 May, so why not vote for what you actually want? One day, you might get it.
That’s a very interesting point you make about voting with your heart this time, even if it’s wasted at constituency level, to demonstrate just how broken FPTP really is. If the Greens aren’t using that line already, at least at national level, they definitely should.
The argument for electoral reform is going to be even stronger from the UKIP angle too, of course. Like them or not, they’re heading for 10-15% of the share of the vote, and maybe 2 MPs if they’re lucky. I look forward to the Greens and UKIP sharing a platform!
I saw the breakdown of votes per MP sent to Westminster by party somewhere a week or so ago but I couldn’t find it when it came to writing this!
Yep, I accept that. You have to take the good with the bad. It would be interesting to see how PR would change people’s voting habits, knowing that their vote actually will count. I would hope the Greens would do better in terms of their share of the popular vote under such a system.