More articles Saturday 29 August 2015 7:50pm
Green MP Caroline Lucas Speaks at Book Festival
THE leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas has described Westminster as an “embarrassment” which does “a very good job as a museum but a far less good a job as representative democracy.” Lucas told a packed audience at the Edinburgh International Book Festival that Britain was “poorly served” by its current democratic system and that constitutional reform was absolutely necessary.
The MP’s book Honorable Friend? gives a window into parliamentary life as she sees it and argues that not only could the UK be governed much better, but that the manner in which it currently is run is damaging representative democracy. “What has shocked me is the extraordinary imbalance between the executive and the legislature,” she said. “The Government has it all sewn up. And I guess we all knew that but seeing it up front is pretty shocking.”
She said that the whipping system of organising party votes meant that MPs were pushed on to committees to scrutinise legislation that they had no special knowledge on, and kept away from subjects they knew about, because it made it easier to direct their votes. Lucas also said that “most of the time most MPs have no idea what they are voting on,” because the large number of amendments being passed on legislation meant that, inevitably, there were times when they would be pushed into a voting lobby without knowing the subject. “I have had the experience of talking to an MP [trying to explain what the vote is], who is literally, physically being pushed into the aye or no lobby while they are still trying to remonstrate with the whips, saying ‘I’m not sure I want to vote this way!’.”
The politician said that her attempt to redress this by having it set down that all votes should have a 50 word explanation as to what each was about, had caused consternation among the whips. She also bemoaned the survival of the first-past-the-post electoral system, which she said that meant that, though the Greens, UKIP and Lib-Dems had received 25 per cent of the vote, they only received 1.5 per cent of the seats; while the SNP gained 95 per cent of Scottish seats on barely 50 per cent of the vote.
She said: “Not only is that unfair, it means that an awful lot of people are living in constituencies where they may draw the conclusion that, no matter what they do, they are not going to be able to change the sitting MP because they basically have safe seats. I think that’s incredibly bad for our democracy, it’s incredibly bad for our political engagement.”