Green Party's new leader set to lead an eco-revolution

An eco-revolution is about to shake up mainstream politics, and Caroline Lucas will be leading the charge. Ham&High reporter Katie Davies talks to the Green Party s new leading lady. THE last female head of a British political party was rather distan

An eco-revolution is about to shake up mainstream politics, and Caroline Lucas will be leading the charge. Ham&High reporter Katie Davies talks to the Green Party's new leading lady.

THE last female head of a British political party was rather distant from the politics and philosophy of the newly crowned Green Party leader Caroline Lucas.

While Margaret Thatcher said nuclear weapons brought stability, Lucas is a member of the CND. Thatcher laughed at "women's lib", Lucas claims unachieved "gender equality" as a goal of her party; and while the Iron Lady dismissed the "romantics and cranks" of environmental activism, Lucas, though she would no doubt label the group differently, is one of that fold.

Although the former PM won't be meeting minds with the petite and principled MEP, who splits her time between Bloomsbury, Brighton and Brussels, one thing they do have in common is an insatiable appetite for their party to succeed.

"I think the next one and a half years will be crucial for us," Lucas, 48, says.

"We have the European elections next June, and we are not just aiming to return our two MEPs but to double our number.

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"In the national elections we hope to make our first breakthrough to Westminster.

"I am standing in one of our target seats, Brighton Pavilion. In the local elections there we got 30 per cent of the vote and we've now got more councillors than any of the other parties.

"In Norwich South, which is also a target, the Greens are now the official opposition.

"We've got real chances in both these seats. And I really do think we are the only genuine alternative on the political spectrum, particularly after the Lib Dems moved further to the right."

The mother of two will be a figure familiar to any left-wing or green activist. The MEP has been a dedicated attendee on the speaker and campaigner circuit ever since her European election victory in 1999.

Only last month, her popularity saw her secure another great win - the vote to become the first female leader of the Green Party and the second female leader of a British national political party.

The move is being heralded within the Greens as the beginning of a revolution that will see their party depart from the faraway fringes to become a mainstream contender.

And it's a stab at power for which Lucas is certainly geared up to direct from the helm.

"Appointing a leader was mostly about communications - how we get our message across and this allows you to get the message across more effectively," Ms Lucas enthuses.

"But our leadership is different to other parties - it is more democratic and accountable, every two years you have to be re-elected.

"We hope people will recognise we are not just the party of the environment but more than that, we have policies on issues like health and the economy. If people really care about social justice and inequality they should vote Green."

The party, it seems, isn't only dealing in lofty ideals but is starting to recognise that it needs to play politics.

Political speak transcends Lucas speech - the greens aren't left-wing but "progressive", messages need to be "communicated" and the "credibility barrier" broken - the kind of language that means business.

That change began two years ago in Camden when two Highgate councillors became the first Greens elected to the Town Hall. And their work was given the ultimate seal of approval with the selection of a third in May's Highgate by-election, giving the ward a full complement of Green councillors.

The Greens' progress also went London-wide that month when Kentish Town campaigner Sian Berry stood as London mayor.

For the first time in Camden and London, the Greens were considered part of the mainstream - Berry took to the podium at debates across the city alongside the Lib Dems, Tories and Labour, while the new group in the Town Hall made their voices heard on issues way beyond the traditional eco remit.

This impetus is one that Lucas doesn't want to see pass them by. And in the party's conference in King's Cross last month she marked their place as guardians of more than just the green debate with their New Green Deal - an idea to tackle the credit crunch and social breakdown as well as climate change.

Lucas explains: "What we are doing is recognising that right now, people face three crises: the credit crunch - and that is affecting people's pockets right now - climate change, and the huge climb in oil prices, which is here to stay. This altogether is the crisis of our times and what we have to address.

"Our plan is linked to what Roosevelt did in the 1930s in his New Deal. Facing economic depression, he made a massive

re-regulation of the finance system and then invested in infrastructure to increase jobs.

"The Green New Deal is taking the economy in a green way with massive investment in energy efficiency - there are a huge number of jobs in green work which would increase employment.

"We would also bring back proper democratic control of the financial system rather than allowing capitalism to run away with itself. This is showing how the Green Party is about everyday problems.

"We want to make it easier for people to make ends meet - for example, we have campaigned for the London living wage, which is now being taken up.

"The danger is that sometimes environmentalists come across as telling people: 'You can't do this and you can't do that'. We have to make sure we don't fall into that trap. What matters more is the positive side of our policies - people will have a better quality of life under our policies in so many respects.

"We want to build local communities - so people can walk to work and home so they don't need to use cars. Kids will be able to play on the streets and public transport will be better.

"Of course we recognise that unless we are represented in Westminster it is difficult to be heard nationally, and as soon as we get our first MP elected we will break through that credibility barrier."

If the green campaign was indeed made up of "romantics and cranks", this new Lucas era is one about pushing the party for practical gains and political influence. And if it is successful, it could ironically be Thatcher's words which come to resonate.

The former prime minister famously quipped: "If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.