Walking around Brighton with local Green MP Caroline Lucas feels a bit like being in a parallel political universe.
Passers-by stop to shake her by the hand and shopkeepers proclaim their devotion.
“I love you, Caroline,” says someone in one of the many vintage clothes shops in the trendy North Lanes area.
“You are brilliant. You’re spot on. I completely agree with your politics,” says another shopkeeper.
Caroline Lucas became Britain’s first Green MP in 2010, winning with a slim margin of 1,252 votes, which gave her a 31 per cent share to Labour’s 29 per cent. Since then, the Green Party has enjoyed an unprecedented surge in its popularity as people become increasingly disillusioned by the Liberal Democrats’ coalition performance and frustrated at Labour’s failure to provide a genuine alternative to the Tories; one based on “social justice” .
Ms Lucas was recently named MP of the Year in recognition of her work standing up for minority and deprived communities, while in 2011 Brighton & Hove’s council became the UK’s first to be led by the Green Party. But while Ms Lucas may yet retain her seat next May, she is actually behind in the polls in a race that both leading candidates describe as “neck and neck”.
The latest puts Ms Lucas one point behind her Labour opponent, Purna Sen, giving the Greens 32 per cent of the Brighton Pavilion vote, to Labour’s 33 per cent – that’s a 3 per cent swing since the last general election.
Policies: Where the Greens stand on the major issues
Policies: Where the Greens stand on the major issues
Wealth tax of up to 2 per cent on the assets of 300,000 people who are worth more than £3m, the country’s richest 1 per cent
National minimum wage to be lifted to living-wage levels and to reach £10 an hour by 2020. Would also “curb boardroom excesses” by linking salaries at the top of companies to pay at the bottom
End pensioner poverty by introducing a weekly “citizen’s pension” of £170 for a single person and £300 for a couple
Targets and timetables for improving efficiency and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions across all sectors. Wants electricity use to be reduced by a third by 2020, by half by 2030 and two-thirds by 2050
Accuses Labour and Tory governments of introducing privatisation by stealth into the NHS. Pledges to “maintain a publicly funded, publicly provided health service”
Money would be allocated to schools according to their needs rather than their status. Schools which remain in the private sector would be classed as businesses, have all charitable status removed and pay taxes
Bring railway network back into public hands as franchises expire or if companies break the terms of their agreements
Rules would be “based on the principle of fair and prompt treatment of applicants rather than on excluding dishonest applicants whatever the cost to the honest ones”
Minimise transport of food and other agricultural products by supporting local food distribution and pressing for transport costs, especially air freight, to fully reflect environmental impact
Phase out all “factory farming” and support a transition to small, free-range units, mixed rotational farming and extensive grazing. Would ban battery farming of poultry
11/13 Genetic engineering
Moratorium on the release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment and on the importation of food and feed containing GMOs, pending comprehensive assessment of the technology’s safety
Possession, trade and cultivation of cannabis would be immediately decriminalised. Trade in cannabis would be examined by a Royal Commission, with a view to establishing a fully legalised and regulated trade
Reform housing benefit to give greater help to poorer tenants and to prevent eviction or repossession of either private tenants or homeowners
By all accounts, the problem stems from Brighton & Hove’s Green council, which has been mired in internal disputes, responsible for a prolonged period of disruption in bin collection as workers took industrial action, and troubled by a sharp decrease in recycling despite promising a significant increase. Many residents also complain that the traffic has become more congested since the Greens took over.
Functions such as levying council tax, rubbish collection and planning applications are totally separate from the duties of the local MP. Furthermore, Ms Lucas has publicly opposed some of the council’s actions – even joining with striking refuse workers last year. But many voters are lumping the two together and it is harming Ms Lucas’s chance of re-election – a point that even she concedes.
“I don’t want people to judge my record as an MP on issues over which I have no control. On Twitter, Labour regularly call it ‘Caroline’s Council’ – so every time your bin isn’t collected, according to Labour it’s Caroline’s Council. And they know as an MP I have no direct influence over that.
“It’s incredibly disingenuous and I think it demonstrates that they know that they don’t have any real quarrel with the work I’ve done as an MP. I’ve never heard them criticise the work I’ve done as an MP. They only ever criticise the work of the council. I also think the council has done a much better job than they are being given credit for,” she says.
Asked by The Independent if Brighton & Hove’s Green council had made it harder for Ms Lucas to get re-elected, its leader, Jason Kitcat, says: “There’s no doubt we’ve faced some really difficult issues, but voters know that. Also Caroline’s role as MP is very different from ours.”
Back on the streets, however, local resident Ian Evans believes Mr Kitcat’s council has had an impact. “The council’s done a lot of damage to the Greens’ reputation. It hasn’t worked out that well,” he says.
Away from Lucas heartland, on the poorer, eastern side of the city, she is less popular.
Lindsay Collins, said: “I’m hoping to move out of the council [area]. I’m so sick of it.” The battle for Brighton looks set to be a close one indeed.Reuse content