Caroline Lucas struggles to rise above Green Party’s Brighton woes

Antagonism towards Brighton & Hove council is hurting MP’s re-election chances

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.

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.

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