Pippa Bartolotti: 'Yes I drive a Jaguar – but why should that stop me leading the Green Party?'

The party's first-ever MP has quit as leader, so who's in the running to take over? Michael McCarthy reports

It may seem unlikely, but a businesswoman who drives a Jaguar is one of the four candidates to succeed Caroline Lucas MP as leader of the Green Party.

Pippa Bartolotti accepts that driving the car which made John Prescott politically notorious (in his case, as "Two Jags") is likely to be a handicap in her ambitions to lead the low-carbon, public-transport-orientated Greens via their forthcoming internal election, but is unrepentant.

"Yes, it does damage my image within the Green Party – but I've got the same problem everybody else has got," says the former fashion designer and company owner. "Am I suddenly going to pay 25-grand for an electric car which I can't charge up hardly anywhere, because there's no infrastructure, and even if I could charge it up, a lot of the energy would be coming from dirty, coal-fired power stations? It might look nice on the face of it, but that would be cosmetic."

Ms Bartolotti, 59, a mother of three grown-up children who is currently leader of the Greens in Wales, says she knows she could have sold her 10-year-old Jaguar X-type ("market value about 1,800 quid") but decided not to.

When asked why not, she said: "Because I'm a real person. I'm a woman of the world. I know what the issues are really. And you can make all sorts of, you know, trendy leanings towards what should be, but I'm real."

It remains to be seen just how real the 13,000 members of the Green Party will find her when they come to mark their single transferable vote ballot papers, which must all be in by 31 August, as they seek to find a replacement for Ms Lucas as their party figurehead.

The MP for Brighton Pavilion, so far the Greens' only representative at Westminster, is remaining in Parliament, but is stepping down from the separate job of party leader to allow other Green voices to be heard in the run-up to the next general election, when some observers think the Greens have a historic opportunity to pick up the votes of disaffected Liberal Democrat voters.

Three other candidates are lining up alongside Ms Bartolotti in the bid to take the top job, and all might be described as more Green mainstream in their outlook, with two describing themselves as radical socialists and one as a committed feminist.

The frontrunner, if you believe the bookies, is Peter Cranie, a forceful, Liverpool-based Scot who in 2009 came within a whisker of depriving BNP leader Nick Griffin of the north-west England seat in the European Parliament. He is already selected to fight the seat again and if he wins the current election we will see the leader of the Greens and the leader of the BNP going head-to-head in the north-west in the European elections of 2014.

A college lecturer in social care, aged 40 and married with two young boys, Mr Cranie is a one-time Labour Party member who left because he thought the Blair government was too timid. He is happy to describe himself as a radical socialist and thinks the main job of the Greens now is to diversify their membership, from being what is perceived as a white, middle-class grouping to a body that has more working class and ethnic-minority supporters. He wants fair taxation and "not a penny more" on banking bailouts.

Also content with the radical socialist label is Romayne Pheonix, a former art teacher who now describes herself as an activist, mother and job seeker. South London born, aged 52 and the mother of three teenage boys, Ms Phoenix was a Green Party councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham from 2006 to 2010. She has a significant current role as chair of the Coalition of Resistance, a grouping opposing the Government's austerity programme, and is close to the trades unions. She feels that the Greens offer a much better radical policy alternative than Labour – "they've fallen down on so many issues" – and want the party to put more effort into its campaigning strategy.

The final candidate has a solidly feminist background – journalist Natalie Bennett, a former employee of The Independent and more recently of The Guardian. An Australian from Sydney with an agricultural sciences background, north-London-based Ms Bennett, aged 46, is the founding chair of the Green Party Women sub-group and says she spent her time on the party executive "promoting women and making sure their voices were heard". She wants the party to use its resources more effectively and believes it would be possible to acquire six MEPs by 2014 and a Green councillor in every town and city by the end of the decade. Ms Bennett, too, is happy to describe herself as a radical, if not a radical socialist. But then, even Ms Bartolotti says she is a radical – in her case, a radical businesswoman. She says: "To my horror, the Green Party has never really paid any attention to business. But I'm a businesswoman. I know how the world goes round."

The result will be announced, and Britain's newest political party leader unveiled, on 3 September.

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