On today’s 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a movement in response to a world environment in crisis, our 100 Pioneering Women of Sussex blog series highlights Caroline Lucas, first ever Green Party Member of Parliament.
In a collection of pioneering Sussex women, MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas can take her place with aplomb. Her list of ‘firsts’ include becoming the country’s first ever Green Party Member of Parliament in 2010, in 2008 being the first leader of the Green Party who until then had been collectively led, and the first woman to represent Brighton.
Promising on her website ‘I wasn’t your typical MP, and won’t be in the future,’ she has kept issues such as the environment, the climate crisis, human rights and animal protection very much in view while challenging the norms of how politics is usually carried out. Who could forget her being reprimanded for transgressing the Westminster dress code by wearing a T-shirt with the slogan ‘No More Page Three’ to protest against The Sun’s feature during a Commons debate on media sexism in June 2013, or calling out Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees Mogg MP for slouching on the bench in the House of Commons in September last year?
Lucas, whose majority in the Brighton Pavilion constituency has increased with every general election, was born in Malvern, Worcestershire and studied at the Universities of Exeter and Kansas before joining Oxfam. She says she was inspired to join the Green Party by Jonathon Porrit’s seminal work on green politics, ‘Seeing Green’ in 1986. She told The Argus in 2015 that realising she was in Clapham, where the Green Party offices were located, she immediately set out and joined the party.
Lucas’s first election success was gaining the Green Party’s second council seat in the UK on Oxfordshire County Council which she held between 1993 and 1997. In 1999 she was elected as Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for South East England and was re-elected in 2004 and 2009. She has led the Green Party twice, the second time from September 2016 until September 2018, co-leading with Jonathan Bartley, and leaving to pave the way for current co-leader, Sian Berry. She is currently Vice president of the RSPCA . She also sits on the National Council of CND
Always seeking to keep women’s rights on the agenda, Lucas is a strong voice for equality in Parliament. She has demanded an end to pay discrimination and proposed legislation guaranteeing that major companies’ boards are at least 40% female. She has called for improved parental leave allowance and free child care provision for parents who need it. She also supports the One Billion Rising global campaign against violence against women and girls.
In Brighton & Hove Lucas supports many local organisations that stand up for women, including RISE, which supports people affected by domestic abuse, the Brighton Women’s Centre, the Survivor’s Network, substance misuse service, the Brighton Oasis Project, and For Our Daughters, of which she is a patron. She has always seen the inspiring role that the city’s considerable women’s history can play and has supported the efforts of the Brighton & Hove Women’s History Group and others to commemorate pioneering women with links to the city. Last year she spoke at the unveiling of a blue plaque to honour suffragette, Minnie Turner at 13 Victoria Road, and joining Frances O’Grady, TUC Secretary, and Labour Councillor Nancy Platts to speak about Trade Unionist and social activist, Clementina Black at 45 Ship Street in September 2019.
Despite – or perhaps because of her – ‘I may not fit in with the grey suits of Westminster’ approach Lucas has been voted The Observer Politician of the Year in their Ethical Awards three times from 2007 to 2009, named Best UK Politician of the year in The Independent’s Green Awards in 2010, “MP of the Year” in the Women in Public Life Awards 2011, and was the Patchwork Foundation’s overall MP of the 2010 – 2015 term for her work with disadvantaged and minority communities.
Discover more about Caroline and her thoughts about being a female MP in an interview for the exhibition War Stories: Voices from the First World War, watch here.
Written by social historian, Louise Peskett