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 (b 1960) can take her place with aplomb. Her list of ‘firsts’ also include being the first leader of the Green Party in 2008 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 and animal rights 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 logo ‘No More Page Three’ to protest against the 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. She claims to have been inspired to join the Green Party by Jonathon Porrit’s seminal work on green politics,Seeing Green in 1986. She told The Argus newspaper in 2015 that realising she was in Clapham, where the Green Party offices were located, she rushed out and joined it that afternoon.
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 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 Bartlett, and leaving to pave the way for current co-leader, Sian Berry. For many years she was a press officer for Oxfam and is currently vice president of the RSPCA. She also sits on the National Council of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. (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 the boards of major companies 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. She 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. In September 2019 she joined Frances O’Grady, TUC Secretary and Labour Councillor Nancy Platts to speak about Trade Union and social activist, Clementina Black at 45 Ship Street.
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, announced Best UK Politician of the year in The Independent’s Green Awards in 2010 and MP of the Year in the Women in Public Life Awards 2011.
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