The wise sage Kermit the frog once said: "It's not that easy being green." And while it is not always advisable to base your political message on the morals of Sesame Street, the muppet has a point.
Caroline Lucas is finding out just how difficult it is to be the first Green MP in Parliament. As leader of a political movement she has been part of for over 20 years, the customs of the Commons are proving frustrating. This is a woman who was arrested for protesting against Trident, who marched down Whitehall with angry students and who started her career with the CND. Now, she has joined the world of morning prayers, PMQs and division bells. As a one-woman parliamentary party, just how much can the pixie-cropped Green Party leader achieve?
Lucas is aware of the potential limitations of being a lone presence on the green benches. "Both before the election and afterwards, I have been asked, ‘What can a single MP achieve?'," she told the House in her maiden speech in May. "I am sure that the answer is very clear. A single MP can achieve a great deal."
But Parliament is not built for ‘single MPs'. There is no older, wiser politician to show you the ropes. There is no ‘buddy system' whereby you have a partner from the other side of the House to co-operate with. Places on committees are only gained by the grace and favour of other, larger parties. There isn't even a whipping system. "It makes it really difficult," Lucas admits. "You need three MPs in your party to get a whip, to get into the information loops. If you don't have three members, you don't have a whip. Therefore you don't have the information. That is deeply frustrating and deeply undemocratic." Lucas's office is situated in one of the more isolated parts of Parliament. It is dimly lit and feels a long way from the buzz of the palace and Portcullis House. "It's a completely artificial world," she says, gesturing around the room. "You can eat, you can drink, you can do everything in here. It would be very easy for some people to completely lose touch of the people they represent."
As a result, Lucas is attempting reform of the more "archaic" elements of Parliament. She has published a report, entitled The Case for Parliamentary Reform, in which she makes nine recommendations to improve the efficiency of the Commons. It is an attempt to make her voice heard, not just among her colleagues but the wider public too - she even uses footnotes to explain what some of the parliamentary language means in layman's terms.
The paper proposes the use of electronic voting, which Lucas claims could save MPs over an hour and a half a week. "An MP with an 85 per cent voting record would have spent over 250 hours just queuing up to vote," the report states. But it is unlikely to cause a stir, or even a tremor among the larger political parties. One Conservative dismisses it for failing to recognise the importance of voting manually. "I appreciate that e-voting may still require MPs to come to the chamber. But the opportunity to chat with your minister or clarify a point with party colleagues would be lost," he says. "There are other options that work better for larger parties, rather than for the minority."
Lucas still believes there is an appetite for change in Westminster, especially with the new intake of MPs. "There's a real shared sense of frustration about the amount of time that gets wasted."