Afternoon tea with... Caroline Lucas MP

Written by Anoosh Chakelian on 15 March 2013 in Culture
Culture
Anoosh Chakelian and Caroline Lucas chat over Earl Grey and activism

This article is from the April 2013 issue of Total Politics

Who? 
Caroline Lucas is the only Green Party MP and has represented Brighton Pavilion since 2010. She is the former leader of the Greens, a position she held for four years before standing down in September 2012.
The restaurant 
InterContinental London – Westminster Hotel
We were seated in a room rather appropriately called Emmeline’s – named after the iconic suffragette – at the heart of Westminster’s new favourite haunt; a spacious and lavish hotel.
The menu
Tea Earl Grey,
English Breakfast. 
Sandwiches Cream cheese and cucumber; smoked salmon and crème fraîche.
Cakes Tea-infused, such as a chocolate cupcake with peppermint, and a green tea macaroon; freshly-baked scones with homemade jam, clotted cream and lemon curd.      
We discussed
Parliament’s failings When I first came into Parliament, I was shocked by the way it worked. I don’t have a whip, and that gives me a freedom that other MPs feel they don’t have. I often get a sense that we’re [my office] the only people out of the backbenchers who do know what’s being voted on. When the bell goes for a vote, and everyone’s rushing over, the conversation is always, “What are we voting on?” I’ve seen people being pushed physically into the Aye or No lobby with absolutely no idea what they’re voting on, which is a scandal. So one small change I’ve been campaigning for is, when an amendment is put down, to have a short, explanatory statement of its purpose. The whips have massively opposed it because they know it would give their backbenchers more information.
Sexism in politics The whole context [of Westminster] is so male-dominated. The way I’ve experienced sexism most strongly has been in the patronising condescension; if they [male politicians] can’t argue with any of your points, they’ll just try and belittle you, and it’s so frustrating and childish. I had an exchange with a minister on some key environmental issues and was told not to be “hysterical”, which is a bit like the “calm down, dear”. We need some serious action. I would certainly support quotas, all-women shortlists – people want to believe Parliament reflects wider society, and if it’s full of white men then it doesn’t. 
Green social policy People know where we stand on the environment, and they support that, but what’s an eye-opener for them is how progressive our social policies are. There’s still the preconception to address that we’re a single-issue party. One of our policies is to have a maximum differential between the highest paid in an organisation and the lowest paid. We’re very concerned about inequality, which is a hugely corrosive force in society, and we’ve had governments for whom that lovely statement from Peter Mandelson about being “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich” has become prevalent.
UKIP’s rise Aside from its policies, yes [it’s good news]. Seeing the emergence of the small party and how fast it can grow – like Syriza in Greece, a very different party, but again something that was very small and grew very quickly – shows that once you can catch the mood of the public, you can grow and be significant. With the situation the Lib Dems are in at the moment, notwithstanding Eastleigh, there are seats, for example in the southwest, that look more interesting to us than they would have done before.
Politics v activism The activist and the parliamentary role are complementary and need to be to keep politics fresh with integrity. For example, during the big demonstrations against tuition fee increases, I was out there with the demonstrators. Then the police overreacted and kettled people for hours. So I was able to whip out my pass, get back into Parliament, and enter the chamber. I made a point of order straight away, interrupting everything, calling for the home secretary to come in immediately and account for the police. It brought the protest from outside right onto the floor of Parliament.
Perfect for
Those in search of an unusually experimental spread, tucked away from London’s more traditional tea venues.
Not suitable for
Light eaters and stalwart dieters. The variety of cakes, pastries and scones was very generous and rich for just two diners. 
The cost
£29 per person – not bad considering the hotel’s central St James’s location and the abundant cake selection.
To book afternoon tea at the InterContinental London Westminster, call 020 3301 8080 or email icwestminster.tea@ihg.com

Tags: Anoosh Chakelian, April 2013, Caroline Lucas, Green party, Issue 57, Lunch with

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