The Blog

In Praise of 25 Caroline Lucases

I was proud to represent the Greens at the recent rally for voting reform at Parliament, organised by Unlock Democracy and Owen Winter, the Member of the Youth Parliament whose grassroots petition reached more than 200,000 people at the time of the General Election, and who has now joined with other activists to create the Voting Reform Team.

At the event, I told the crowd about my own history of voting. I first voted Green at University, in a council by-election. I wasn't in politics then, and I took the decision to vote Green only after a member knocked on my door and told me they already had local councillors in the area and had a good chance of winning.

Since then, I've backed the Greens again and again, become a member and a candidate for many things, and now I'm a local councillor and hoping to be our candidate for Mayor next year.

Throughout my life, therefore, I've voted for what I believe in, and that feels good. But the fact remains that, not living in Brighton, I've only ever elected Greens to represent me at anything other than council level when the election has been carried out under proportional representation.

And I have got some superb representatives through PR. Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones on the London Assembly have pushed through some truly effective policies, from the Living Wage Unit back in 2004 to huge increases in cycling funding when they had a casting vote over the Mayor's budget, and (my favourite concession won by them, as I'm now a transport campaigner working against road-building) winning funding from the GLA budget for the case against the Mayor's plans for the Thames Gateway motorway bridge, which was then cancelled as a result of the opponents' arguments.

Jean Lambert in the European Parliament also does a huge amount for human rights, defending migrants threatened by our own home office, and is currently, trying to get the insidious TTIP treaty changed and rejected by Europe.

People like to make out that democracy is an abstract question, not about our day to day lives. But the example of the Green politicians above show how they affect every aspect of our days, from the rent we pay, to the air we breathe.

In Parliament, the Green voice on every issue is hopelessly under-represented: 1.2million people voted Green in May, and all of us only have Caroline Lucas standing up for our views. Imagine 25 Caroline Lucases in Parliament, what could that do for politics? And with 25 of her for the BBC to choose from how much better would Question Time be?

First past the post is what ensures we have no real choice in this country, that we face two parties whose voices speak from a very narrow script indeed. It's first past the post which means that the only potential governments at the last election were austerity and austerity light. It's first past the post which has given us the politics of foodbanks and feasts, a housing bubble and a homelessness boom. A scandalous level of inequality in which the richest have the loudest voice of all.

First past the post is a horrible and unfair system - to voters as well as parties. If you don't live in a marginal seat then you're told that your voice is worth less than others. And its true, under first past the post your voice is worth less than others.

And if you do live in a marginal constituency, your voice is worth more, and your vote is a huge prize that all the parties will chase and court, and that's not healthy either. It's chasing after a tiny group of marginal voters that in my opinion, over the last 20 years, has completely ruined the Labour Party. And it's not good for democracy if voters are left trying to work out which parties can win, which ones are in the 'two horse race' and then going for the least worst option.

If we want people to be more involved in democracy and how our country is governed then people need to be able to vote for what they believe in. And parties need to be able to stand for what they believe in too. I'm proud to be in a party that does that, and doesn't compromise, and more than tripled its vote in the last election by standing up for a different way of doing things.

Apart from when I talked about Caroline Lucas, the biggest cheer at the rally was when I mentioned another important benefit of a proportional system - increasing equality in Parliament.

In the House of Commons now, seventy per cent of the MPs are men, and in a healthy democracy, women's voices need to be heard in equal measure, and the voices of minorities such as people with disabilities also need fair representation too. But the same problem of second-guessing who can win, within parties, leads to prejudice and lost opportunities for some fantastic MPs to be elected.

In contrast, proportional systems, with multiple candidates, allow for these prejudices to be set aside. Even with no positive discrimination or quotas, without the horse race of first past the post, parties already select a better range of candidates when they aren't choosing just one person but selecting a range of candidates for a list or a multi-seat constituency. People from different genders, yes, and also people with a better range of ages, classes, sexualities and races and disabilities.

Our campaigns for voting reform should make these links. As Peter Tatchell at the rally made the link between the struggles of the Suffragettes and the struggle for voting reform, we should point out when policies are put in place that discriminate and harm particular groups, how better representation would have helped.

For me, voting reform is the key to revitalising politics in so many ways, and making real practical changes to how we're governed. It's great to see a new impetus and new young blood taking on the cause. am urging the Green Party and politicians across the spectrum to sign up to the Declaration for Voting Reform now and to keep working until we have a fairer system and a better democracy. Let's never give up on a vote we can believe in.