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5 June 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 5:00pm

Caroline Lucas’s Diary: Women against a no-deal Brexit, luring swifts to my garden and wishing Greta well

By Caroline Lucas

Parliament in recess, the height of summer and a constituency by the sea – Brighton. Everything was in place for a relatively relaxing week to catch up on correspondence. But life doesn’t always work out the way you’d planned. The reaction to my initiative for a cross-party group of women to work together, on a temporary, short-term basis – simply and only to try to broker a process to avoid a dangerous crash-out Brexit and put in place a route to a People’s Vote – was immediate and largely hostile.

Media coverage quickly brushed aside the fact that my suggestion of an “emergency cabinet” was in inverted commas, and never meant to be taken literally. The proposal wasn’t born from me sitting at home dreaming up some sort of fantasy cabinet – it came from a place of real fear about what will happen if this government gets away with its reckless gamble with our futures. I made mistakes, for which I apologised. But the online abuse was a bruising reminder of how vitriolic our politics has become in the Brexit era.

The worst kind of parallels

That should have been more than enough politics for the week. But with friends visiting from the US, we found ourselves watching again Channel 4’s brilliant dramatisation of the Leave campaign, Brexit: The Uncivil War, as a way of bringing them up to speed with what’s happened to politics in Britain. We were all struck by the parallels, stronger than ever, between the situation in the US under the malign influence of Steve Bannon, and the political climate here. We are living in dangerous and uncertain times.

A tourist in my own town

Having visitors, especially from abroad, is always a good excuse to showcase Brighton and see it through their eyes. It’s so easy to take for granted what a wonderful city it is when you live here all the time. It’s also an excuse to visit one of my favourite places nearby, Charleston Farmhouse, where the artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant used to live, with regular visits from other members of the Bloomsbury group. Each time I go there, I come away with enthusiastic plans to decorate our house with colourful paintings. With my artistic skills, I’m sure my family is relieved I never get around to it.

There has been one addition to my house this summer, though: a swift box. The swift is my favourite bird and they were once a recognisable sight, soaring through our skies in the summer months. Alarmingly, their numbers have more than halved in the past 20 years, so when I discovered from the RSPB that swifts have been known to nest in streets near my home, I quickly invested in a swift box. The birds visit this part of Britain from Mozambique between May and August. I was too late to see any swifts take up residence this summer, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for 2020. As they return to the same nest each year, once I’ve lured a pair to my swift box, I hope they’ll be regular summer visitors.

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Young, female and fearless

One of the highlights of 2019 so far was hosting Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate campaigner, when she visited Westminster. It’s astonishing to think her solitary climate strike outside the Swedish parliament began only a year ago, yet has now evolved into a global movement. She is inspirational in her determination to speak truth to power, reminding me how much difference each one of us can make. But that’s made her a hate figure for some on the right, and I was disgusted to see Arron Banks’s comment in response to my tweet wishing her bon voyage as she set sail for the US. It seems that being young, female and fearless particularly enrages some older, reactionary men.

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Remembering Mary Clarke

Little by little, local historians are piecing together the important role that Brighton women played in the suffrage movement and working hard to ensure their achievements are recognised and celebrated. Earlier this year, a blue plaque was unveiled near the Clock Tower, marking the former Brighton office of the Women’s Social and Political Union. One of the key organisers in 1909 was Mary Clarke, the lesser known sister of Emmeline Pankhurst, who encouraged women to unite and rebel. She was fearless in her approach but never lived to see women win the right to vote. She died in 1910, just two days after being released from prison, where she’d been force-fed – becoming the first suffragette to lose her life during the campaign. I’m delighted to be supporting a constituent who is campaigning for a statue of Mary in the city, and I enjoyed an update from her on how the plans are developing.

Wrapped up in Ravilious

I’m incredibly excited to have been invited by the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne to be a guest curator of an exhibition later this year: a high point of the week was being allowed to immerse myself for a whole morning in their extraordinary collection. Somewhat overwhelmed to be surrounded by wonderful artworks by Eric Ravilious, Tirzah Garwood and Edward Bawden, among many others, my admiration for curators has grown – how they choose from such rich collections remains a mystery.

Keep on running

I’ve never been much of a runner. But luckily lots of people are, and running marathons is a brilliant way of raising money for some wonderful causes. One of them is the Sussex Beacon, which organises the Brighton half-marathon every year to raise funds for the specialist care and support they offer people living with HIV. It’s a fantastic route, nearly all of it along the Brighton seafront. It starts by the statue of the Olympic gold medallist and Brighton-born Steve Ovett, in case anyone needs extra inspiration. Attending their launch at the Grand Hotel was a great way to show my support without having to put on any running shoes…

Caroline Lucas is the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion

This article appears in the 21 Aug 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The great university con