Caroline Lucas's Diary

Saving my Commons seat, feeling sorry for Black Rod, and banning the bomb.

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At the start of the week, I was in New York, where 130 countries are involved in the process of negotiating a global ban on nuclear weapons. You might not have heard of these talks, but there have been positive developments. Some nuclear states have softened their opposition to a ban, with China, India and Pakistan all abstaining from the vote last winter.

In this, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – a coalition of peace campaigns united across 90 countries – is following a well-trodden path. Chemical and biological weapons, cluster munitions and landmines were all banned before full-scale decommissioning and disarmament began. Stigmatising the weapons, rather than the hypocrisy of nuclear states lecturing non-nuclear nations, is the most effective way to prevent their proliferation.

You might hope that Britain would be taking a leading role in the talks, but our government is conspicuous by its absence. An hour-long meeting with a British ambassador who is a political counsellor to the UN left me none the wiser as to why we’re refusing to take part. Every time I pushed him for answers, I was met with the same answer: the UK simply doesn’t want to engage with the process. Though I very much enjoyed momentarily sitting in the UK’s seat at the UN, it’s a great shame that such a role was left to a single opposition MP.

Tragedy and farce

Almost exactly a year after Britain voted to leave the EU, David Davis was in Brussels to begin the exit process. Davis and his counterpart Michel Barnier were reported to have discussed the nuts and bolts of the negotiations, rather than going into detail on the content of any deal. What the government could have done on day one is guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in Britain, but instead – shamefully – it continues to use them as a bargaining chip.

Theresa May’s tendency to plough on as if nothing has changed is veering between tragedy and farce. With the majority of the public now favouring both Theresa May’s resignation and a referendum on the terms of any EU deal, there really is no excuse for business as usual – and it’s time the government considers a cross-party commission to guide us through this process.

Let us pray

Seats in parliament are hotly contested,  especially for backbenchers. Every day we have to put down “prayer cards” to reserve a space. On big occasions, the scrum to bag a decent spot can be rather unparliamentary. My usual perch is between the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru and in front of the newly famous DUP. That party’s leadership doesn’t always share my politics, and my speeches are often accompanied by heckling from the line of DUP men behind me.

The Northern Irish party now has ten MPs sitting in parliament, while I remain the single MP for a party that received 200,000 more votes. I’ll be doing all I can to represent the views of the people of Brighton Pavilion and the 500,000 who voted Green in this election – and I would imagine that I’m likely to hear more moaning from the DUP as I spend my time in the Commons holding to account the Conservative government that it is propping up.

Slamming doors

Well, that’s the Queen’s Speech done then, and the monarch now has two years to prepare for the next round of pomp and ceremony. Our democracy is the big loser here, with the Tories showing a marked disdain for debate and scrutiny. But spare a thought, too, for Black Rod, who now has to wait until 2019 to have the door of the House of Commons slammed ceremonially in his face. His real name is Lieutenant General David Leakey and he has a number of duties in parliament, but the Queen’s Speech is his big gig. I shouldn’t think he will take kindly to being sidelined in 2018.

I have my own tradition on Queen’s Speech day: talking about the environment. More and more, governments ignore climate change and environmental protection in their legislative plans, with the Tories abandoning their husky-hugging in favour of a dash for gas.

I’ll be tabling an amendment to the Queen’s Speech calling for an environmental protection act. It will be interesting to see which MPs are willing to put their head above the parapet by backing it.

As safe as houses

People died at the Grenfell Tower because it has become a politically acceptable choice to cut corners to save money. Despite the right-wing press attempting to blame the EU and green laws for the fire, it’s clear that the Grenfell residents are the victims of deregulation, neoliberalism and the marginalisation of people of colour and the poor.

The surviving Grenfell residents now need a chance to rebuild their lives, and that should start with being given new homes. There are more than 1,300 empty homes in Kensington and Chelsea, with 941 classified as unoccupied for council tax purposes. Around 50 of these have been unoccupied for a staggering 11 years. Surely it’s time to rethink a system that allows the super-rich to leave homes unoccupied while people are left homeless? Let’s hike council tax for unoccupied properties to stop our cities being used as land banks for the wealthy.

My thoughts are also with those affected by the vile attack on the Finsbury Park Mosque. Islamophobia is widespread in our society, propagated by the likes of Donald Trump and Ukip, as well as far-right groups such as Britain First. A tweet by J K Rowling about the radicalisation of the Finsbury Park attacker caused a stir, but she was right to say that the origins of right-wing violence need exploring just as urgently as
Islamic extremism.

After a scarring few months, let’s hope for a peaceful summer as Britain rebuilds its communities and mourns those who have died in these terrible incidents.

Caroline Lucas is Green MP for Brighton Pavilion.

This article appears in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM