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Caroline Lucas: “The absence of climate policy from the election is unforgivable”

The outgoing Green Party MP on the election campaign, populism and her hopes for the next government.

By Megan Kenyon

This article was originally published as an edition of the Green Transition, New Statesman Spotlight’s weekly newsletter on the economics of net zero. To see more editions and subscribe, click here.

As the Green Party’s sole MP for more than 14 years, Caroline Lucas knows a thing or two about climate politics. Elected in 2010 in Brighton Pavilion, Lucas has twice led the party, first between 2008 and 2012 and then again as co-leader with Jonathan Bartley from 2016 to 2018. Few in the environmental movement will forget the scenes when Lucas was arrested in 2013 as part of an anti-fracking protest.

So, it was a surprise when Lucas announced last year that she would not be seeking re-election, handing over the candidacy for her Brighton seat to another former leader, Siân Berry. She leaves front-line politics at a moment when the Greens’ sights are set high for the upcoming election – the party is currently aiming to win four seats on 4 July (YouGov’s latest MRP polling projection has them winning two constituencies). And with Labour likely to form the next government, the Green Party is also poised to put pressure on Keir Starmer and his cabinet from the left.

Lucas spoke with Spotlight following an event held in central London on Tuesday by the Green Alliance to mark her valedictory speech as the Greens’ sole parliamentarian. Her thoughts about the discussion of climate change (or the lack thereof) during the general election campaign were immediately obvious. “I think the absence of climate [policy] from the election is unforgivable, frankly,” she told the Green Transition. “It’s a real abdication of responsibility.”

She explained that the Greens have been lobbying broadcasters such as the BBC, Sky and ITV to host “dedicated climate hustings”, so that prospective candidates can be grilled on their environment policies alone. “When you think about it, so many of our targets have an end date of 2030,” she explained, “and this parliament is going to have to be the most important parliament in terms of whether those targets are met.” She described the lack of scrutiny of candidates’ policies on climate and the environment as “deeply concerning”.

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And she has a point. Environment and nature policies and issues consistently rank highly with voters in terms of importance (particularly polluted rivers). Yet much of the coverage of the current campaign has focused on taxation or which of the two prospective prime ministers had a harder time growing up. A recent poll of more than 2,000 adults by Savanta and The Wildlife Trusts found almost 40 per cent of voters will make their choice based on the environmental policies offered. The same poll found a majority of voters think the two main parties are doing poorly on issues such as river pollution (78 per cent), nature loss (71 per cent) and climate change (69 per cent).

[See also: Poll shows nature could prove vital to winning swing voters ]

Indeed, Lucas doesn’t hold back in her criticism of both main parties’ action on climate change. During her speech, she condemned the Tories’ “lurch to the far right” on issues such as net zero. When asked about Labour, she gave the party a warning, especially over the roll-back earlier this year of its promised £28bn annual green investment.

“The finance has to be on the table,” she said. “If it is perceived that green policies are somehow being implemented in a way that is contrary to the interests of poor people, then Labour is going to have a massive responsibility to make sure that is not the case.” Lucas warned that if this does not happen it could open the way for a “backlash from the far or hard right”. She added: “I worry that the U-turn on the £28bn makes it even harder to make sure that it is a fair and just transition.”

Lucas hopes the Green Party will be able to pressurise Labour on this. “My hope is that we will win our four MPs, and even though four out of 650 might not sound much, it will be enough to raise a strong and loud voice to hold the next Labour government to account,” she said. With Reform and the Conservatives “there’s going to be plenty of challenges coming from the right”, she added. “But we need to make sure there’s some coming from a progressive direction as well.”

After 14 years in parliament, it’s clear Lucas has made her mark on climate action, and leaves a robust legacy. During the question-and-answer session following her speech, countless speakers took the time to thank her for her service to the environmental movement. It’s clear she is well loved by the sector. When Spotlight asked if there was anything she regretted missing out on, Lucas responded with a typically tenacious answer: “We’ve just put in a pitch for a debate on [climate] adaptation.

“Many people say adaptation is the poor cousin to mitigation when it comes to climate,” she said. “We’re on the cusp of what will probably be a very hot summer. I wanted to put pressure on [the] government to try and make sure we’re ready.” And what would Lucas do if she was allowed one more day in parliament? “I would try and make sure we have that debate.”

This article was originally published as an edition of the Green Transition, New Statesman Spotlight’s weekly newsletter on the economics of net zero. To see more editions and subscribe, click here.

[See also: Labour’s climate plans are under more scrutiny than ever]

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