Agent for Change

Monday 8th of January 2024

There have been a number of changes to the MPs in the UK Parliament featured in the media over quite a large part of 2023.  Some of these have already taken place, but the majority are still in the offing.  I want to write here about one that has affected me more than most.  Given the subjects I have covered in blogs here over the last few years, it perhaps won’t come as a surprise that it is the announcement by Caroline Lucas that she will not stand again at the next election.  However, my reasons for this are perhaps not the ones that you might expect.

I’m not sure that I can say when I would have first felt some affinity with the Green Party.  It may go back as far as spending time in Germany in the early 1980s and seeing how the Green Party in Germany was far more of an influence on their political scene than any equivalent in the UK.

I have been interested in the issues on which the UK Green Party has tended to campaign since that time and indeed before then.  In more recent years, it has both become more visible on the political scene in the UK and formulated policies which extend more broadly than might once have been the case.  It is generally seen as part of what is sometimes termed the “progressive” wing of British politics.

I was pleased when Caroline Lucas was elected as a Green Party MP.  Because of this, a few years ago, I read her account of what it was like for her to enter Parliament.  The fact that she struggled with some aspects of this is perhaps suggested by the question mark at the end of the title of the book, Honourable Friends?.  (The subtitle perhaps makes this even plainer: Parliament and the Fight for Change).

What struck me most in reading this is that a number of the structures of Parliament or perhaps even Parliament itself seem to work against the change which Caroline Lucas (and others) are aiming to bring about.  This seems to me to be of concern – if Parliament is the primary body through which our society is governed, but seems (either actively or passively) to minimise the possibility for change in that society, that rings alarm bells for me.  I will not list the changes that I personally would see as desirable or even necessary in our society currently, but there would seem to be an important principle at stake: unless we believe that the status quo offers a perfect scenario, then surely we need to have at the heart of government a system and structures which facilitate change?

I don’t believe that this is a political point, although I am sure that some people would take what I am putting forward in that way.  I say that because I believe this happens much more widely than in politics alone.  Many of our systems tend to have built into them an inherent tendency towards perpetuating that very system, even if the system does not serve very well the ends of those it is supposed to benefit.  (When she talked some time ago about her work with constituents, Caroline Lucas referred to “the tangled bureaucratic web” which exists for those in need).

I could choose many examples of this but I’m going to choose to refer (briefly) to the NHS.  Although we refer to having a National Health Service, I would say it is more accurate to say that we have a National Health System.  Not only that, but that system is set up in many ways that make change more difficult.  Just to choose one manifestation of this, we now have a fragmented system made up of Trusts which are independent of each other – the number of these is 215 according to King’s Fund figures.

This takes me back to Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary (which I have written about previously).  McGilchrist argues that the left hemisphere of our brains lends itself to a way of thinking which follows a pre-determined track and tends to continue on that same track wherever possible rather than have to find a different way of doing things.  There may be lots of other reasons why particular systems or structures make change more difficult (for example, vested interest) but because it is the left hemisphere which creates but also maintains systems, there is potentially a neurological element to this.

To return to both Caroline Lucas and ecological concerns, I found it interesting that in her open letter to the people of Brighton explaining her decision not to stand again, she refers to the main reason why she became involved in politics: wanting to make a difference in the face of climate and nature emergencies.  She also states that she feels that she can achieve more as someone who is not an MP rather than someone who is.  Admittedly, this is partly because of the time involved to serve constituents and she mentions how seriously she has taken her work as a constituency MP.  She also refers to her responsibilities within the Green Party.  However, I can’t help wondering if the reason she is choosing to focus her energies in a different way is at least partly because of her experience of Parliament.  I may be barking up the wrong tree, but I have tended to read her statement “I look forward to having the time to explore ever more imaginative and creative ways of helping to make a liveable future a reality” in that context.

This brings me back to vision.  Vision is by definition creative and imaginative to my way of thinking.  There will always be challenges in combining vision with structure.  Having said that, I would quickly acknowledge that vision benefits from that combination.  At the same time, I believe that the sort of desire which Caroline Lucas is expressing to exist within a freer type of space is fundamentally important.  I wish her well in this new form of endeavour for a whole range of reasons.  Included amongst them is the hope that she can combine an element of creative and innovative fulfilment with achieving serious, praiseworthy and indeed essential aims.