books politics

Book review: Honourable Friends? by Caroline Lucas

“So much about the way Parliament works is obscure or downright wierd” writes Caroline Lucas. “This means that it’s not always easy to see what is stupid-but-irrelevant and what is comic-but-harmful.”

The absurdities of Parliament have been highlighted again and again in the fiasco of Brexit negotiations. I’ve been frustrated with Parliament and its processes for a long time, and Caroline Lucas has been one of the blessed few who take those issues seriously. Whether it is a love of tradition, or the fact that the system works in favour of the two main parties, reform never seems to be on the agenda. The complex affairs of 21st century Britain are governed through processes that are literally medieval. From out here in the real world, the ‘mother of parliaments’ looks more like a shuffling bag lady.

I think a moment is coming – surely – for reform. And so I picked up a copy of Caroline Lucas’ Honourable Friends? Parliment and the fight for change to get an inside perspective.

Lucas is Britain’s first and only Green Party MP, elected and then re-elected by the constituency of Brighton and Hove. Many of us envy their vote, because Lucas has not just been one of the most powerful voices in the house on environmental issues. She is an advocate for peace and disarmament, for women’s rights, fair trade, electoral reform, and much else besides. Her comments in Brexit debates are tiny oases of sanity, and there aren’t many politicians who will question the pre-eminence of economic growth as a policy objective.

These are all topics that come up in the book, minus Brexit. The book pre-dates the vote, though it does mention that Lucas was one of the few pro-EU politicians who called for a referendum. (A mistake in my view – as the Electoral Commission warned, EU membership is too complex for a single question referendum.) Lucas describes how parliamentary procedures, the party system and electoral processes combine to thwart meaningful change on so many issues that matter.

The book is part memoir, as Lucas shares her experiences as a new MP, and her first impressions of how it runs. “Being an MP has been an extraordinary experience” she writes, “rewarding and frustrating, baffling and revelatory.” It’s partly an explainer on British democracy and where it fails. And it’s partly a manifesto, making the case for a more compassionate and cooperative politics.

It’s a book that made me angry, but it’s written with a light touch. It doesn’t hold back and isn’t afraid to name names, but it’s highly readable and often quite entertaining.  Parts of it feel of the moment, and a lot has changed since it was published in 2015. But it’s a intriguing insight into Parliament, influence, and the depressingly vast gulf between the government that we have and the government that we need.

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