Who Will Replace Caroline Lucas?

Those good times never seemed so good...

Who Will Replace Caroline Lucas?
Source: Garry Knight

Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas announced last Thursday that she will stand down at the next general election. Lucas is the only Green MP in the country, and in the context of the Greens' significant local election losses and Lucas' substantial personal popularity among voters in the seat, this could spell trouble for them at the next general election. For those plugged in to the Westminster rumour-mill this is a long-expected move—and one that may cause the seat to become competitive again after many elections of Lucas being returned with an increased majority.

Caroline Lucas has been involved with the Green Party since 1986, becoming local councillor—the Green's second in the UK—in Oxford in 1993, then an MEP for South East England in 1999. Because they use proportional voting systems, European elections allowed smaller parties and their representatives to build up infrastructure and profile—Nigel Farage was also a South East England MEP. In 2008 she was elected leader of the Green Party (which she stepped down from in 2012, but returned to as co-leader with Jonathan Bartley from 2016-18), and then in 2010 she stood for and won the Brighton Pavilion parliamentary seat, becoming the first and so far only Green MP in the UK. Since then she has proved to be an extremely popular MP, with her share of the vote increasing at every election—in 2010 she won 31.3% of the vote; in 2019 she won 57.2%.

Source: Wikipedia/OpenStreetMap

Brighton Pavilion sits between Hove to the west—up from the seafront, with the boundary running along Dyke Road and Kemptown to the east, with the boundary running along Lewes Road down to the sea along Old Steine—plus Hanover and Elm Grove. All of the current crop of Green councillors' wards lie within it, forming a strip up from the seafront—Regency, West Hill and North Laine, Roundhill and Preston Park. They also contain significant parts of the city's two universities and a not-insignificant part of their student populations. The Greens have historically drawn their votes from the residents of the affluent city centre and more central residential areas like Preston Park and Hanover and Elm Grove, plus the studenty Lewes Road corridor. Though local election behaviour can be quite different to national election behaviour, several of these wards have now swung Labour wholly or partly, and combined with the significant personal vote of Caroline Lucas, the Greens next candidate will have a potentially competitive election on their hands.

A picture of the distribution of wards with Green councillors
Source: The Brighton Seagull/OpenStreetMap

We don't know who will be the Green Party's candidate for the seat yet. They have internal elections for their candidate running in July—ballots open on the 3rd and close on the 19th. Sian Berry, former co-leader of the party, a London Assembly member and a councillor in Camden, has declared her candidacy, and Green activists I've spoken to seem to think she's the favourite, thinking highly of her. However, she doesn't have much of a local connection, having spent her political career in London, which could put off residents frustrated enough with what 'Down From London' sorts have done to house prices in the city.

With the Greens' losses in May's council elections and Lucas no longer the candidate, though, the seat—which Labour's David Lepper held Pavilion for Labour from 1997 until 2010, when he stepped down—may once again be competitive. Former Labour councillor Caroline Penn, who represented the old Hollingdean and Stanmer ward before resigning in 2018 due to work commitments, has indicated her interest on Twitter. A well-placed Labour source has told The Seagull that she's been attempting to gauge support from local members, as has Suzy Izzard, the comedian and well-known Labour supporter, who has run as a candidate previously in Sheffield and came down to Brighton to campaign in the local elections.

There have also been questions asked as to whether the new Labour Group leader Bella Sankey might, in the words of one Labour Party figure I spoke to, 'do a Lloyd' (i.e. stand for Parliament shortly after gaining office as a councillor, as did Kemptown MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who won a seat on the council in 2016 and then stood for MP in 2017). The prospect was even raised by Conservative Group leader Alistair McNair in comments at the Council's annual meeting last month. Cllr Sankey hadn't responded to my question on the matter as of publication time, but I've been told that while she remains committed to focusing on the new Labour administration, allies believe she will put her name forward.

Update: Cllr Sankey responded:

Since becoming Leader-elect on 5th May I’ve been working 20-hour days to sort out the mess the last Green Administration left behind and to deliver on the Labour manifesto that was overwhelmingly supported across our beautiful City. There is no time for thinking about anything else, but I will say this: I have huge respect for Caroline Lucas, and I know that she commanded a personal vote in Brighton Pavilion. But the Labour Party won the popular vote in Brighton Pavilion in the local elections last month, on a huge swing, and residents tell me that the Green Party has not delivered for them. Labour is the only Party, nationally, who can green our economy to avert climate disaster and we are also the party of social justice. Brighton residents may therefore decide they want a seat at the table – and not on the sidelines – of the next Labour Government

Caroline Lucas steps down with an impressive record of electoral success and having made history as the first Green MP in the UK. It remains to be seen, though, whether—despite her optimism on the topic—the Greens will retain Brighton Pavilion at the next general election.