Religious people love to talk about compassion. In 2011 the author and religious commentator Karen Armstrong wrote her famous text ‘Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life”, which in turn gave birth to the Charter for Compassion. Around that time lots of religious leaders held meetings where good deeds were discussed endlessly and the Council of Conscience met and ‘compassion’ was the theme for social gatherings for ‘the great and the good’ to congratulate each other about their virtue. Do I sound cynical? I hope not – compassion is more than important, there is something sacred about it, but I haven’t seen much of it emerging from establishment driven initiatives held in corporate meeting rooms. What I have seen is churches and projects like The Trussell Trust plugging up the devastating gaps in our society, with food banks and help for the vulnerable. These caring organisations are needed more than ever to help those that have been pushed aside by a cruel Government seeking to make us believe that austerity is necessary… as are tax breaks for the rich and bonuses for bankers and weapons of mass destruction… and… and…
In 2010 Caroline Lucas became England’s first Green Member of Parliament, representing Brighton Pavilion. Caroline is a strange politician; she is objective, honest, self-disciplined, principled and deeply compassionate. There are not many MPs like her, and yet she is still fighting for her seat in the House of Commons, despite being arguably the best and most conscientious constituency MP in the country. Those passionately committed to the highest principles will always make enemies, and the twisted arm of the House of Commons (whether Labour or Tory) seems to have a long reach.
I have accompanied Caroline to places where she has met elderly and vulnerable people in their homes, and time and again noticed how she will sink to the floor or a nearby chair and scribble endless notes about a constituent’s concerns regarding health, home, care, traffic or anything else. She then takes her notes back to her office, and does everything in her power to bring about positive change. Whatever the issue Caroline has time to listen, time to seek to redress a problem and connect with people. Her hallmark characteristic is compassion and this comes through in her new book “Honourable Friends? Parliament and the Fight for Change.”
In this fascinating, well written and topical work we can almost see Britain’s MPs gliding through the House of Commons steeped in the isolated self-importance bestowed by a level of privilege that you and I will never know. But the cool, compassionate eye of Brighton’s MP sees the irony of the extremes experienced in her working day, as revealed in the opening of Chapter 3:
The Palace of Westminster is a strange place from which to launch an attack on the country’s most vulnerable people. Once you are past the security barriers, you enter a world of privilege and comfort… There is a hairdresser, a gym, cash machines, coffee bars and post offices, so you never need to leave the orderly precincts of the Palace and jostle with tourists and civil servants in the surrounding streets…” and later“…British politics has become reinfected with the idea of the ‘undeserving poor’. The cliché of the greedy, uncaring and hard-hearted Victorian politician or industrialist, blaming the poor for their own improvidence has been reborn… a new generation of think tanks and lobby groups… argue that poverty is a lifestyle choice; that offering financial support breeds dependency; that poverty is passed through generations, like the modern equivalent of genetic or racial determinism…”
This is a book driven by empathy, intelligence and astonishing clarity gained from interacting with people in the most direct and caring way. This is a book full of facts and scrupulous observations covering such critical issues as the NHS, the environment, the power of business, the need for affordable homes, the election system, the fight to stop fracking and much, much more, and in all cases the observations are supported by a beautiful balance of good research, first hand experience and compassionate observation.
Caroline’s heart lies with the environment and those confronting problems of bad landlords, leaky roofs, heavy traffic and unjust administrative systems. For Caroline the plight of people, planet and life itself hold much greater reality and importance than the antediluvian antics of the bullyboys on the front benches of The House of Commons. One can only be thankful that compassion is the lifeblood of those prepared to take the fight to the front line. This is why so many people of Brighton are hoping and praying to keep their MP in the House of Commons for many years to come. This is why, wherever you are, you must read “Honourable Friends? Parliament and the Fight for Change.”
Honourable Friends? By Caroline Lucas is published Portobello Books. £14.99
ISBN 978 1 84627 593 7