Lucy Downes, Green Party

As the country prepares for its first December election since 1923, one SOAS student has particular reason to mark the date of 12 December.

While most SOAS students will be looking forward to end of term Christmas parties, Lucy Downes, a first-year student of BSc Economics, will have other parties on her mind, because she is standing as the Green Party’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) for the constituency of Hertford and Stortford in East Hertfordshire.

Lucy describes her passion for green issues and how she got involved in politics:

How did you come to stand for election?

“For my 18th birthday I asked my parents if I could have Green Party membership as my present.  I have always been campaigning, reading papers and signing petitions, and then in the May council elections, I noticed that the Party was looking for ‘paper candidates’ simply to get the Green Party on the ballot paper.  I decided to stand alongside my mum, Liz.  Karishma Patel designed election posters, which we distributed around 500 local houses.

When people saw our Green Party badges, it was amazing how many people stopped us and wanted to speak, and seemed pleased to have an opportunity to vote for a Green candidate.

“The actual process of running for a local election is not complicated.  It required being endorsed by ten constituents, but there were no legal hoops or special requirements.  More than anything it was just a question of putting in the time and effort.  I put myself forward to be a district councillor for Bishop’s Stortford Central Ward and a parish councillor for the South Ward.  I only expected to pick up a few votes from family and friends, but I was amazed how much support I received.”  (Lucy received 434 votes as district councillor, and came closest to unseating the incumbent Tory parish council, receiving 663 votes, ahead of three Liberal and four Labour opponents).

And as a PPC?

“I took a chance on me and put myself forward as a PPC.  I had to write a 300-word essay on why people should vote for me, and then take part in a public Q&A debate with a rival candidate for the position, answering questions from the crowd.  Answering unprepared questions was hard, but I am passionate about my subject and gave it my best go.  I didn’t think I stood a chance to get nominated, but when the voting was announced, the result was… A DRAW!  The decision went to postal votes and, on the very morning that I was packing up and making preparations to move into my new university halls, I received a phone call to say that I had won.  I don’t have words to describe how shocked I felt.  But I am so proud to be able to represent Green Party voters.”

So, next stop the General Election?

“Yes, the campaign is now leading up to the election.  I’ve been organising various events, writing emails and taking phone calls.  I would encourage as many people as possible to stand as PPCs.  The wider the variety of candidates gives a higher criterion for the standing candidates so you are better represented.  A lot of young people are currently disengaged from politics, but if more young people stood as PPCs it would encourage young people to get back into politics as well as encourage policies directed towards our demographic.”

What is your view of the recent Extinction Rebellion demonstrations?

“First of all, I must make the distinction that XR is not the Green Party.  However, I do agree with personal, non-violent direct action on an issue as important as climate change.  The XR demonstration in Trafalgar Square was like a utopia: free food; free water; hugs; no alcohol; no drugs; it was family-friendly and the tone was calm.  Legal observers were present to make sure that everybody was okay.

It was a great, non-violent demonstration of people power.

“Of course, the nature of XR, with no central control, means that there will be odd splinter groups acting off-message, but the importance of XR is to raise awareness and, when their message is so clearly founded in scientific fact they deserve to have an international platform.”

And are you optimistic or pessimistic for the future?

“Regarding climate change, I believe that if we have collectively brought ourselves to this place, we can bring ourselves back again.  It can be done.  It needs systematic change from governments on issues such as recycling, transport, waste management and health policies, but we also need to be accountable for our own individual actions as much as we need to hold politicians to account.

“I am optimistic about the future.  When I do a small thing it has an effect, and if 67 million people in the country all do something, it can lead to positive change.  Individuals can turn it around.  Of course, we are all hypocrites to some degree, but that is all right.  As long as the good intention is there, we all just have to work within what we can do.”

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