The left’s biggest failure? We don’t know how to tell stories, says Caroline Lucas

Caroline Lucas has said that it’s time for the left to take back control of political storytelling.

The Green Party’s only MP, who is standing down at the 2024 General Election, told Hay Festival audiences that “those of us broadly on the centre and centre left need to get a hell of a lot better at telling stories, because at the moment storytelling seems to be the preserve of the right”.

Lucas was talking to Baroness Hale, former President of the UK Supreme Court, about her new book Another England, in which she argues that our literary heritage can guide us to a more progressive national narrative.

“It’s almost as if we on the left feel a little bit squeamish about telling stories, we want to stick to our facts,” she said, citing the Brexit referendum – in which Lucas campaigned for Remain – as an example of where this didn’t work.

“You had the Leave campaign leaders talking about the stories of ‘taking back control’, and we on the Remain side were just banging on about your supermarket trolley, how your food was gonna cost more. And that was true, and it did matter, but somehow it wasn’t an argument with the same weight and compelling nature as simply ‘take back control’.”

Lucas was elected to represent the Brighton Pavilion constituency in 2010, becoming the UK’s first Green MP. She has also served as the party’s leader on two occasions.

She suggested that the left’s problem with storytelling is currently playing out in the lead-up to the US presidential election. “Biden ought to have the better story really, I mean he’s doing lots of the right things with the Inflation Reduction Act, and yet his story is an entirely defensive one.

Caroline Lucas at Hay Festival (Sam Hardwick and Hay Festival)
Caroline Lucas at Hay Festival (Sam Hardwick and Hay Festival)

“And Trump’s story, although it’s absolutely dark and horrible and vicious, it’s a bloody good story and you can see why it’s having an awful lot more effect.”

Lucas said that allowing storytelling to become the preserve of the right wing meant that “it’s not really a surprise that we get the stories of exceptionalism, of imperial nostalgia, of Boris Johnson banging on about everything about us being world beating and so forth”.

She cited the Battle of Britain in the Second World War as an example of a story that right-wing politicians often tell about Britain’s history, but suggested it’s usually not mentioned that one in 10 RAF pilots during that event were “in fact refugees from occupied Europe”.

Caroline Lucas and Brenda Hale (Sam Hardwick and Hay Festival)
Caroline Lucas and Brenda Hale (Sam Hardwick and Hay Festival)

The departing Green MP also criticised Labour leader Keir Starmer for saying he would not reverse the two-child benefit cap, and expressed frustration at the lack of discussion about a wealth tax.

“Why is a debate about a wealth tax such a taboo in this country? Why is it fine to tax income but not to tax assets?” she asked. “We have the Labour party running scared of having even any debate about some kind of tax on the ultra-wealthy. This would be just the one percent most wealthy people – most people would not be affected by it. So why can’t we even have the debate about it?”

“Even in Switzerland they have some kind of wealth tax and when I last checked it hadn’t become some kind of hotbed of communist revolt,” she joked.

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