Baroness Jones of Moulscoomb about to catch a train.
Slog, robes and fake fur.
14th November 2013
Jenny Jones - now Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb - is the Green Party's first peer to be appointed. A week after her 'introduction' she shares her first impressions ...
As the first Green to be appointed to Parliament's second chamber, I'm aware that there will be lots of interest and high expectations, so this is a brief summary.
I was formally introduced to the House of Lords - complete with with robes and fake fur - on 5th November at 2.30pm, just as the international Guy Fawkes protests were erupting around the world. For the introduction I needed two peers as supporters, and I chose inspirational women for the role, Tanni Grey-Thompson and Helena Kennedy QC.
My official name is Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, which is the Council estate in Brighton where I was born and lived in until I was 18. When I had my very happy childhood there it was a wonderful area, part of the post war 'Homes Fit for Heroes' building boom.
They are good-sized houses with front and back gardens, but I expect all the indoor coal cupboards have found other uses now. The area has fallen on hard times but when I went there last month, there were still children playing in the street, just as I did half a century and more ago.
I was surprised to learn that there are no resources attached to the appointment - no staffing, no office and perhaps no desk, although I have a named peg to hang my coat. Sadly the Green Party hasn't got the budget in the current year to offer me staff time, so I'll stay on as a London Assembly Member and use any allowance I claim to pay for things like research and diary support and travel expenses.
If we assume that the role is to achieve Green aims, we need to be sure how we can do that, so I'm getting Green Party advice on how to use my time in the Lords to maximum effect. At the Assembly, I work on the Economy, the Environment and on Policing, with side interests in cycling and food, but that's with a team of five talented people keeping up with the research and media work.
I shall need clear guidelines to narrow down the issues to manageable levels when I'm being lobbied so strongly by lots of good campaigning groups - I could drown in all the work it would be ‘interesting' to do. A set of criteria for engagement will be devised. For example, the number of invites from media and from regional parties outside London has increased substantially.
So far I've agreed to everything I possibly can that has a speaking part, but is that the best use of the role? The increase is a feature of going from being a regional politician to a national one and is likely to increase even more over time.
For the present, my work will have two strands:
- piggybacking Caroline Lucas' work, following through from Commons to Lords
- crossover from my City Hall work, especially on policing and civil liberties
Plus, in 2014 I expect to visit regions and local parties for EU and local election support, just as I do now, but much more so.
On accountability, apart from any media exposure, I plan a quarterly report for the wider membership which can go on my website with press releases, speeches and blogs as well as monthly updates to activists.
On the 5th November, there was going to be a vote on the gagging bill and I was very pleased that my first vote would be on an issue that matters to me. I’m sure in Parliament that people think they are still in touch with life as it’s lived in these times of austerity.
But I think it’s hard to understand poverty and disadvantage from the vantage point of the Palace of Westminster, so hearing the views of charities and organisations who can speak for the vulnerable and disadvantaged is an important part of the work. Sadly, I was disappointed as the vote was dropped so the bill could be ‘improved’ in the rather short space of 5 weeks.
Overall, it's daunting, stressful and very exciting. I'm glad I'll have the opportunity to advocate replacing the HoL appointment system with a fully elected chamber - I'll be a turkey voting for Christmas. I'm glad too that a Green Party voice will be heard in the second chamber as well as the Commons.
On the other hand, I felt a bit hypocritical when I had to affirm my loyalty to the Queen. It's not that I don't like her, or admire her, or that I'm some kind of visceral republican. It's all just too feudal for my taste! But it's just one of many archaic rituals relating to the role, and I had better start getting used to them. Unlike one especially gorgeous MP, I spoke sincerely and I didn't cheat by crossing my fingers as I spoke.
Jenny Jones, now Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, is an ex-archaeologist and former chair of the Green Party. She has been a member of the London Assembly since 2000 and was elected as the first Green member on Southwark Council 2006-10.
In 2009-10, Jenny was appointed Chair of the Planning and Housing Committee in the Assembly and has overseen reports such as Cultivating the Capital, looking at urban agriculture in London. In 2012 Jenny was appointed Deputy Chair of the Health and Environment Committee and Deputy Chair of the Police and Crime Committee.
Since elected to the Assembly, Jenny has worked to secure safer roads, improved facilities for pedestrians and cyclists, reductions in road crimes and traffic, and excellent public transport for all users.
Jenny was a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority for eleven years, and consistently called for greater police resources for the enforcement of road traffic laws, for stronger protection of civil liberties, and for a better police response to violence against women.
In the previous mayoral administration Jenny was the chair of London Food, the Mayor's road safety ambassador, and the Mayor's green transport adviser. Jenny is also the former Deputy Mayor of London.
In 2004, Jenny was named as one of 200 'women of achievement' and in 2013 she was appointed as a working peer in the House of Lords.
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