hpmouseThe walls are bare in her meagre office, the furniture is cheap and MEP Jean Lambert is right about what she calls the “supposedly comfortable chairs”, they aren’t comfortable at all.

“This is our second office,” she tells me unabashed, other than that she makes no apologies for her down-at-heel surroundings. A green poison bait box sits next to the skirting board on one wall. Yes, they have a rodent problem.  

But in this tiny room on the second floor of an office building on Borough High Street, Green MEP, Jean Lambert, is planning her campaign for the European Parliament elections in June. 

She looks harried, and it takes a moment for her concentration to settle on me, as though always needed elsewhere.  She has been an MEP since 1999, and a member of the UK Green Party since there were just 50 members in the whole of London, 31 years ago. 

“We’ve been the vanguard on so many issues,” she says. 

A woollen cardigan hangs off of her shoulders, comfortable and well-worn.  For a politician she seems refreshingly unconcerned about appearances.  Before becoming an MEP she worked as a French and an English teacher at a school in Walthamstow, East London, and she would be well cast on Grange Hill.

“The new member states still have politicians who haven’t taken the environmental agenda on board,” she says, as though discussing an unruly class,  “And Italy have a regressive government and don’t give a monkeys.” 

Then, as though exasperated by a particularly naughty schoolboy, she says, “I’d put Berlusconi well up there.” 

Balancing life commitments with parliamentary work is difficult and Jean acknowledges that as an MEP her family life has suffered.  “It’s difficult for almost anybody in some ways, but that’s also true for MPs.  My husband and I have to try hard to remember who it was we married.” 

A committed MEP’s workload can be considerable, especially when combined with party campaigning and establishing a constituency presence. 

“I think you need a willingness to take things as they come at you,” Jean says, “If you’re the kind of person who gets highly stressed under pressure or when things don’t go your way this is not the job for you.” 

I get the impression that she’s putting a brave face on it. She feels stress like anyone, I can see she’s feeling the burden of a heavy back-log even as we speak, perhaps she just has a higher tolerance than most. 

“I take it very seriously,” she says.  “Even if there’s something we don’t support, if we think it’s an important piece of legislation we will work hard to get it changed and to rewrite it so it’s the best that it can be.”

Being an MEP is not a glamorous job, struggling always for compromise, between parties, between nations, struggling to get the attention of a petulant national press.  Jean has spent much of the past seven years trying to change the public perception of the Green Party as a single issue party by developing a progressive human rights agenda.  She was named Justice and Human Rights MEP of the year in 2005, but her message has barely registered with the British media. 

She is a work horse, peculiarly suited to the grey job of legislation, primed by long-held ideals for the endless disputes of a collaborative parliament in a media vacuum. 

“One of the things I love about the European Parliament is you’re working beyond borders,” she says, “It’s why I want to be in Europe and not Westminster.” 

But Jean Lambert could be lost on the backbenches of Westminster, a lone green drowned out between larger parties.  She’s not very showy, she doesn’t seem to have the front or the self-interest. 

As Vice-President of the 43 member Greens/European Free Alliance in the parliament she is twice as influential as the majority of British politicians and she gets a fraction of the recognition. 

She’s a rare kind of politician, an efficient one whose efficiency doesn’t depend on who happens to be watching.