Green Party Leader Interview Essay
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has apologised to party members for what she said was a "very bad" radio interview about its housing policy.
Ms Bennett said she had suffered a "mind blank" during the "excruciating" exchange, where she tried to explain how the party would fund a pledge of 500,000 new social rental homes.
She was speaking as the Greens launched their election campaign.
Other policies include a "citizen's income" of £72 a week for all adults.
During an interview on LBC, Ms Bennett seemed to struggle to explain the funding model for the new homes, saying she had a "huge cold".
Later, speaking on the BBC's Daily Politics, she said a fully costed manifesto would be published in March.
"I had a very bad interview on housing this morning," she said.
"I am very happy to confess that and I am very sorry to the Green Party members who I did not do a very good job representing our policies on.
"That happens, I am human."
The policy would cost £27bn, she said (although she had earlier mistakenly said £2.7bn in the LBC interview) which would be partly funded by removing tax relief on mortgage interest for private landlords.
The Green Party of England and Wales has seen its membership surge to 54,000, as Ms Bennett has switched focus from its traditional environmental policies to talk about inequality and social justice.
It has been recording similar levels of support to the Lib Dems in opinion polls and is fielding its largest ever slate of candidates, aiming to stand in 90% of parliamentary seats on 7 May.
Replacing the existing benefits system with a "citizen's income" paid to everybody in the UK is a longstanding Green policy.
There was speculation that the policy was going to be dropped but in an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Ms Bennett confirmed it would be in the party's election manifesto.
She said it was not something the party would expect to introduce overnight "or even within the term of the next Parliament", adding: "It's something we want to consult on, offer over time."
She added that she wanted to "move away from a system where so many people are living in fear of not being able to put food on the table, not being able to keep a roof over their head".
Pressed on how the party would pay for the policy, she declined to say how much it would cost but said there would be a "consultative costing" in March.
Ms Bennett is also campaigning for a 1% "wealth tax" on the property, pension pots and other assets such as "holdings in cash or Ferraris" of individuals worth more than £3m.
Launching her party election themes, Ms Bennett said "something profound" was happening in British politics.
The key themes the Greens say they will focus on during the general election campaign are:
- Rebuilding the economy so everyone gets a fair share
- Putting the public at the heart of the NHS
- Ensuring everyone has a secure, affordable place to live
- Taking action on climate change
- Investing in a public transport system
- Ensuring every young person who wants to can access quality education
The party currently has one MP at Westminster, Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion.
It has held talks with the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru about forming a "progressive alliance" in the event of another hung parliament.
The Greens would make scrapping Britain's Trident nuclear weapons a key demand in any post-election negotiations with the Labour Party, in the event that Labour is the largest party.
But Labour said "the election choice is between Labour and the Tories".
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jonathan Ashworth said: "A vote for the Green Party would increase the chances of the Tories remaining in Downing Street.
"When the Greens are put under any serious scrutiny their policies fall apart."
The Green party leader, Natalie Bennett, conceded she had given an “excruciating” radio interview and attributed her poor performance to a “mind blank” and “mental brain fade” as she launched the party’s election campaign.
Bennett was speaking shortly after giving a halting interview on LBC in which she struggled to explain how her party would pay for the 500,000 new council homes it is pledging to build.
She told Nick Ferrari the policy would cost £2.7bn, prompting the presenter to ask: “Five hundred thousand homes – £2.7bn? What are they made of – plywood?”
At the launch of the party’s general election campaign at the Royal Society of Arts in London on Tuesday, Bennett was asked whether she was letting her party down with such media performances.
Jenny Jones, former deputy London mayor, leaped to the leader’s defence, saying: “She’s not answering that!”
Bennett thanked Jones for her intervention but acknowledged that the interview had been “excruciating”. She had struggled due to a “mind blank”, she said.
Later, on the BBC show Daily Politics, Bennett apologised to Green party members for her performance: “I had a very bad interview on housing this morning. I’m very happy to confess that and I’m very sorry to Green party members that I didn’t do a good job at representing our policies. That happens, I’m human. One can have a mental brain fade on these things.”
However, Bennett’s poor showing does not bode well for her inclusion in the television leaders’ debates, where she will be up against David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg. Having fought hard not to be left out of the line-up, the Green leader is understood to be preparing hard to avoid the embarrassment of tripping up again on detail.
So far, the Greens are still level with the Liberal Democrats on 8%, according to a ComRes poll for the Daily Mail, but Labour will be hoping to get a bounce among voters worried about Bennett’s grasp of policy.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Bennett admitted the Greens would not be able to bring in a “citizen’s income” any time in the next parliament despite unveiling it as a flagship policy last month. She insisted that everything the party had pledged would be fully costed in the manifesto and repeated that the citizen’s income plans would not happen in the next parliament because it would be such a complex change to the welfare system.
Green party leader Natalie Bennett came unstuck by trying to be honest | Letters: Sara Parkin, Brian Wilson and Tim Daniel
Having announced the idea of a universal £72-a-week income in January, the party has struggled to say how it would raise the billions of pounds needed to implement the policy and faced questions about whether it would harm the poorest people.
As the policy came under scrutiny, Bennett and Caroline Lucas, the party’s only MP, acknowledged that the citizen’s income could not be brought in immediately because it would take time to work out.
Bennett, however, has revealed the party would not even seek its implementation in the next parliament, even though it would be in the Greens’ manifesto, which is meant to detail policies for the next government.
She told the programme: “It will be in the manifesto, but what we’re saying is – and we’ll also be releasing around about the time of the manifesto a consultative costing on this … we’re looking at a massive change in the welfare system. It’s not something that we’d expect to be able to introduce overnight, or indeed in the term of the next parliament. It’s something we want to consult on, offer over time.”
The party is unlikely to get more than a handful of MPs but has floated the idea of cooperation with Labour in return for policy concessions in the event of a minority government.
The Greens’ confusion over their citizen’s income policy does not seem to have harmed support for the party, which was boosted by their expected exclusion from the leaders’ television debates.
Bennett claimed the country was seeing a “green surge” and said the latest figures put the party’s membership at 54,500 members.
“The politics of hope is rising and is triumphing over the politics of fear,” Bennett said, calling for “a political system that delivers for the common good and not just for the few”.
Later, Lucas, also a former party leader, strongly defended Bennett, saying it was a “bad day for Natalie” but there was also “kind of a gloating tone that strikes one as having something to do with her being a woman in there too”.
She said Bennett’s treatment was an example of what put women off a high-profile public life because “any errors are magnified and focused on to a huge extent”.
Lucas said: “She wasn’t well and she had a bad interview and that happens. But I’d far rather be talking about this than having to defend Jack Straw or Sir Malcolm Rifkind if I were in those parties.
“The bigger parties have hundreds of people advising and briefing them and they still mess up. There are plenty of examples of politicians who come unstuck so it was a bad day for Natalie but human error.”
Earlier, Bennett announced that 90% of people in England and Wales would have a Green party candidate to vote for at the general election and identified the campaign’s six key themes as a public NHS, a fair economy, decent homes, safe climate, free education and better transport.
The party said it would end the “creeping privatisation” of the NHS and make mental health a priority. It would end austerity policies, increase the minimum wage to £10 an hour and introduce a “Robin Hood tax”.
On the housing crisis, the Greens pledged to abolish the bedroom tax, build 500,000 new council homes and introduce rent control. Bennett repeated that the party planned to scrap tuition fees and return the railways to public ownership.