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Will Natalie Bennett’s trainwreck derail the Greens?

14-natalie-bennettDoing okay in the polls … has some popular, left wing policies … yet there are questions surrounding the leader’s competence. We’ve heard the story many times before, but on this occasion it’s the Green Party and Natalie Bennett under the spotlight. In late January there was the Andrew Neil interview where she had certain difficulties outlining her party’s position on the citizen’s income. And today was her train wreck with Nick Ferrari on LBC, which you can listen to here if you’re yet to hear it. The thing is, as awful as Ferrari is, his tone was measured (some might say gentle) throughout, and it’s precisely that that made it so devastating. And as we know from Lord Fink and Malcolm Rifkind, the fashion in politics at the moment is to make a mistake and then compound it. Here’s Baroness Jenny Jones helping make Natalie’s day that little bit worse.
While this is a second media stumble in a month, I don’t think this says much about Bennett’s competency as a leader. Say what you like about her, regular slots on Question Time and various other politics programmes have done little to stymie the rapid growth in members and opinion poll scorings.

Does today’s trainwreck matter? Not really. Like many others I winced by way through the LBC interview, but I’m in that tiny minority who pay attention to the comings and goings of campaigns and Westminster whimsies. Others not so engaged might have thought it a bit stilted and awkward, but had forgotten about it within five minutes of broadcast. The kids are unlikely to play excerpts to each other in the playground tomorrow. Furthermore, Bennett explains it all in terms of having a “mind blank”. That happens sometimes, as the poor souls forced to listen to me drone on at work will tell you.

However, what was so painfully obvious was Bennett did not have a handle on her brief. Whether that’s because she was having a bad day, or her crib notes were poor, or because the Greens have yet to do proper costings on their pledges (which, as we know, will be in the manifesto), it looked very bad. Yet when the campaign cranks up all of his will be but a footnote. Journos are a predictable and will try catching her out again in future. As we speak, I bet she and her team of friends and advisers are looking at ways of properly polishing up.

The second question, of course, is will it have any discernible impact on Green support. We will find out later in the week. I suspect not, though. This is not a Gillian Duffy moment, nor “the day the Green Party surge hit a cliff“, as Adam Bienkov put it.

It’s long been established in the political science literature that the growth of Green parties are related to long-run shifts in class structures and values systems in affluent societies. As such the core Green voter tends to be “post-materialist”. Their political participation is value rather than interest-oriented. In Germany the Greens were able to intersect with this growing constituency and build a substantial party with some serious electoral clout.

In Britain, the same broad strata also emerged but they tended to be ranged across the Labour Party, a section of which has always been an alliance between the labour movement and professional associations, and from the 80s onwards the SDP/Liberals and latterly the Liberal Democrats. With the collapse of the latter and the “under-promising” of Labour, the Greens here have finally been able to make inroads into this layer. Because this grouping has rejected the interest-based game of conventional politics in favour of something seemingly more radical, committed and would-be Green voters are unlikely to be phased by Bennett’s lack of polish. Indeed, it might elicit sympathy and help secure that vote intention.

This then is but a blip. A bit of raucous fun for partisan saddoes, a bit of a face palm for some Green activists. In the grand scheme it will matter not a jot.

9 Comments

  1. Jim Denham says:

    Bennett’s wretched and embarrassing media performances are of significance because of what they tell us about the Greens as a whole – and not just her as an individual. The Greens are incoherent and ill-thought-out, even on issues where we on the left might have some sympathy with them (eg citizens’ income, housing). On defence they seem to have have no discernable policy at all. On other issues (nuclear power, GM crops) they’re simply anti-science reactionaries. And, of course, they notably have to answer to the “vote Green, get Blue” charge … for the simple reason that it’s true.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Jim: I don’t necessarily disagree with your criticisms of the Greens, especially the “vote Green, get Blue” point but I don’t see why Natalie Bennett’s performance yesterday was evidence of any of them.

      1. Robert says:

        Miliband speech at Conference in which he forgot the economy and the deficit , I suspect people will be watching her now if she does a Gordon Brown every time he opened his mouth his foot slipped in then it could.

        But everyone is allowed one bad day.

        1. Jim Denham says:

          She’s had more than one bad day. My point, though is that her wretched media performances are a reflection of the Green’s political inadequacy rather than her personal failings (considerable as they seem to be). She can’t answer straight questions about (eg the funding of their housing plans or the citizen’s income) because the Greens simply do not have answers.

          1. Rod says:

            And what do Miliband’s wretched media performances reflect?

            Here’s an early one:

    2. David Ellis says:

      Citizens Income? What is this Rome? That’s got to be a recipe for turning Britain into the Saudi Arabia of Europe where illegal immigrants work their bollocks off so the citizens can have their income.

    3. Ric Euteneuer says:

      Seemingly written by someone with Green sympathies,and peddling the line that Nathalie is somehow different because she’s not a know it all. It’s not as if she fronted up and was honest and said she didn’t actually know the answers to the questions asked, which arguably would have done her reputation less damage. Phil posits the growth of the Green Party in Germany and values as a motivator. That will be the Green Party that backed a variety of wars, and has formed multiple coalitions with the Conservative CDU there, will it? Any attempts to pass the Greens off as some kind of ersatz left project are doomed to fail,on issues like these.

  2. James Martin says:

    More than a blip Phil, more part of a pattern with them. But also something noticed wider than most probably realise, having had a fairly non-political union branch officer I was speaking to today about a mundane union issue suddenly ask if I’d heard ‘that stupid Green leader’ yesterday and then collapsing in a fit of laughter.

    But I think I did say a while ago on a thread about the arguments around Green participation in the TV debates that it would kill their support rather than do a 2010 Clegg for them. That is not just because they haven’t costed anything or thought through the logic of their positions (I noticed yesterday that Bennett had flip-flopped on her previous idiotic support for UK citizens joining ISIS and al qaeda so long as they ‘behaved themselves’), but because they want a certain amount of socially progressive things but without being socialists.

    So they flounder with utopian citizens income schemes and increased minimum wages without looking at or challenging capitalism or understanding the dynamics of power in a workplace. They seek to renationalise the railways but nothing else. They want to abolish the standing army but don’t have a conception of a socialist federation of nations and peoples to replace its need. The point is that socialists have ideology to carry uncosted ideas and demands, the Greens just have a Guardian reader unrealistic mentality to the worlds problems and working class voters will ultimately see through that for what it is.

    1. Ric Euteneuer says:

      Yes, one has to call into question the kind of party who call the British Army “hired killers” (presumably the revolution was wrought in various countries by the sheer force of reason alone)

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