Tory blogger and broadcaster Iain Dale has come to the defence of Green party leader Natalie Bennett over yesterday’s ‘car crash’ interview amid signs of a backlash in her favour.
Dale, who hosts an LBC radio show, defended Bennett after she was humiliated on air by another LBC presenter, Nick Ferrari, yesterday for being unable to explain how the Greens would fund their plan to build 500,000 new homes.
At a Green campaign press conference afterwards, Australian-born Bennett apologised to her supporters for letting them down. She conceded she had given an “excruciating” interview and attributed it to a “mind blank”, adding: “I’m human - I had mental brain fade”.
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The trouble is, the LBC disaster is not the only example of Bennett finding it difficult to answer questions about Green policy. Later, on the BBC’s Daily Politics, she was forced by presenter Jo Coburn to “clarify” policies she had outlined to Coburn’s colleague Andrew Neil in another “excruciating” interview last month.
Yesterday’s "clarifications" involved retracting previous party policy towards terrorist organisations – Bennett had argued in January that membership should be permissible, but now said it shouldn’t – and demoting the controversial Citizen’s Income plan from a “commitment” to an “aspiration”.
Even some Green supporters are concerned that Bennett is proving herself a “green” leader in the wrong sense of the word. If the pre-election TV debates ever happen, she is due to take part in two of them and there is growing concern that she will let the side down.
Bennett vanished from TV screens last night as older Green hands - Caroline Lucas, the former leader and the party’s only MP, and Baroness Jenny Jones, who has a seat in the London Assembly - took over media interviews.
But the backlash has already started. Iain Dale tweeted: “Boris Johnson gets away with blue murder in i/views & entire media laughs along with him. No such slack for Natalie Bennett. #everydaysexism.”
Guardian columnist Zoe Williams has also jumped to the defence of Bennett - a former journalist colleague - saying she should “shrug off” yesterday’s incident.
“Bennett will have to cope with people forever calling her ‘discredited’. It is the new mantra of the right, covering everything from an honest mistake to a statement they disagree with,” says Williams.
Times columnist Danny Finkelstein tweeted yesterday: “Is this the worst party leader interview ever given? Must come close.” But does it really matter to Green supporters?
Research by psephologist Philip Cowley, professor of parliamentary government at Nottingham University, has discovered that what concerns Green voters is “sending a message about the kind of values they want to see in society” rather than detailed policies.
“A leader tripping over themselves on policy issues with the mainstream media won’t influence most Green voters because that is not what motivates them,” says Cowley. Green voters, many of whom are young and consider themselves left-wing, don’t trust the press and boradcasters anyway, seeing the media as part of the political establishment.
So, looking at yesterday’s incident through Green eyes, it was not a 'car-crash' interview - it was a stitch-up by the media.
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