Tuesday 24 February 2015

Will Natalie Bennett's Trainwreck Derail the Greens?

Doing 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 bunch 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.


Boffy said...

I feel sorry for Bennett because we all have those kinds of brain fades, but the real suspicion is that the problem is not brain fade, but unthought out policies that do not stand up under any kind of scrutiny.

Caroline Lucas when interviewed later had no more success in trying to explain how the Housing policy of building 500,000 council houses was to be financed than did Bennett. Evan Davies on Newsnight gave an explanation of how HE thought it could be financed, but having looked at his own costings, I think he himself made a big mistake of only taking into consideration the interest cost, and forgetting all about the replacement cost of the stock!

The originator of the idea of a Basic Citizens Income has themselves now concluded that it could not possibly work, and the Greens have themselves basically dropped it, or kicked it into the long grass, whilst oddly leaving it in their Manifesto!

They still have the ridiculous notion that they could raise £45 billion a year from a wealth tax, whilst even they admit that in Spain, where they got the idea from, such a Wealth Tax only managed to raise £1 billion.

This is the problem of a petit-bourgeois party that seeks votes by promoting itself as radical - as the Liberals did in Labour areas - and which can usually get away with it by either not saying how it would finance its policies, or else not having to worry about its costings being scrutinised. because such parties are not going to be proposing a revolutionary overthrow of existing property relations, their approach is based upon a straightforward Keynesian social democratic redistributionist approach, which runs into the natural limits such redistributive policies always face, as set out by Marx, and which Syriza is facing now in Greece.

Its why wherever the Greens have been in office, whether in local councils in Britain, or in Government in Germany, whenever they have faced the reality of those problems, they have been just as reactionary and prepared to cut and attack the working-class as all the other bourgeois parties.

BCFG said...

She should take a leaf out of the main political parties tactics, which is don't really answer the question direct and simply prattle on about what the advisers told you to prattle on about.

When I listen to the Labour or Tory leaders they never really tell us about policy but provide very general statements. She needs to learn this art, or maybe we should give her some slack and start focusing on the lying toerags who we pretend have an handle on everything when they don't.

asquith said...

There's a suspicion I harbour that this won't do that much half as much damage as is feared, even if it became known to the whole world.

It is akin to UKIP. Every "revelation" of how racist, sexist, homophobic and generally unpleasant they are confirms the views of the 80% who would never support them, but also actually bolsters their core support, who being angry, bitter losers themselves are all for this kind of thing now you come to mention it.

Likewise, I'd imagine most Green voters and even more so their activists can proudly look back on a lifetime's worth of being told they're wooly-headed dreamers whose numbers don't add up, and actually find it endearing that one of that ilk is leading them!