Natalie Bennett: Green Party’s biggest ever campaign skids before it starts as she suffers ‘mental brain fade’

Ms Bennett repeatedly lapsed into silence

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Indy Politics

The leader of the Greens, Natalie Bennett, apologised to party members for suffering a “mental brain fade” during an interview in which she appeared unable to answer basic questions about key policies.

Ms Bennett repeatedly lapsed into silence and struggled to explain how her party would pay for its ambitious housebuilding programme during an interview on LBC Radio to launch the Greens’ general election campaign.

Asked about proposals for building 500,000 social rental homes, Ms Bennett said the move would be funded by removing tax relief on mortgage interest for private  landlords. But challenged several times on how much cash that would bring in, she appeared not to know saying: “Erm...well... that’s part of the whole costing.”

When the presenter Nick Ferrari moved on to ask about the overall cost of building the homes, Ms Bennett again appeared at a loss. “Right, well, that’s, erm…you’ve got a total cost… erm… that we’re… that will be spelt out in our manifesto,” she said.

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Green Party leader Natalie Bennett at the launch of the party’s election campaign – hours after her difficulties in a radio interview (Getty)

Mr Ferrari shot back: “So you don’t know?”

Ms Bennett replied: “No. Well... err...”

After a few seconds’ more stalling, the party leader gave a figure of £2.7bn for the total cost of building the homes. But Mr Ferrari replied: “500,000 homes, £2.7bn – what are they made of, plywood?”

After a long pause, Ms Bennett said: “Um... At a cost of £60k per home...”

Suggesting that £60,000 would not pay for “much more than a large conservatory”, Mr Ferrari asked: “How are you going to pay for the land?”

Following another pause, Mr Bennett started coughing, prompting Mr Ferrari to ask her if she was all right. Ms Bennett said she was suffering from a “huge cold” but failed to elicit much sympathy from the presenter. “I’m terribly sorry to hear that,” he told her before adding: “You don’t actually know what this is going to cost,  do you?”

 

The Green leader said the party had a “fully costed programme” that would be published before the election. She then came up with a figure of “£6bn a year”, but seemed unclear what it related to. Later, speaking on the BBC’s Daily Politics, she said: “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.”

Then, at a press conference officially launching the Greens’ election campaign, reporters asked Ms Bennett whether she had let the party down with the interview.

Baroness Jones, who was chairing the event, tried to block the question. But thanking the peer for her “kind attempt to protect me”, Ms Bennett conceded: “It was absolutely excruciating in the studio”.  She added: “I’ve been presenting the Green Party’s policies up and down the country. I’m delighted with the response they get and I’m delighted to have the backing of all 54,000 Green Party members,” she said.

Later, she said she had suffered “a mental brain fade”.

During the launch event in central London, Ms Bennett insisted that the general election would be the “biggest, boldest campaign ever” for her party and told reporters that 90 per cent of voters in England and Wales would  have a local Green candidate.

The party plans to campaign not just on environmental issues but also on re-balancing the economy, new affordable homes and the NHS. However, no specific policies were announced at the launch – that will not happen until they are signed off by special meeting next month. Of the 509 constituencies the party will fight, around 12 are key target seats. The Greens believe they can win between four and six seats at their current levels of  support.

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