One of life’s little pleasures is listening to politicians crack under intense scrutiny from journalists. The London-based national talk and phone-in radio station, LBC, and its radio presenters, Nick Farrari and James O’Brian, are fast building reputations as the best in the business.
Last year Nigel Farage was mauled on air for 22 painful minutes by O’Brian over the UKIP leader’s so-called ‘racist’ party. It was an eye-watering interview made worse by Farage’s director of communications, Patrick O’Flynn, intervening mid-way through in an attempt to pull his mate out from underneath the wreckage.
On Tuesday this week, Natalie Bennett, leader of The Green Party, was a guest on Farrari’s breakfast show. Recently, the Green Party has been riding a wave of success. In November last year, a YouGov poll for the Times’ Red Box revealed that 26 per cent would vote Green if “they had a chance of winning” in their constituency at the May 2015 General Election. The Greens will also be standing in a record number of seats this May. Things were looking good.
However, the tables swiftly turned this Tuesday morning when Bennett, fresh out of a less-than-savoury Radio 4 interview, was quizzed by Farrari about the Green’s housing policy. After telling the host that her party would build 500,000 new social rent homes, Ms Bennett was left dumbfounded by Farrari’s response: “Good lord, where would you get the money for that?” he said. Despite audacious attempts to convince him that the policy was “fully costed”, Bennett struggled to explain how much the homes would cost and where the money would come from beyond mortgage relief from landlords. Ms Bennett went on to blame her mind blanks on the “huge cold” she was apparently suffering with, and NOT lousy preparation.
Conventionally, thousands immediately took to social media to share the recording along with their views. One Twitter user dubbed Ms Bennett’s performance as “the worst party leader interview ever given” while another labelled it as “one of the most awkward interviews ever heard”.
Tuesday was the Green’s official launch of their election campaign, built on a message of “hope”, and while it remains to be seen what effect, if any, this car crash of a start will have on public support for their polices, one teaching that will surely lie top of the party’s agenda as it looks to gain ground on, in particular, UKIP and the Lib Dems, is an urgency to address its public speaking strategy.
While many fellow public speakers and company spokespeople will undoubtedly feel somewhat sorry for Ms Bennett, they will also be relentlessly asking themselves the question: “Ahead of briefings with national broadcast outlets and unforgiving interviewers, where was the preparation? Why didn’t she know her facts? Where was the training to control conversations?”.
These questions have to be answered and actioned internally before she continues on her campaign trail, and it’ll be interesting to see how she performs and how far she is pushed by other journalists in the future now they have the taste for blood.