Green Shoots: farewell Natalie Bennett
Bennett — infamous for the “brain fade”, famous for the “Green Surge” – leaves the Green Party in a much stronger position than any previous time — at the centre of British politics.
When Natalie Bennett took the stage at the first General Election debate, most didn’t know who she was, yet alone that she was a party leader. The former journalist turned politician had never before held elected public office- she wasn’t an MP, MEP, or a councillor. Yet, she stood on the stage alongside the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in a two hour long exchange of policy and ideas.
Bennett’s appearance at that debate was the defining moment of her leadership career. The Green Party had gone from being thought of as a wasted, protest vote to being a serious contender for more parliamentary seats, even under the First Past the Post electoral system.
The Green Party and Bennett had to fight, however, to get on the debate stage. While UKIP, the Lib Dems, Labour and the Conservatives all got a free pass to the debates, the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalists all had to fight for their podium. That fight ensured some of the highest levels of media coverage for the Greens in recent times, culminating in an increased poll rating of 11% in one January Lord Ashcroft poll, and 10% in another January YouGov poll.
Despite the apparent success, the media coverage wasn’t always the best thing for Bennett’s leadership. January 2015 saw a ‘car crash’ interview with Andrew Neil on Sunday Politics, in which Bennett failed to refute the claim the Greens would allow people to join Islamic State. Then, February 2015 saw the now infamous ‘brain fade’ interview, in which Bennett couldn’t recite the costs and the full housing policy the Greens had announced.
Regardless of this, the Greens registered their best ever General Election performance under Bennett’s leadership, scoring 3.8% of the national vote, though that was much higher in some seats including Brighton Pavillion where Caroline Lucas increased her majority, and Bristol West where the Greens now need just a 5% need to take out the sitting Labour MP.
Throughout the time as leader, Bennett never strayed away from the huge task of being, often, a lone progressive voice on the UK stage, yet she used to to stand up for the poorest in ou society, migrants on the recieving end of an increase in racist and xenophobic abuse — particularly after the UK voted for Brexit. She’s often said that the Greens were the “anti-dote” to UKIP’s hate, and considering the rhetoric that Bennett has adopted in the fight against Bigotry and hatred it is easy to see why.
I joined Bennett in September 2014 when she was re-elected as Leader in Doncaster at a “Stand up to UKIP” event. Throughout the event she was lovely company, and her leadership was marked with a leader that supporter local parties and has ensured that the Greens are a party built on local politics and local activism.
If the Green Party are to become a major political force in Britain, they will look back at the days of Bennett’s leadership as the Green shoots that started it all. And may I also say as a member of the 2015 “progressive alliance” in Plaid Cymru that we all wish her all the best and look forward to progressive co-operation with Wales Green Party leader Alice Hooker-Stroud and the next leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, who will be announced on Saturday.
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