GREEN PARTY leader Natalie Bennett has admitted suffering an “excruciating mind blank” after a car-crash interview in which she appeared unable to answer questions about key policies.
Ms Bennett repeatedly lapsed into silence, had coughing fits and complained of a “huge cold” as she was grilled by LBC Radio presenter Nick Ferrari.
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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 floundered, saying: “Erm ... well ... that’s part of the whole costing.”
When the host 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.
Mr Ferrari: “So you don’t know?”
Ms Bennett: “No. Well ... er.”
After a few seconds’ more stalling, the party leader gave a figure of £2.7 billion for the total cost of building the homes.
But Mr Ferrari shot back: “Five hundred thousand homes, £2.7 billion - what are they made of, plywood?”
After a long pause, Ms Bennett said: “Um ... At a cost of £60k per home ...
“What we are talking about, what we want to see is the possibility of homes being built.”
Suggesting £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 silent pause, the politician started coughing.
Mr Ferrari: “Are you all right?”
Ms Bennett: “Yeah. As you can probably hear I’ve got a huge cold.”
Mr Ferrari: “I’m terribly sorry to hear that ... 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 “£6 billion a year”, but seemed unclear what it related to.
“We’re also looking at investing ... (silence) ... we’ve got the fully costed figures here,” she stumbled.
Mr Ferrari: “You’ve said that on several occasions.”
After some more coughing, Ms Bennett managed to say: “Basically we’re talking about an overall saving of £4.5 billion.”
The presenter said: “Do you think you might perhaps have genned up on this a little bit more Natalie Bennett?”
After coughing again, Ms Bennett replied: “We’re talking about a whole range of ... what we’re talking about is a whole range of issues ranging from the economy, from the NHS, homes, climate.”
Mr Ferrari said: “Yes, I’ve only time for two unfortunately. I wish we had more time.”
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, saying: “She is not going to answer that, okay.”
But thanking the peer for her “kind attempt to protect me”, Ms Bennett conceded: “It was absolutely excruciating in the studio. All I can say is occasionally one just has a mind blank, that happens.
“I’ve been presenting the Green Party’s policies up and down the country. I’ve been delighted to do that. I’m delighted with the response they get and I’m delighted to have the backing of all 54,000 Green Party members.”