Car crash interview

Natalie Bennett’s car crash interview

Sometimes when someone gets something wrong you have some sympathy. Sometimes you may not, and when someone is seriously of the opinion that they should form part of the next Government, you might feel like giving them a little less leeway.

This is the position in which Green Party leader Natalie Bennett found herself yesterday as LBC’s James Ferrari asked her some pretty basic questions on costing her policies. The clip on this BBC reportage pretty much sums up her performance and it’s not good. For once Ferrari wasn’t being unduly tough – so what happened?

Bad day at the office

Bennett’s own explanation is that she had a bad cold, things didn’t come together, her memory blanked and she basically had a bad day at the office. This is pretty much beyond dispute. The question is what she could have done to avoid it – and whether someone who’s going to have such bad days is actually an appropriate leader for a political party.

There are a number of tips I can offer on preparing for an interview of this sort, although I’ve never briefed a politician. The first is simple: you don’t have to do the interview at all. If figures aren’t your thing or if you’re unwell and know you won’t do the subject justice, don’t do it.

The second is prepare, prepare and prepare again. The query about costs was not a surprise but the fact that Bennett didn’t know them was stunning. She probably did know them – but then claimed houses could be built for around £60K, which as Ferrari points out, would get you a small conservatory.

The third thing is that if you fluster, if you realise it’s coming to an end, stop. Take time. Make an excuse, take a sip of water – Bennett had a coughing fit, she could have taken advantage of that, had some water, apologised, all of which would have bought her time to gather her thoughts.

As it is, she made the classic mistake of speaking too quickly and then speeding up, allowing herself even less time to catch up with her thoughts. If you can feel your interview running away with itself, slow down – again, it allows you some time to think. She apologised later but she hasn’t done her party any favours.

As I type, she’s still leader. But at the beginning of the week I could have typed “Malcolm Rifkind is still in post”. Were I a Green Party member I’d be wondering about the person taking us into the General Election and how she’d cope if the questioning got any tougher.

Information on Guy Clapperton’s media training sessions is here.

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