It is billed as a leaders debate but the Greens want(ed) Caroline Lucas to appear instead of Natalie Bennett for one of the two debates. This was requested a good while ago, before Natalie Bennett’s shall we say, disappointing, performance on LBC a while back but it does go to show that the Green Party has a legitimate issue, one that the Lib Dems had five years ago.
Five years back the Lib Dems most well known MP was Vince Cable. He was pretty well liked and respected. Nick Clegg was an upstart that no-one really knew. He was the butt of jokes on most of the panel shows and then suddenly the first debate happened and everything changed. Nick Clegg ‘won’ the first debate and suddenly his profile was transformed overnight. He shared a stage with just two other people and he sounded different, people liked this and the election campaign changed.
This time around the stage will be more diluted due to the TV companies seemingly bizarre ideas of what the debates should actually be. It is about who can have the most MPs to form a government. When the SNP and Plaid Cymru (which I spelled correctly first time – result) start fielding enough MPs to lead a coalition then bring them to the table. They don’t but the TV companies in reality have no idea what their remit is here and are just making it up as they go along.
So we turn our attentions back to Natalie Bennett and Caroline Lucas. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here in saying that Caroline Lucas is the most recognisable face the Green Party have. She is certainly far more media savvy than Natalie Bennett and I think would perform better in these prime time debates than her party leader. Getting Lucas the air time would really help her in her Brighton Pavilion dogfight with Labour.
I’ve just looked at the betting markets and across the board they have the Green Party as odds on favourites, all of them shorter than 1/2, which I find slightly surprising. I think Labour and the Greens are nip/tick and would expect the Greens to be 5/6 and Labour 7/4 – something around there so I’d certainly be laying the Greens at that price. Labour are Evens in a couple of places but shorter than 2/1 everywhere else. Getting Caroline some prime time exposure (and if she performs well) would probably have tipped her over the edge to a gritty victory. If Natalie Bennett flops though then it could really hurt her.
This issue goes back to the decision by Caroline Lucas to step down in an attempt to get another well known face for the Green Party. It was a good idea at the time but the problem is they decided to unleash someone who quite simply struggles with performing well in the media. The ‘Green Surge’ has stagnated, in no small part due to some of her policies being ridiculed and not well costed but also when you are riding a wave of momentum then suddenly the media will notice you and report not only the momentum but also start to be critical of your policies and performances.
I think there is little doubt the Green Party will have a decent national vote share on May 7 but if Natalie Bennett performs badly in her two big TV moments then that national vote share may not translate into any MPs. They believe they can win Norwich South and Bristol West to add to Brighton Pavilion. They are not favoured in either seat, indeed in Bristol West they are behind both the Lib Dems and Labour in the odds, in Norwich South they are ahead of the defending Lib Dems but Labour are extremely strong favourites. Bristol West is more three-way with LD around Evens and Lab just beyond and Greens around 3s.
Natalie Bennett has quickly become a liability and the Green Party know it. This was the opportunity to treble their MPs and they look likely to fall short. I wonder if Caroline Lucas regrets giving up the leadership if she knew then what she know now? The TV companies are certainly right to refuse this request from the Greens because this isn’t a TV event to put on who you want, it is for the leaders to debate. These are meant to be the people who can run our country.
I doubt many of you are fans of baseball but every so often people talk about a six-man rotation and every time people say the same thing, if you have six starting pitchers what you are really saying is you don’t have four. The Green Party have hitched their wagon to Natalie Bennett and whilst it seems like a poor move, they have to roll with her and see what happens.
The only way to get Caroline Lucas into the TV debates is for Natalie Bennett to step down as leader and Caroline to takeover. It would probably be a good short-term move but is it too late in the day for such a dramatic change? I suspect in one parallel (which I also spelled right first time – result as I always get that word wrong) universe it will happen, I doubt though that it will be this one.
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