Blink and you missed it. Barely 20 minutes after both Natalie Bennett and Caroline Lucas had first appeared in one of the spaces in the Arcola renewable energy theatre in Dalston – everything is a space in this part of east London – they were both gone. Speeches made and questions more or less answered. More less than more, on balance.
“I’m afraid Caroline has another very important meeting somewhere else,” said Darren Johnson, Green party member of the London Assembly and MC for the morning. “And Natalie will be doing some one-to-one photo opportunities.” Though nowhere near the sign outside that read: “Bennett Construction, Be Careful with Electricity”.
“But if any of you do have any more questions, Brian Heatley the co-author of the manifesto is here to answer them.” Lucky Brian.
Bennett has been having intensive media training since her car-crash performances at the launch of what turned out to be the launch of something no one was very clear about a couple of months ago, and it’s beginning to pay off. She now sounds much more like a professional politician which is not necessarily an improvement. “The things we are focused on are the things we want to be focused on,” she said gnomically, at one point. She even managed to make the phrase Green surge sound like a valium rush. It was all so brusque and low key, there was a suspicion that someone had forgotten to recharge the Arcola batteries.
What Bennett wanted was a Peaceful Political Revolution. I’m not sure her party were expecting one that was quite this peaceful. There was some good safe stuff about the living wage, renationalising the railways and protecting the NHS but there was also the rather more left-field promise to heal the planet. Among the list of proposed areas of expenditure that included economy, health, education, transport and housing was one called simply The Earth. By 2019, the Greens have promised to give The Earth £5.81bn. That’s one hell of a lot of ayurvedic massages for those parts of the world blighted by open-cast mining. Presumably fracking does not count as acupuncture.
Lucas was slightly more excited about a possible end to austerity economics – or “end of Thatcherism” as she chose to redefine it – but even she seemed a little distracted and vague. Comparing the need to prioritise a safer planet above an extra cappuccino on the way to work wasn’t her finest hour; even in this part of London. The lattes are going to have to get very skinny before the Greens can make too many deals with any Labour minority government: without actually mentioning the word “borrowing” the Greens have committed themselves to still be running a £20bn deficit in 2019.
“Can you give us some more details on your spending plans?” became the mantra of every question. Bennett gave a slightly acid smile – either flashback or reflux – before reconnecting with her inner zen. “I’m afraid I can’t,” she explained. “We are the Green party, so as you would expect we haven’t wasted paper in our manifesto with loads of numbers. You’ll find everything you need on our website. And if you don’t then you’ve been looking in the wrong place. Gosh, is that the time? Must go. Thanks so much for coming.”
Over to Brian. Brian appeared entirely underwhelmed to be dropped in it. All he had done for the manifesto was check one or two facts on Wikipedia and correct a few spelling mistakes and now he was being asked to justify the whole thing. “Your proposed increase on aviation fuel duty. Could it actually increase air travel by getting airlines to fill up abroad?” “I suppose so,” Brian reluctantly agreed. And what about the wealth tax? “Well, we’ve never had one so we can’t be too sure. But it works up to a point.” A bit like the Green party.
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