Green Party leader Natalie Bennett teaches Andrew Marr a thing or two

19th January, 2015

I learned a new phrase while watching Natalie Bennett on Andrew Marr on Sunday.

The phrase is unimportant — it was no stunning soundbite — what’s important is that I learned this new phrase rather than hearing it and being switched off by it.

A cardinal rule I use in media training is that if you, as a media interviewee, throw a bit of unexplained phraseology or jargon in front of a general audience, they won’t necessarily object — they’ll simply decide you’re not talking to them. And they’ll stop listening.

But Natalie Bennett has got a handy knack with another simple phrase: “What that means is…”

She’s not afraid of a little educating while she’s communicating, because she knows she can explain any new phrase as it crops up by tacking on “...what that means is” immediately afterwards.

It was an insight into a strong interviewee who knows her agenda but knows she may sometimes talk at too high a level for everyone, so she works hard to keep it simple and clear, and explain any jargon that slips out.

The actual phrase was “a confidence and supply agreement”

It means the Greens would only guarantee to back a party or coalition on votes of (no) confidence or supply of funds — at all other times they would insist on a free vote. I missed that in my politics lectures. I feel cleverer now.

Where Natalie Bennett does need a little bit of polishing is in considering the implications of each question carefully, and then composing a strong answer to it in her head, BEFORE she starts speaking.

She’s clearly so keen to communicate she’s sometimes starting her answer before the question is actually finished.

So, you’ll take it vote by vote, mused Mr Marr. Does that mean if a vote on replacing Trident came up you would definitely draw a red line there?

“Well, at the moment we’re not talking red lines,” said Ms Bennett, clearly drilled to avoid giving too many policy pledges (and also giving away her sudden discomfort by repeating Marr’s terminology, something she usually avoids well).

“So you might vote yes on Trident?” asked a surprised Marr.

“No!” exclaimed an even more surprised Bennett. “We have clearly said we would not support anyone unless we can vote against Trident; and we will vote against Trident.”

Cleared up emphatically, then, but better to not have created the confusion in the first place perhaps, especially when everything else was going so well. A simple pause and a look inside your mental larder would sort that out. But that’s a lesson for another day.