Caroline Lucas and Natalie Bennett on the campaign poster. Photo: Green Party
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"What are you afraid of, boys?" The Green Party leader attacks Westminster's "three amigos"

As membership of the party grows to 44,175 in England and Wales, the party leader, Natalie Bennett, attacks the old boys' club of Westminster.

The flourishing Green party has launched a fresh challenge to the party leaders over the televised election debates with a new campaign poster, asking, “What are you afraid of, boys?”

Speaking this morning outside Westminster the Green party leader, Natalie Bennett, said that including the Greens in the election debates would be important in moving away from the image of Westminster as an old boys’ club. The poster, featuring Bennett and and Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas standing side by side, urges the broadcasters to invite the Greens to the TV debates.

The event, in which the election poster was unveiled on College Green, featured LGBT campaigner Peter Tatchell, a mascot in a tree costume and another mascot in the form of a chicken from political bloggers Guido Fawkes, holding a placard, reading: "Don't be a chicken, Ed!" Last week at prime minister's questions, Miliband was branded a "chicken" by Cameron for failing to agree to a multi-party televised debate incorporating the Greens.

Bennett also announced that membership of the Greens in England and Wales now stands at 44,175. Or 52,000 including Scotland and Northern Ireland. Last week, the Green party overtook Ukip’s number of party members after a 2,000-strong overnight surge. Ofcom, the broadcast regulator, has previously said that the Green party did not have sufficient support to qualify for a “major party status” in the general election, but Ukip may have.

In a synchronised 6am strike last week, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage sent separate but identical letters to David Cameron suggesting it would be “unacceptable if the political self-interest of one party leader” stopped the live debates from taking place. It was also added that the broadcasters provide an “empty podium” for Cameron should he change is stance.

But today Bennett said that the three amigos (her words) idea of an empty chair for Cameron would not be a helpful intervention. 

Here’s what Bennett said this morning, outside Westminster: 

First of all at the start of the week we saw what I’ve dubbed the three amigos – Milband, Clegg and Farage – writing to the broadcasters suggesting that they should "empty-chair" David Cameron. I don’t think that’s a very helpful intervention.

And I am pleased to say that yesterday on the Marr programme Mr Clegg moved on from that and he’s now said that the broadcasters need to think again about the format.

It’s worth pointing out that the broadcasters always put out their plans for consultation and so now we’re looking at a situation where they’ve had a lot of response from the public. Of course we’ve had a petition with 275,000 people saying invite the Greens.

“It’s very clear that we should be there if it’s going to be a balanced debate. What I am doing this morning is launching this poster behind me and it’s making a very important point – we do have behind us what is an old boys’ club in more than one way, and it’s time we moved on from that. The debates are an important part of that moving on. This is [today] a little bit of fun, while making a point.

This is the Green surge. We don’t know where it’s going but it’s certain that politics in Britain is not going to be the same again. And that’s a very good thing.

Ashley Cowburn writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2014. He tweets @ashcowburn



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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.