Natalie Bennett's gaffes give Labour hope. Photo: Getty
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Natalie Bennett, Labour's secret weapon?

Labour think that Natalie Bennett's poor TV performances will hand them victory. Funnily enough, that's what the Conservatives think about them.

Get Natalie Bennett on the telly! That’s not the cry coming from the Green party’s press office, but from senior Labour strategists.

They think that, away from the spotlight, the Greens’ unlikely leader is dangerous because “she’s whatever voters want her to be”, as one puts it.  “There are people voting Green because Ed is anti-immigration” one organiser explains to me, “But there are just as many because they think he’d ruin the economy”.

When people imagine Bennett, she is free of the so-called ’3 Es’ that organisers say stop people voting Labour – “expenses, the economy, and Ed Miliband” – she can’t claim expenses because she’s not an MP, she won’t ruin the economy because she won’t win, and she’s not Ed Miliband. “But when she’s interviewed, she is actually even worse than  Ed,” the same organiser says. “I think if Caroline [Lucas] was still leader, we would be in the absolute ****.”

Bennett, in contrast, lacks passion,  and added to her dubious highlights reel this morning with an uncertain performance on the Today programme, when she once again failed to explain how the citizens’ income would work and threw some easy headlines to the right-wing press after favouring a less than steely response to Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.

“Nicola [Sturgeon, leader of the SNP] is great and we wish she was on TV less,” an insider explains, “Leanne [Wood, the leader of Plaid Cymru] is awful and is on TV a fair amount. Natalie Bennett is a joke but people don’t see enough of her.”

As Siraj Datoo writes this morning over at BuzzFeed, Labour will not attack the Greens directly – in fact,  staffers on the party’s anti-Green unit are at pains that it be described as anything but an “anti-Green unit” – but they’re perfectly happy for their left-wing rivals to be roughed up by other people.

That she can’t explain the basic income – an idea that has support from across the political spectrum, ranging from Philip Collins, a former Blair aide, in the centre, all the way out to Friedrich Hayek on the right – without sounding as if she’s been invited into the studio by accident strengthens that view.

It gives Labour two reasons to despair that it now looks highly unlikely that the TV debates will happen at all; firstly because it deprives that party of the opportunity to dispel perceptions that Ed Miliband is cut from an inferior cloth to David Cameron, but, perhaps more importantly considering the threat that the Greens play to Labour’s chances in the marginals, it will mean that voters see less of Natalie Bennett.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics. 

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.