"That will spelt out in our manifesto". Photo: Getty
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Natalie Bennett's incredibly awkward interview with LBC

“Right, what – what we’re looking at, in terms of the figures here um – what we need to do is actually [silence] er… we’re looking at a total spend of 2. 7 [pause] billion…”

Today is the big day of the Green party campaign launch. So, naturally, the Green leader Natalie Bennett took part in a series of live radio discussions this morning about her party’s manifesto. What could have possibly gone wrong?

listen to ‘Incredibly Awkward Interview With Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett’ on audioBoom

Here’s a snippet of the interview, transcribed before this mole could listen no longer:

(Nick Ferrari – NF/ Natalie Bennett – NB)

NF - The third key theme is that the Greens will ensure everyone has a secure, affordable place to live – how would that be brought about?

NB- Well – a couple of things we want to focus on here. In terms of council housing we want to build 500,000 new social rent homes…

NF - Good Lord. Where will you get the money from for that?

NB- Well what we want to do is fund that particularly by removing the tax relief on mortgage interest for private landlords. We have a situation where private landlords at the moment… basically running away with the situation of hugely rising rents, collecting large amounts of housing benefits

NF- But how much would that be worth – the mortgage relief for private landlords?

NB - Erm, well, it’s, that’s part of the whole costing of all of this…

NF - The cost of 500,000 homes – let’s start with that – how much is that going to be?

NB - Right, well that’s erm... you’ve got a total cost um that will be spelt out in our manifesto…

NF- So you don’t know?

NB - [Inaudible response]

NF - No you don’t, right.

NF - So we don’t know how much those homes are going to cost but the way it’s going to be funded is mortgage relief from private landlords – how much is that worth?

NB - Right, what – what we’re looking at, in terms of the figures here um – what we need to do is actually [silence] er… we’re looking at a total spend of 2. 7 [pause] billion…

NF - 500,000 – 2.7 billion – what are they made of, plywood?

NB - Um, basically, what we’re talking about is 500,000 new homes and each £1 spent on these brings back £2.40

No – but what is the total cost of 500,000 new homes?

[Painful silence]

Painful indeed.

I'm a mole, innit.

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Our trade unions are doing more for women than ever before

You don’t have to look far to find examples of unions not just “noisily fighting for”, but actually winning better pay, terms and conditions for women.

Reading Carole Easton’s article on women and unions was puzzling and disappointing in equal measure. Puzzling because it paints a picture of trade unions which bears little resemblance to the movement I know and love. Disappointing because it presents a false image of trade unions to women readers just at a time when women need strong trade unions more than ever.

While it is right to say that too little progress has been made in closing the gender pay gap or tackling the scourge of zero hour contracts, it is wrong to suggest that trade unions have been twiddling their thumbs.

Like our friends at the Young Women’s Trust, equality is at the heart of what unions do. This work isn’t measured in the number of high-profile women we have at the forefront of our movement – although we’re not doing too badly there, as anyone will attest who has seen Frances O’Grady, the first female general secretary of the TUC, speaking out for ordinary women workers.  

Trade unions contribute to equality for our 3 million women members every day. For us, that’s about the thousands of workplace reps supporting individual women facing discrimination or harassment. It’s about health and safety reps negotiating for protective clothing and better workplace policies on the menopause, terminal illness and many more issues. Our work is unions taking employment tribunal cases on behalf of women who could never afford the tribunal fees without us. And always, at the heart of everything, our work is about the collective power of workers joining together to bargain for fair pay and decent work.

You don’t have to look far to find examples of unions not just “noisily fighting for”, but actually winning better pay, terms and conditions for women. Several unions have successfully organised cleaners, supported them to take strike action for better pay, and won. The RMT is just one example of many. Unite is busy organising London’s low-paid and often exploited hotel workers. Unison organises teaching assistants, fights for better pay and conditions, and even runs a Skills for Schools project to help TAs develop in their careers. Unison and the National Union of Teachers – both unions with over 75% female membership – organise childcare workers and fight not just for better pay but also for training and development opportunities. Over in the retail sector, Usdaw and GMB are fighting the good fight for their women members in supermarkets and shops, not just on pay but on pensions, health and safety, carers’ leave and protection from violence at work.

Women have much to gain from trade union membership. Male union members are paid 7.8 per cent more than men who aren’t in a union – but women union members are paid 30 per cent more than non-members. A recent EHRC report on pregnancy discrimination found that employers who recognised unions were less likely to discriminate against their pregnant employees.

Yes, it’s true that too few young women are union members. This summer, the TUC and our member unions will launch a new organising and campaigning effort to spread the benefits of union membership and attract a new generation of women (and men).

But starting new women-only unions is no form of progress. That’s where we started out over 100 years ago. Now women workers are at the heart of all our unions, across all sectors. Women’s concerns at work are trade union concerns. And every day we make practical progress towards women’s equality at work through patient representation and negotiation and active campaigning to challenge bad bosses. Young Women’s Trust should work with us to get more women the benefit of union membership.  

Scarlet Harris is women's equality policy officer at the TUC