This week the Green Party’s leader Natalie Bennett discovered that knowing your numbers is an essential part of interview preparation, especially if it is a live television or radio interview.
She appeared on talk station LBC, where Breakfast presenter Nick Ferrari quite reasonably asked her how her party would fund the building of 500,000 new council houses:
NB: “Well, what we want to do is fund that particularly from removing the tax relief – um – on mortgage – ah – interest for private landlords…”
NF: “How much would that bring in?”
NB: “Private landlords at the moment are br… – er – er- you know – basically – running away with the situation of hugely rising rents, they’re collecting large amounts of housing benefit….”
NF: “But how much would that be worth – the mortgage relief for private landlords?”
NB: “Um – well – uh – that’s part of the… of the whole costing of all of this…”
NF: “Yes but how much will that bring in… the cost of 500,000 homes – let’s start with that – how much is that going to be?”
NB: “Right, well, that’s, that’s, erm … you’ve got… got a total cost … erm … that we’re … that… that will be spelt out in our manifesto.”
NF: “So you don’t know?”
NB: “No… well uh.”
NF: “No, you don’t. Right.”
The interview continued for a further two-and-a-half painful minutes of stutters, stumbles, awkward pauses and long silences. It was made all the more surprising because the interviewer resisted the temptation to be aggressive, and chose instead to be politely persistent – as you can hear for yourself here:
In fact almost all serious interviews need facts and numbers to back up assertions. Making sure the figures stack up and can be easily grasped is essential. Making sure they are accurate and will stand up to scrutiny if necessary is also important, and often someone will need to check that today’s numbers do not contradict or confuse numbers previously released. All of this is typically carefully built into the preparation for any media event, preparation the Green Party seemed to have missed out on.
Nick Ferrari did what journalists are paid to do: he spotted a loophole in Natalie Bennett’s ‘evidence’, and he went for it. Afterwards, he described it as “one of the worst interviews ever by a political leader”, while she admitted that the experience was “excruciating”.
No one is doubting that the leader of any political party has a daunting task to prepare to be asked about every aspect of every policy on which they are campaigning. But to fail to prepare is to prepare to fail – summed up by Ferrari’s final question to her, live on-air:
NF: “Do you think you might perhaps have genned-up on this a bit more, Natalie Bennett?”
The sum total of what I’m saying can be expressed as follows: having a message minus statistics means that your argument simply might not add up.