This morning, the Green Party unveiled its new leader Natalie Bennett. Her appointment is an attempt to broaden the talent pool and show the Greens are more than a one woman act. But the introduction of an unknown is a gamble.
After a summer dominated by gold, one could be forgiven for having bypassed what is happening in the Green corner.
Following the decision of the sole Green MP, Caroline Lucas, to step down as head of her party, Australian born journalist, Natalie Bennett, has this morning been announced as its new leader.
Ms Bennett arrives just in time for the end of a wet, but successful, UK summer and the start of the Parliamentary term.
Buoyed by the success of Team and Para GB, MPs from all sides of the house have a refreshed feel about themselves and will no doubt feel inspired to greatness of their own. Talk of an expected reshuffle dominates the agenda while a fight over further reforms to the planning system looks to have cemented its place on the undercard at the very least.
Still relatively new to a leadership structure, Bennett will have to work hard on the momentum which has been generated during Lucas’s reign.
Membership has doubled. The first Westminster seat was won in Brighton Pavilion. The party has its first council in Brighton, and Jenny Jones beat Lib Dem Brian Paddick into third place in the London Mayoral elections.
As the ‘Leadership edition’ of Portland’s Quarterly explains, the ability and personality of the leader is perhaps even more important on the fringes. Smaller parties get limited media and political exposure and have to work harder to get noticed.
Caroline Lucas made a gamble in her assumption that a new leader was needed in order to “raise the profiles of others aspiring to election.” The leader would therefore arrive without a strong public profile.
This is where Ms Bennett, without the platform afforded by Westminster, will face her greatest challenge. The new leader will need to ensure maximum exposure when opportunities present themselves.
After a moderate level of interest generated by her appointment today, Ms Bennett will look to generate some further coverage at this weekend’s party conference in Bristol. She will be looking for momentum. But she will have to wait until 2014 for the opportunity to win seats in the elections for the European Parliament.
The death of electoral reform has limited small parties’ chances of adding further representation at Westminster. But devolution, changing media consumption and the lack of a decisive dominant party all mean that there are opportunities to be grabbed.
This makes the choice of a relative unknown all the more risky. As the new term gets underway, Natalie Bennett will have to hope she is one Australian who comes out of the Olympic year looking like a winner.
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