Is Lib Dem membership also increasing?

Labour boasts of 30,000 new recruits but there are signs Lib Dem membership is also on the up.

Labour has made much since the election of an apparent surge in party membership, with up to a third of the 30,000 new recruits former Lib Dems angered by the formation of coalition.

But could Lib Dem membership also be on the up? Here's a letter from Gareth Epps, a party councillor and former PPC, in today's Guardian:

Your report (7 July) of a "surge" in Labour membership makes claims about recruits from the Liberal Democrats. Labour's claims are Walter Mittyish. My local Lib Dem party has had its most sustained membership boost since the 1988 merger. Since the election, we have had ten members joining for each departure. As Labour's crocodile tears continue over cuts they know they would have had to make, Lib Dems on the ground are doing rather well.

Cllr Gareth Epps
Reading, Berkshire

It's always wise to treat claims about party membership with a heavy dose of scepticism (and incidentally, Epps is wrong to imply that there is anything contradictory about Labour winning recruits from the Lib Dems and Lib Dem membership increasing at the same time).

Yet it seems perfectly plausible, not least because of the party's increased exposure, that Lib Dem membership is increasing. At Liberal Democrat Voice, Stephen Tall says that anecdotal evidence suggests this pattern has been replicated across the country.

Either way, if you believe that political parties are essential to democracy (as I do), then increased party membership can only be a good thing.

No word yet from the Tories, who, as I learned from several futile phone calls to CCHQ, are pathologically secretive about party membership.

Hat-tip: Liberal Democrat Voice.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.