UKIP's membership surges towards 30,000

After gaining 2,000 members this month, UKIP now has 27,517 and expects to pass the 30,000 mark once the backlog is cleared.

While David Cameron reassures his party's dwindling membership that he would never employ anyone who "sneered" at them, UKIP is attracting thousands of new recruits. A spokesman told me today that the party now has 27,517 members after gaining 2,000 this month and 6,000 since March. Once the backlog is cleared, it expects to have more than 30,000. 

UKIP's next target will be to exceed the membership of the Lib Dems, who were reported to have just 42,501 members at the end of 2012, a fall of 35 per cent since 2010 since 2010 and the lowest annual figure in the party's 23-year history. 

Conservative membership figures are notoriously hard to access (the party doesn't hold a figure centrally) but recent estimates suggest that membership has fallen to a record low of 130,000-150,000 (down from a peak of 2.8 million in 1953). Membership briefly rose after Cameron became leader in 2005 (from 258,000 to 290,000) but has fallen ever since. 

Labour has now supplanted the Tories as the largest party by membership, with 193,000 confirmed members at the end of 2011, up from a record low of 156,000 in 2009, but that is still down from 405,000 in 1997 and from an all-time peak of 1.015m in 1952. 

UKIP has gained 2,000 members this month and 6,000 since March. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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