How the Lib Dems tried to hide the fall in their membership

After membership rose in 2013, the party claims that it has "increased its membership while in power", ignoring the 34% decline since 2010.

The Lib Dems are busy trumpeting the news that their membership has risen in the last year describing themselves as "the first governing party in recent history to have increased its membership while in power". But probe a little and that claim turns out to be as misleading as one of their by-election graphs.

Party membership increased by more than 2,000 in the last quarter of the year, resulting in a net increase of 200 for 2013. The Independent describes this as "an achievement not matched by their Conservative coalition partners who have seen steep falls in paid membership since 2010." But what neither the paper nor the party mentions is that the 200 increase only comes after the Lib Dems suffered the biggest decline of all. As I've previously reported, membership fell from 65,038 in 2010 to 42,501 in 2012, a fall of 35% and the lowest annual figure in the party's 23-year history. An increase of 200 means that the rate of decline is now merely 34%.

One can hardly blame the Lib Dems for leaping on anything resembling good news, but the facts don't tell the story they want.

Update: In a response to me on Twitter, the Lib Dem press office says, "To be clear, we're up 7-800 in total in 2013, inc c2000 in Q4. And yes, 1st governing party to increase members over a year."

That's certainly clearer than the original tweet, which was ambiguous at best. Had I not known the figures, I (and many others) would have assumed membership had increased since 2010.

Nick Clegg speaks at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow earlier this year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Why is Marine Le Pen getting more popular?

The latest French polls have people panicked. Here's what's going on. 

In my morning memo today, I wrote that Emmanuel Macron, who is campaigning in London today – the French émigré population makes it an electoral prize in of itself – was in a good position, but was vulnerable, as many of his voters were “on holiday” from the centre-left Socialist Party and the centre-right Republican Party, and he is a relatively new politician, meaning that his potential for dangerous gaffes should not be ruled out.

Now two polls show him slipping. Elabe puts him third, as does Opinionway. More worryingly, Marine Le Pen, the fascist Presidential candidate, is extending her first round lead with Elabe, by two points. Elabe has Le Pen top of the heap with 28 per cent, Republican candidate François Fillon second with 21 per cent, and Macron third with 18.5 per cent. Opinionway has Le Pen down one point to 26 per cent, and Macron and Fillon tied on 21 per cent.
(Under the rules of France’s electoral system, unless one candidate reaches more than half of the vote in the first round, the top two go through to a run-off. All the polls show that Marine Le Pen will top the first round, and have since 2013, before losing heavily in the second. That’s also been the pattern, for the most part, in regional and parliamentary elections.)

What’s going on? Two forces are at play. The first is the specific slippage in Macron’s numbers. Macron ended up in a row last week after becoming the first presidential candidate to describe France’s colonisation of Algeria as a “crime against humanity”, which has hurt him, resulting in a migration of voters back to the main centre-right candidate, François Fillon, which is why he is back in third place, behind Le Pen and Fillon.

Le Pen has been boosted by a bout of rioting following the brutal arrest of a 22-year-old black man who was sodomised with a police baton.

As I’ve written before, Le Pen’s best hope is that she faces a second round against the scandal-ridden Fillon, who is under fire for employing his wife and children in his parliamentary office, despite the fact there is no evidence of them doing any work at all. She would likely still lose – but an eruption of disorder on the streets or a terrorist attack could help her edge it, just about. (That’s also true if she faced Macron, so far the only other candidate who has come close to making it into the second round in the polling.)

For those hoping that Macron can make it in and prevent the French presidency swinging to the right, there is some good news: tomorrow is Wednesday. Why does that matter? Because Le Canard Enchaîné, the French equivalent of Private Eye which has been leading the investigation into Fillon is out. We’ve known throughout the election that what is good for Fillon is bad for Macron, and vice versa. Macron’s Algeria gaffe has helped Fillon – now Macron must hope that Fillon’s scandal-ridden past has more gifts to give him. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.