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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Jeremy Corbyn sat down on train he claimed was full, Virgin says

The train company has pushed back against a viral video starring the Labour leader, in which he sat on the floor.

Seats were available on the train where Jeremy Corbyn was filmed sitting on the floor, Virgin Trains has said.

On 16 August, a freelance film-maker who has been following the Labour leader released a video which showed Corbyn talking about the problems of overcrowded trains.

“This is a problem that many passengers face every day, commuters and long-distance travellers. Today this train is completely ram-packed,” he said. Is it fair that I should upgrade my ticket whilst others who might not be able to afford such a luxury should have to sit on the floor? It’s their money I would be spending after all.”

Commentators quickly pointed out that he would not have been able to claim for a first-class upgrade, as expenses rules only permit standard-class travel. Also, campaign expenses cannot be claimed back from the taxpayer. 

Today, Virgin Trains released footage of the Labour leader walking past empty unreserved seats to film his video, which took half an hour, before walking back to take another unreserved seat.

"CCTV footage taken from the train on August 11 shows Mr Corbyn and his team walked past empty, unreserved seats in coach H before walking through the rest of the train to the far end, where his team sat on the floor and started filming.

"The same footage then shows Mr Corbyn returning to coach H and taking a seat there, with the help of the onboard crew, around 45 minutes into the journey and over two hours before the train reached Newcastle.

"Mr Corbyn’s team carried out their filming around 30 minutes into the journey. There were also additional empty seats on the train (the 11am departure from King’s Cross) which appear from CCTV to have been reserved but not taken, so they were also available for other passengers to sit on."

A Virgin spokesperson commented: “We have to take issue with the idea that Mr Corbyn wasn’t able to be seated on the service, as this clearly wasn’t the case.

A spokesman for the Corbyn campaign told BuzzFeed News that the footage was a “lie”, and that Corbyn had given up his seat for a woman to take his place, and that “other people” had also sat in the aisles.

Owen Smith, Corbyn's leadership rival, tried a joke:

But a passenger on the train supported Corbyn's version of events.

Both Virgin Trains and the Corbyn campaign have been contacted for further comment.

UPDATE 17:07

A spokesperson for the Jeremy for Labour campaign commented:

“When Jeremy boarded the train he was unable to find unreserved seats, so he sat with other passengers in the corridor who were also unable to find a seat. 

"Later in the journey, seats became available after a family were upgraded to first class, and Jeremy and the team he was travelling with were offered the seats by a very helpful member of staff.

"Passengers across Britain will have been in similar situations on overcrowded, expensive trains. That is why our policy to bring the trains back into public ownership, as part of a plan to rebuild and transform Britain, is so popular with passengers and rail workers.”

A few testimonies from passengers who had their photos taken with Corbyn on the floor can be found here