Green Party leader Natalie Bennett.
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Green Party membership on course to overtake Ukip's

The party's membership has doubled since September to 40,879, just 635 behind Farage's party. 

As the Greens continue to press their case for inclusion in the TV debates (with the self-interested aid of David Cameron), it's worth noting a potential landmark for the party: their membership could soon exceed that of Ukip. The latest figures, compiled by Adam Ramsay of OurKingdom, put the Greens' total membership at 40,879, just 635 behind Ukip (whom the broadcasters have, of course, invited to the debates). He calculates that "at the current rate of growth, the Greens will overtake Ukip within a week, and be ahead of the Lib Dems before polling day ". The party's membership has more than doubled since September when it stood at 20,000.

By contrast, Ukip's growth rate has slowed, with the party gaining just 2,514 members since June. The most recent figure for the Lib Dems puts membership at 44,576, a year-on-year rise but still well down on its 2010 level of 65,038. The greatest success story is the SNP, which now boasts 92,000 members (making it the third-largest party), an increase of 66,358 since the independence referendum. The party will now likely pass the 100,000 mark before the general election. And while the SNP will likely be excluded from any debates on the grounds that it is not a UK-wide party, it's worth noting that it is likely to hold more seats than Ukip after the election (it currently has six and hopes to increase that to at least 20) and possibly even more than the Lib Dems. 

Here are the membership figures in full:

Labour: 190,000 

Conservatives: 149,800 (224,000 including wider party). 

SNP: 92,000

Lib Dems: 44,576

Ukip: 41,514

Greens: 40,879

Plaid Cymru: 8,000

National Health Action Party: 4,691

English Democrats: 2,500

Left Unity: 2,000

Britain First: 800

BNP: 500

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.