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.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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