The Greens are technically now a larger party than Ukip is. Photo: Getty
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The Green Party's UK-wide membership has overtaken Ukip's

2,000-strong overnight surge.

What's a small party gotta do these days to get on the telly?

The poor Greens – denied participation in the sorry saga that the leaders' TV debates have become by Ofcom ruling they don't have "major party status"  have seen a huge surge in membership, which still doesn't seem to be helping their case.

Yesterday, George reported that the Green Party was on track to overtaking Ukip's number of party members. After a 2,000-strong overnight surge, it looks like the Greens have done just that. Their UK-wide membership is now at 43,829, compared with Ukip's 41,966.

The Green Party has an advantage over Ukip, in terms of membership figures, because it is really made up of three parties (the Green Party of England and Wales, the Scottish Green Party, and the Green Party in Northern Ireland). If you add the number of members of each of these wings of the party together, then the Greens have a greater number of members than Ukip. Here's how it breaks down:

The Green Party of England and Wales: 35,481 members

The Scottish Green Party: 8,026 members

The Green Party in Northern Ireland: 322 members

So far, the Greens have had a great deal of support, and justifiably so, for their bid to be included in the television debates. This support even extends to the sincere benevolence and indignant sense of justice of the Prime Minister. However, it hasn't yet been enough to sway the broadcasters' decision not to invite the Green leader Natalie Bennett to take part. Perhaps now the Greens' argument that they are technically a larger party than Ukip will boost their chances of eventually being included in at least one televised debate.

And here is Bennett's letter sent yesterday to the Labour, Lib Dem and Ukip leaders, calling on them to back her inclusion in the debates:

Dear Ed, Nick and Nigel,

The proposals put forward by the broadcasters for the 2015 election debates have yet to win the acceptance of all the party leaders, and this puts the whole process at risk. In particular, Prime Minister David Cameron has now stated categorically and repeatedly that he will not participate if the Green Party is excluded.

Staging the debates without the Prime Minister might score a point but would not serve the public, who rightly expect the political parties and the broadcasters to find a format that is acceptable to all concerned. As a substantial majority of the British public would like to see the Green Party included in the debates, an alternative way forward would be for you to agree to this. This is the way forward which serves both democracy and the electorate best.

In our discussion with ITV, they made it clear that they have not made a final decision on which parties to invite and would be prepared to change their current position in the light of fresh developments. If you indicated that you were open to the inclusion of the Greens, then I feel sure that ITV would respond. Having set out his objection to the current format, it would be hard for the Prime Minister to raise any new concerns, and this therefore gives the best chance of ensuring that the proposed Leaders' Debates can go ahead.

I hope you will agree that the presence of the Greens in one of the three debates will also enrich the process by drawing on a wider range of views about the future of our country, and also appeal to a wider audience – particularly amongst young people.

Yours sincerely,

Natalie Bennett

Leader, Green Party of England and Wales

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

David Young
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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide