The Greens are technically now a larger party than Ukip is. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

How the row over Jackie Walker triggered a full-blown war in Momentum

Jon Lansman, the organisation's founder, is coming under attack. 

The battle for control within Momentum, which has been brewing for some time, has begun in earnest.

In a sign of the growing unrest within the organisation – established as the continuation of Jeremy Corbyn’s first successful leadership bid, and instrumental in delivering in his re-election -  a critical pamphlet by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL), a Trotskyite grouping, has made its way into the pages of the Times, with the “unelected” chiefs of Momentum slated for turning the organisation into a “bland blur”.

The issue of contention: between those who see Momentum as an organisation to engage new members of the Labour party, who have been motivated by Jeremy Corbyn but are not yet Corbynites.

One trade unionist from that tendency described what they see the problem as like this: “you have people who have joined to vote for Jeremy, they’re going to meetings, but they’re voting for the Progress candidates in selections, they’re voting for Eddie Izzard [who stood as an independent but Corbynsceptic candidate] in the NEC”.  

On the other are those who see a fightback by Labour’s right and centre as inevitable, and who are trying to actively create a party within a party for what they see as an inevitable purge. One activist of that opinion wryly described Momentum as “Noah’s Ark”.

For both sides, Momentum, now financially stable thanks to its membership, which now stands at over 20,000, is a great prize. And in the firing line for those who want to turn Momentum into a parallel line is Jon Lansman, the organisation’s founder.

Lansman, who came into politics as an aide to Tony Benn, is a figure of suspicion on parts of the broad left due to his decades-long commitment to the Labour party. His major opposition within Momentum and on its ruling executive comes from the AWL.

The removal of Jackie Walker as a vice-chair of Momentum after she said that Holocaust Memorial Day belittled victims of other genocides has boosted the AWL, although the AWL's Jill Mountford, who sits on Momentum's ruling executive, voted to remove Walker as vice-chair. (Walker remains on the NEC, as she has been elected by members). But despite that, the AWL, who have been critical of the process whereby Walker lost her post, have felt the benefit across the country.

Why? Because that battle has triggered a series of serious splits, not only in Momentum’s executive but its grassroots. A raft of local groups have thrown out the local leadership, mostly veterans of Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership, for what the friend of one defeated representative described as “people who believe the Canary [a pro-Corbyn politics website that is regularly accused of indulging and promoting conspiracy theories]”.

In a further series of reverses for the Lansmanite caucus, the North West, a Momentum stronghold since the organisation was founded just under a year ago, is slipping away from old allies of Lansman and towards the “new” left. As one insider put it, the transition is from longstanding members towards people who had been kicked out in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Neil Kinnock. The constituency party of Wallasey in particular is giving senior figures in Momentum headaches just as it is their opponents on the right of the party, with one lamenting that they have “lost control” of the group.

It now means that planned changes to Momentum’s structure, which the leadership had hoped to be rubberstamped by members, now face a fraught path to passage.

Adding to the organisation’s difficulties is the expected capture of James Schneider by the leader’s office. Schneider, who appears widely on television and radio as the public face of Momentum and is well-liked by journalists, has an offer on the table to join Jeremy Corbyn’s team at Westminster as a junior to Seumas Milne.

The move, while a coup for Corbyn, is one that Momentum – and some of Corbyn’s allies in the trade union movement – are keen to resist. Taking a job in the leader’s office would reduce still further the numbers of TV-friendly loyalists who can go on the airwaves and defend the leadership. There is frustration among the leader’s office that as well as Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, who are both considered to be both polished media performers and loyalists, TV bookers turn to Ken Livingstone, who is retired and unreliable, and Paul Mason, about whom opinions are divided within Momentum. Some regard Mason as a box office performer who needs a bigger role, others as a liability.

But all are agreed that Schneider’s expected departure will weaken the media presence of Corbyn loyalists and also damage Momentum. Schneider has spent much of his time not wrangling journalists but mediating in local branches and is regarded as instrumental in the places “where Momentum is working well” in the words of one trade unionist. (Cornwall is regarded as a particular example of what the organisation should be aiming towards)

It comes at a time when Momentum’s leadership is keen to focus both on its external campaigns but the struggle for control in the Labour party. Although Corbyn has never been stronger within the party, no Corbynite candidate has yet prevailed in a by-election, with the lack of available candidates at a council level regarded as part of the problem. Councilors face mandatory reselection as a matter of course, and the hope is that a bumper crop of pro-Corbyn local politicians will go on to form the bulk of the talent pool for vacant seats in future by-elections and in marginal seats at the general election.

But at present, a draining internal battle is sapping Momentum of much of its vitality. But Lansman retains two trump cards. The first is that as well as being the founder of the organisation, he is its de facto owner: the data from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaigns, without which much of the organisation could not properly run, is owned by a limited company of which he is sole director. But “rolling it up and starting again” is very much the nuclear option, that would further delay the left’s hopes of consolidating its power base in the party.

The second trump card, however, is the tribalism of many of the key players at a local level, who will resist infiltration by groups to Labour’s left just as fiercely as many on the right. As one veteran of both Corbyn’s campaigns reflected: “If those who have spent 20 years attacking our party think they have waiting allies in the left of Labour, they are woefully mistaken”. 

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