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.

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Private renter poverty has doubled in a decade - so where's Labour?

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation named housing market failures as driving poverty. 

Labour’s economic policy task is enormous. It must find a coherent argument that addresses Brexit, the “left behinds”, and a nervous business community. But there is one policy area that should be an open goal – private renting. 

The number of private renters in poverty has doubled over the last decade, according to a new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Those most likely to fall into poverty are working families – there were 2.8m of these people in 2014-15, compared to 1m a decade earlier.

“Failures in the housing market are a significant driver of poverty,” the report noted, after finding more than 70 per cent of private renters in poverty pay at least a third of their income in rent.

This is particularly the case if you consider the knock-on effect - housing benefit. This benefit was frozen by George Osborne, meaning that by 2015 Shelter calculated rates had fallen behind actual rents in nearly 70 per cent of England. For families out of work, of course, housing benefit is also included in the benefit cap. 

Private renter poverty is easily characterised as an inner-city problem – the kind cherished by the “metropolitan elite”. But in fact, across Great Britain as a whole, roughly one in ten children under 19 lives in a family that is privately renting and claiming housing benefit. The highest percentage was in Blackpool, followed by the Essex coastal area of Tendring, followed by London boroughs. Private renting is a trend that affects both the Remain strongholds and the Leave coastal towns.

So far, Labour has been relatively quiet on private renting. During the summer’s leadership campaign, Jeremy Corbyn promised to introduce “rent controls, secure tenancies and a charter of private tenants’ rights” (a promise he repeated as part of a longer speech in November). But this is hardly a blockbuster campaign. 

And the challenges are great. A convincing renting policy must explain how Labour would deal with a reactionary letting market industry (including pensioner voters), whether renting should be a step to buying, or an end in itself, and how new council and social housing would be allocated.

Labour could also, though, tie a rent campaign into other trends - the growing army of self-employed that find it hard to prove their wages to a landlord or mortgage lender, the working families on frozen benefits, and the employers that find their employees priced out of the local area. And pissed-off tenants are not hard to find. 

If Labour doesn’t move soon on an issue that should be its natural home, the government may steal the keys. In the Autumn Statement, Philip Hammond helped himself to Ed Miliband’s 2015 promise to ban letting agent fees. The government has also set up a working group with members of the private renting industry. (Yes, the government may also be selling off social housing under Right to Buy, but if you never had the option of social housing anyway, this may pass you by.)

Fixing the housing market takes imagination and a steeliness to take on entrenched interests. But if Labour does come up with a solution, it could touch the lives of voters, both Leave and Remain. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.