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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Boris Johnson isn't risking his political life over Heathrow

The anti-Heathrow campaigner was never a committed environmentalist. 

A government announcement on expanding London’s airports is expected today, and while opposition forces have been rallying against the expected outcome - a third runway at Heathrow - the decision could also be a divisive one for the ruling Conservative party. A long consultation period will allow these divisions to fester. 

Reports suggest that up to 60 Conservative MPs are against expansion at the Heathrow site. The Prime Minister’s own constituents are threatening legal action, and the former London mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, has promised to step down as MP for Richmond rather than let the airport develop.

But what of Boris Johnson? The politician long synonymous with Heathrow opposition - including a threat to lie down “in front of those bulldozers” - is expected to call the decision a mistake. But for a man unafraid to dangle from a zipwire, he has become unusually reticent on the subject.

The reticence has partly been imposed upon him. In a letter to her cabinet ministers, Theresa May has granted them freedom from the usual rules of collective responsibility (under which cabinet ministers are required to support government positions). But she has also requested that they refrain from speaking out in the Commons, from “actively” campaigning against her position, and from calling “into question the decision making process itself”.  

Johnson is not about to start cheering for Heathrow. But unlike Goldsmith, he is no committed environmentalist - and he's certainly a committed politician.  

Boris’s objections to the expansion at Heathrow have all too often only extended as far as the lives of his London constituents. These local impacts are not to be belittled – in his role of mayor of London, he rightly pointed to the extreme health risks of increased noise and air pollution. And his charisma and profile have also boosted community campaigns around these issues. 

But when it comes to reducing emissions, Johnson is complacent. He may have come a long way since a 2013 Telegraph article in which he questioned whether global warming was real. Yet his plan to build an alternative “hub” airport in the Thames Estuary would have left the question of cutting UK aviation emissions worryingly un-resolved. This lack of curiosity is alarming considering his current job as foreign secretary. 

And there are reasons to be concerned. According to Cait Hewitt at the Aviation Environment Federation, the UK fails to meet its targets for CO2 reduction. And the recent UN deal on aviation emission mitigation doesn’t even meet the commitments of the UK’s own Climate Change Act, let alone the more stringent demands of the Paris Agreement. “Deciding that we’re going to do something that we know is going to make a problem worse, before we’ve got an answer, is the wrong move”, said Hewitt.

There is a local environmental argument too. Donnachadh McCarthy, a spokesperson from the activist group “Rising Up”, says the pollution could affect Londoners' health: "With 70 per cent of flights taken just by 15 per cent of the UK's population... this is just not acceptable in a civilised democracy.”

The way Johnson tells it, his reason for staying in government is a pragmatic one. “I think I'd be better off staying in parliament to fight the case, frankly," he told LBC Radio in 2015. And he's right that, whatever the government’s position, the new “national policy statement” to authorise the project will likely face a year-long public consultation before a parliamentary vote in late 2017 or early 2018. Even then the application will still face a lengthy planning policy stage and possible judicial review. 

But if the foreign secretary does fight this quietly, in the back rooms of power, it is not just a loss to his constituents. It means the wider inconsistencies of his position can be brushed aside - rather than exposed and explored, and safely brought down to ground. 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.