Birmingham Diary: 'Transparent' Tories silent over falling membership

"We're bringing transparency to government," David Cameron said yesterday. Maybe. But the Conservatives are certainly not being transparent about the health of their own party. There has been no confirmation or denial of the interesting claim by the editor of the ConservativeHome website, Tim Montgomerie, that party membership has declined by 80,000 under David Cameron's leadership.

Mr Montgomerie told a fringe meeting that he had heard from two separate sources that membership had fallen from 257,000 to 177,000 since 2005.

By contrast, Tony Blair's election as Labour leader in 1994 brought in a flood of recruits, and membership shot up above 400,000, only to more than halve during the government years. The numbers have been picking up since May, with the result that Labour now appears to have a bigger paid-up membership than the Tories.

With this revelation buzzing around the conference, you would think that the Tory party chairman, Sayeed Warsi, would have thought of something appropriate to say before being interviewed live by Andrew Neil on the Daily Politics programme. But no, "kamikaze Warsi" walked in unprepared.

On being asked, for the third time, whether or not membership had fallen, the Baroness replied: "It depends. How are you defining membership?" Neil had, in fact, already told her several times.

The Baroness either did not know or was not telling.

There were three in the bed...

Even at a Conservative conference you are unlikely to – in fact you will never – see an uglier sight than this. The Tory bloggers Harry Cole (aka Tory Bear), Paul Staines (aka Guido Fawkes) and Toby Young are either too hard up or too tight to book accommodation in any of Birmingham's hotels – instead they were shacked up in a canal boat. And to think of the grief that Staines caused William Hague over the hotel room he shared with his adviser, Christopher Myers...

Quote of the day

'Jeremy, are you asking me for a date?'

Home Secretary Theresa May, finding a neat way to diffuse Jeremy Paxman's persistence in asking her when she first knew about her party's decision to cut child benefits.

PM's baby talk

David Cameron uses children for political advantage. On Tuesday, in trouble over child benefits, baby Florence was on display. Yesterday, children popped up in his speech three times. On election night, Mr Cameron said he wished he was "at home with Sam and the little ones".

Then he drew a laugh at the expense of his six-year-old daughter Nancy, who thought the Deputy Prime Minister was called "Nick Leg". Minutes later, another six-year-old was held up for gentle mockery – a child who (allegedly) sent the Prime Minister tooth money.

He has not yet sunk to the level of the former agriculture minister John Gummer, who fed a burger to his four-year-old daughter during a health scare about mad cow disease.

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