“Tory membership in crisis” – Independent

Today’s Independent reports:

Conservative Party logoThree-quarters of local Conservative associations are losing activists as the party suffers a recruitment crisis which has seen membership halve since David Cameron became leader.

The latest estimates put Conservative membership at between 130,000 and 170,000, compared with almost 300,000 shortly after Mr Cameron succeeded Michael Howard…

Labour’s membership now stands at 187,000, a rise of 31,000 since Ed Miliband succeeded Gordon Brown, but still half the level of Tony Blair’s early days as leader. Liberal Democrat membership is around 60,000, a fall of about 5,000 since the last general election, but about the same level as three years ago.

Those membership totals do not tell the full story of what is happening to political parties, as I pointed out in Myths about party membership in 2008.

* Mark Pack has written 101 Ways To Win An Election and produces a monthly newsletter about the Liberal Democrats.

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27 Comments

  • Simon Titley 30th Jul '12 - 1:11pm

    These figures are no reason for Liberal Democrats to gloat. The Independent’s estimate of 60,000 Liberal Democrat members is almost certainly an overestimate.

    Before the 2010 general election. membership fell just below 60,000, but ‘Cleggmania’ gave membership a brief boost and, by the time of the party’s presidential election in the autumn of 2010, there were 65,861 members (judging by the number of ballot papers issued). By the end of 2011, several English regions were reporting losses in the region of 20%, which would suggest that membership is no more than 52-53,000 now.

    Membership of all political parties is in long-term decline, but it seems that being in government accelerates that trend. For an in-depth study of why fewer people are willing to join political parties, see the report of the Power Inquiry (2006):

    Full report: http://www.jrrt.org.uk/publications/power-people-independent-inquiry-britains-democracy-full-report

    Executive summary: http://www.jrrt.org.uk/publications/power-people-independent-inquiry-britains-democracy-executive-summary

  • local gvt worker 30th Jul '12 - 3:10pm

    @simon

    interesting. have to say though, even if we have gone down to 52/53k i am not too disheartened. we have obviously lost the election bounce, but that was pretty predictable anyway (although not neccessary to lose all of them if local parties are better placed to respond to new members and lapses). to have only gone down a few thousand from pre-ge despite all the negativity surrounding the party in the media and in parts of our current/ former support shows a resilience in the grassroots that seems pretty reassuring

  • The Tories can afford to lose 1/2 of their remaining members, so long as they lose the right half – that is to say those who donate the least. Unless a lot of the big donors move to UKIP, the Tories can keep losing members with little discernible impact.

  • Simon Titley 30th Jul '12 - 4:23pm

    @local gvt worker – The decline in Liberal Democrat membership cannot be accounted for entirely by the loss of the election bounce. Judging from the available figures, the election added roughly 6-7,000 new members. At least 14,000 members have left since then, twice as many as joined during the election campaign. There is also anecdotal evidence of another problem – members remaining in the party but ceasing to be as active.

  • local gvt worker 30th Jul '12 - 6:00pm

    @simon

    sure, i’m not saying that a loss of members is a good thing – i know several good people who have left- just that the general view in the media is that the party is in meltdown whereas i don’t believe the figure you have quoted to show that. losing 10% of the membership compared to pre-election (where if you remember we were being derided as useless and pointless) is not a total disaster, considering how bad polls and local election results are. the figures suggest that there is still a base of people willing to be members not too far off where we were in the 2007-9 period.

    i also think that some of that election bounce membership loss is down to either inactive local parties, or local parties not being very good at retaining new members. that is a different problem that does need addressing. i’ve seen it down well, badly, and not at all. as a party we need to be much better at engaging and retaining people who are interested enough to sign up.

    i do agree though that there will be some who have withdrawn somewhat. however if they are not actually leaving some of these people can be re-engaged – even if it’s just to help a particular candidate locally or a particular campaign.

  • Since the figures given contradict ones in the same paper a few weeks back I will wait till thursday when we get the official figures ( for last Xmas).
    Long-term the decline is a threat to our democracy, at some point thes falls will become unsustainable. My guess is that labour are most at risk because they also have problems with extremist entryism & massive debts.

  • It’s not so much the loss of members as the loss of active participants in the political process in the political process which should be cause for concern for democrats.

    For liberals we should be aware of the consequences on the wider discourse, as this sparks continuing pluralisation, polarisation, populism, apathy and a more general state of volatility between these.

    While for remaining activists in all parties it must also indicate a shift of campaigning strategy to compensate for the equalisation of human numbers.

  • paul barker

    Your guess is really not worth that much, what with your track recored of election prediction!

    You are right that th e weakness of political parties within our current system is a threat to democracy and risks them being taken over by more militant members. Labour has been the one party that took on militants and threw them out – shame that the Tories do not show the same level of bravery when it comes to their right-wing extreme.

    Take over of the a party is not always done at the extremes either. There are a number of ex-voters and members on here that would say the LD have also been taken over by a dogmatic cabal on the right. You will disagree I am sure but we will see how well the party is perceived at election time. Not so long ago you were looking at a 25-30% voting share as all the pollsters are wrong. Do you still think that?

  • Membership of the Conservative Part has been in steady decline for years because their membership has an older demographic.

  • paul barker 1st Aug '12 - 9:55am

    Bassasc
    lot of questions there
    on labour membership “my guess” was shorthand for estimates made by vs labour sources, we can test their predictions tomorrow when the figures for last Xmas come out. if the sources are right labour should be on around 175,000
    on labour history, labour “took on” Militant not entryists in general, I know because I was one at the time & we made elaborate precautions to deal with a crackdown that never arrived. Militant themselves just moved over to the unions where they have even more power & control the pursestrings.
    on the polls I think ICM are broadly right, I just dont think what they are describing means very much.

    for 2015, I think we could get anything between 15 & 35%, its just too soon to say.

  • Glenn – we have an ageing population -the older demographic is booming. Increasing numbers of old people and the Tories traditionally attracting older members does not in combination explain a shrinking Tory membership.

  • Keith Browning 1st Aug '12 - 9:54pm

    People do not become Tories as they get old – they were Tories when they were young – Superman, Ted and Maggie et all. Most people stick with what they were brought up with in their formative years. Tory members are shrinking because they are dying or not active anymore. You cant change their politics anyway so dont bother.

    Target the possible not the impossible. Politically interested under 60s seems to be a good place to start – many would have been ‘green’ and ‘liberal’ in their youth and probably voted that way at least once before.

  • paul barker 2nd Aug '12 - 12:55pm

    Today the party accounts are published , which usually include memberships at the end of the previous year. Unfortunately the electoral commission have improved their site & I cant work out how to access the accounts anymore. Amore tech-literate person would probably find them easily enough so if anyone wants the figures go & look.

  • Looks like we’re losing members at a slower rate than we’re losing councillors though….

  • paul barker 2nd Aug '12 - 1:28pm

    Silly me, should have gone straight to Wiki p, the figure for the end of last year was
    49,000 a fall of 16,000 on 2010 or 25%, which is pretty bad.
    Compared to the previous low point of 2009 its a fall of 10,000 or 16%.

    I cant put my hands on the labour membership loss in 1998 but they lost 130,000 members or 33% over the first 4 years in government, most of it in the early part of that period. Essentially the losses tailed off very rapidly & I expect the same thing will happen in our case.
    Wiki are quoting the figure of 130,000 for tory membership but I dont know if they have any source except the article mentioned above. Its not an implausable figure given that conservative numbers have fallen fastest.

  • The main reason for the huge fall in quoted Tory membership since a couple of decades ago is because they always used to include Con Club members as party members, but, I believe, they could no longer do that a) when their membership went “national” as ours did when the Lib Dems was formed, and b) of course, when political parties became registered etc, and returns to the Electoral Commission were required.

  • Looking at the Wiki figures (48,934 for end 2011) which compare member numbers over the decade from end 2001, when it was around 73,000, it is a pretty large fall. Even since Dec 2010, it has been around 2010. There is a clear pattern that while Charles Kennedy remained leader, the figure of more or less 72k was maintained – at the end of 2006 it had dropped by 3,000+, another 3,000+ in 2007, and more ever since.

  • So the drop since 2005 year end is around 33% – surely in all the discussions here about leadership, this must be the most compelling evidence that things have gone severely wrong politically?

  • I am still a memberof the LibDems but only just! After many years of membership I am feelings less and less in tune withe the current policies. So why don’t I reseign, something I consider every time my membership comes up for renewal? Because no other party is any better and by staying I can at least make a contribution and hope to in a small way influence policies. But as you rightly suggest I am no longer active in the party. After years of knocking on doors and all the other mundane activities that are needed in the office I no longer feel I can in all honesty ask for other peoples support. It is no longer the party it used to be. Perhaps it is simply a question of wrong polocies for people leaving the party

  • When I resigned from the party over some of the most contentious policy differences, I expected at least an attempt to persuade me to rethink. From the national party, nothing at all, not even a stock letter. From one of the few left in the local party, something along the lines of “how dare you do this to us, you traitor”. I now feel that even if I did change my mind as to whether it was the right thing to do, I wouldn’t be welcome back and wouldn’t want to be back amongst such company. If the party is serious about improving its membership, here’s a good place for you to start.

  • Peter Watson 4th Aug '12 - 11:46pm

    The Telegraph is currently reporting, “Documents filed with the Electoral Commission in recent days show that at the latest count in December 2011 the Lib Dems had 48,932 members, down from 65,038 a year before.”
    i.e. the party’s membership has “plunged by a quarter in just one year.”

  • Robin Martlew 31st Aug '12 - 6:41pm

    I too have wavered violently about my membership, but I renain because I suppose I have always been somewhat on the fringes of what the party has been. It has been more a case of what I hoped it mihjy mean by Libery Freedom and Equality. Cetainly the present leadership is further than ever from my own interpretation of what those terme should add up to HOWEVER………………..
    It remains the only party that reflects a desire according to the members I talk with and listen to, to be what I support in theory. If I don’t argue for that I feel I will simply be giving up uselessly. This is the time to be more vociferous, not less. There is a chance that disenchantment might lead to more radical thinking and through that a more listening leadership.
    I believe that we need to challenge Capitalism withoput thinking that socialism is the only alternative. Capitalism is Unfair, Inefficient, Undemocratic and Unworkable! Correcting it is more radical than we are prepared to be!
    I believe there are ways which need fighting for publicly and I also beleive would reflrct what we mean by those aspirations much more practically than any other party comes near to! So I think I may even get to the assemply after all!
    Tony Greaves pointed out recently that we are still the ame people, and I have to say that I have always found myself amongst peo-le I admire so
    Thank you!

  • Robin Martlew 31st Aug '12 - 6:44pm

    Blimey! Sorry for the apparent illiteracy. I think I am better than that rcently!

  • Robin Martlew 31st Aug '12 - 6:45pm

    No I’m not!!

  • John Roffey 31st Aug '12 - 6:49pm

    Time for a move towards Direct Democracy? Post WW2, there cannot have been a time when the politicians are more out of step with the people.

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