This article about the Tories’ local campaign network in the Financial Times caught my eye this morning:
“The Conservative party’s on-the-ground campaigning operation is stronger than at any time since Margaret Thatcher was propelled to power in 1979, Eric Pickles, the shadow local government secretary, has said.”
Reading it, you would have thought that David Cameron was leading a massive growth in grass roots membership. The article goes on to say that
“The resurgence has been built on the back of a strategy by David Cameron to target the north. Resources have been aimed principally at regions where the party already had a toehold, outside the remaining Tory-free big cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle.”
Not for the first time is this an example of the Conservatives claiming a massive increase in their grass roots. Back in early 2006, the Telegraph reported that membership had increased by 16,000 in one month alone, prompting David Cameron to claim that:
“we are showing how the consistent application of our values – trusting people and sharing responsibility – can inspire a new generation to get involved in politics and to help build a modern, compassionate Conservative Party.”
My colleague John Mann has published a report that rather drives a waggon and horses through the rhetoric of Mr Pickles and Cameron. He has been painstakingly working through reports submitted to the electoral commission by local Conservative Associations. From them he has shown that:
1. The Tories have lost an average of 93 members in every constituency in 2007 and 24 in 2006.
2. Shadow cabinet members lost an average of 81 members last year.
3. Poor George Osborne has lost 240 members since joining the shadow cabinet.
4. David Cameron lost members (19) last year.
5. Half of Tory MPs have lost one in ten members.
6. Figures for the last five years show an even longer term decline.
All political parties are losing members so I’m not crowing about my own party but it does show a couple of things.
Firstly, all that froth about a Tory revival on the ground is just not true. They’re not breaking through and capturing the imagination of local communities, despite the attempts by Conservative central office to punt this line.
Secondly, it just shows that if they have an improved presence in local communities, the Conservatives are using a very large cheque book to pay for it. They haven’t got enough members to deliver leaflets and direct mail so they must be paying commercial organisations to do this stuff.
There’s nothing wrong with this but whenever a journalist writes about increased local campaign firepower, they should be aware that this is paid for activity and not freely volunteered by committed local activists. There’s a difference.
If you want a copy of the report, John has given the report to www.labourlist.org. You have to sign up to the list to get the download. If you don’t want to do that, contact me through this site and I’ll email you a copy.