Tory Party membership figures

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 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.

7 thoughts on “Tory Party membership figures”

  1. Tom, as you say, membership in political parties is declining across the board – in some parties quicker than others. Not only is there increased competition from other general activities, but there are increasingly more ways to be be active politically without joining an organised party (cf. Clay Shirky).

    I know you politicians lead very peaceful lives with nothing much to do between elections, but I find it strange that a Labour MP was so bored as to feel it worthwhile to compile such a tedious report.

  2. Danvers,

    It is a very useful contribution because it helps challenge the spin from Tory Central Office in London that the Conservatives are somehow signing up every community and civic leader in towns and cities up and down the country.

    The fact that David Cameron and George Osborn are losing members – the latter at a great rate, is significant. Why have 240 people left his local party? There must be something going on and in part, it must be down to his local leadership.

    OK, it’s not front page stuff but it does give a very clear insight into the effectiveness of David Cameron’s operation on the ground. It also helps people look to how they are getting their profile up in those Northern towns they claim they now represent. They’re doing it with a big cheque book. Front page advertising spreads in local papers, massive direct mail operations and commercial distribution companies delivering ‘local’ leaflets.

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