Corbyn effect boosts political activity

Written By: David Hencke
Published: September 22, 2017 Last modified: September 25, 2017

The number of political activists in Britain has doubled in the last four years – mainly but not entirely due to the resurgence of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn, a paper from the House of Commons library reveals.

Active membership of political parties fell to a historic low of 0.8 per cent of the population in 2013 but has now more than doubled to 1.7 per cent at the end of last year. Since then figures produced by the parties show numbers are still rising.

The figures released just before the conference season begins and declared in most parties annual accounts also show that membership of UKIP has plummeted in line with its very poor showing in the last General Election and local council results.

Membership of UKIP was around 74,000 in December 2015 but had fallen to 39,000 in July last year and fallen again to 34,000 by December. No new figures have been issued since.

Membership of the Labour Party stood at 388,000 in December 2015 when it had already grown as the result of Corbyn’s leadership victory. Under his leadership, despite a hostile press, it grew again to 544,000 by the end of last year. Since then it has risen to 552,000 in June.

The other major beneficiary is the Liberal Democrats – fuelled by their Remain stance. The party had 61,000 members in December 2015 but this had risen to 78,000 by the end of last year and to 102,000 by May this year.

The Scottish Nationalists appear to have hit a plateau in membership – rising from 115,000 at the end of 2015 to 119,000 the following year. The latest figures for August show a decline to 118,000. Plaid Cymru had 8,300 members in 2017.

One other casualty of declining membership is surprisingly, the Green Party. Their membership fell from 63,000 to 46,000 from 2015 to 2016 but the trend appears to have reversed itself – with an increase back to 55,500 in March this year.

The biggest mystery is membership of the Conservative Party. They have declined to publish any membership figures since December 2013 when David Cameron was leader and Prime Minister. At the time they had 149,800 members. But their shyness in producing any new membership figures since then – suggests that they may have suffered a decline in membership.

Certainly if they had any big increase in membership they would have immediately published details – to try and take the shine off Jeremy Corbyn’s extraordinary ability to attract new members in droves.

About David Hencke

David Hencke is Tribune's Westminster Correspondent