Tory membership slump puts party in crisis

Written By: David Hencke
Published: September 29, 2017 Last modified: September 29, 2017

The Conservative Party is facing oblivion and doesn’t have enough activists to fight another general election successfully, John Strafford, chairman of the Campaign  for Conservative Democracy (pictured), has told Tribune on the eve of the party’s annual conference.

Membership of the party – which is a closely guarded secret – has plummeted from the two last published figures of 149,500 and 134,000 in 2013 to around 100,000. The biggest drop has been since June when the Tories failed to gain a majority in Parliament.

He says two well placed sources have told him the situation is so dire that in 300 out of the 650 Parliamentary constituencies party membership is now as low as 100 people or fewer.

The figure means that not only are the Conservatives well below Labour’s soaring membership of 569,500 but are either neck and neck or below the membership of the Liberal Democrats – who have also seen a jump in members from 61,000  to 102,000.

Mr Strafford said: “The party is facing oblivion. If you take the fact only 10 per cent of the membership is likely to be very active they will not have enough people on the ground to fight an election – they won’t even have enough people to man polling stations on the day.

“They are keeping council seats because often the families of the councillors are campaigning with party members to get them re-elected. They simply don’t have the local resources to do this in a general election.”

He said a series of recent events had led to this parlous state of affairs. The leadership contest after David Cameron announced his resignation initially led to the Tories recruiting an extra 40,000 members who wanted a say in voting for the next leader and Prime Minister.

But when Andrea Leadsom pulled out from challenging Theresa May there was no vote for the leadership and Theresa May became PM without an election.

The situation was compounded when Theresa May called a snap election and rather than allowing constituency parties to select their own candidate – imposed candidates in seats that did not have one selected.

The bad handling of the campaign irritated party members, as many activists, assuming Jeremy Corbyn had no chanc, were sent to Labour-held seats with large majorities with the aim of toppling the  sitting MP – while leaving Tory marginals undefended. One example was Slough – where instead of the Tories taking the seat the new Labour MP was returned with a huge increase in his majority.

Now nearly all the 40,000 who joined the Tories last year have not renewed their membership  -sending numbers plummeting to the 100,000 mark.

The moribund state of the Tory Party will be a talking point at the conference in Manchester next week.

On Monday the  Campaign for Conservative Democracy will hold a fringe meeting to discuss how to tackle this by injecting some democracy to attract members.  Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow has already penned an article in Conservative Home, saying that if the Tories don’t inject some democracy into party constituencies they face losing more membership.

On Tuesday the Adam Smith Institute,a free market think tank, has an event to address why 60 per cent of young people are supporting Jeremy Corbyn and how the party needs new policies to attract a younger membership.

About David Hencke

David Hencke is Tribune's Westminster Correspondent