Former Conservative Party chairman, Grant Shapps has pleaded with his party to share its membership figures. He said the party needed to show “transparency” even if it is “embarrassing”. According to some Tory commentators, this is a very apt description.
Grassroots support has been deserting the Conservative Party for some time. In 2013, it was reported that membership had nearly halved during David Cameron’s leadership. At that point, the party boasted just 134,000 members, down from 253,600 in 2005. Yet worse was still to come.
The Cameron era ended with the EU referendum in 2016. This was always likely to be problematic as the European issue had divided the party for decades. As expected, the Brexit vote alienated Tory Remainers who left in droves. Meanwhile, Theresa May’s disastrous stint in Number 10 has exacerbated the situation. A recent report stated that party members are afraid their party is ‘incompetent’ and “old-fashioned”.
Not even in the top three
The latest estimates are damning. Academics suggest current membership stands around 100,000 or even less. John Strafford of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy said that 40,000 members had left since the general election in June 2017 and the party faced “oblivion”. His estimate for total current membership is a paltry 70,000.
Such figures place the Conservative Party fourth in the UK for political membership. Labour has 552,000 members, the SNP 118,000 and the Liberal Democrats 103,000. Despite this, Mr Shapps believes the party should be brave enough to go public. Shapps is supported by Paul Goodman of the Conservative Home website, who stated:
Any organisation that won’t declare a figure has the smell of decay about it.
More than a numbers game
Disappearing membership is just the tip of the iceberg. According to a recent report [pdf] from Queen Mary’s University, there are also issues with the members who are left. The party has substantially more members aged 65 or over than other parties, while 71% of Tory members are male. This is compared to 53% for Labour.
The university survey also polled members’ personal views. And Tories were described as “a breed apart”. In contrast to other parties, they were pro-austerity, media censorship and even in favour of the death penalty.
Theresa May and her party leadership need to face facts. They are becoming the political outsiders. Their core support is vanishing while their party detaches itself from the rest of the society.
For those hoping for positive change, this is wonderful news.
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