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One of the Tory’s longest serving campaigners is predicting the party is facing ” oblivion” after losing nearly 40,000 members this summer following Theresa May’s failure to secure a majority government at the general election.
John Strafford, chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, in an eve of conference exclusive interview on the Tribune magazine website, says the real membership of the party has plummeted to around 100,000- way below the 149,500 figure and 134,000 figure used by the party in 2013.
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.”
According to Mr Strafford in 300 of the Parliamentary constituency parties – nearly half the MPs in Parliament – membership has dropped to 100 people or fewer.
The contrast with Labour could not be stronger – with the party already having 569,500 members and launching a further on line membership drive after their conference.
Membership could also be lower than the Liberal Democrats who have also seen a jump in members from 61,000 to 102,000.
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 chance 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.
As a result nearly all the 40000 new members recruited by the Tory leadership battle last year have not renewed their membership because, according to Mr Strafford they have found out they have little say in party proceedings or policies. Again the contrast with Labour which is devolving more power to its members could not be stronger. ” They are just not renewing their membership with some constituency parties which recruited hundreds of members finding only a handful renewing.”
The plummeting membership is one reason why some MPs are becoming restive. One with his ear to ground is Robert Halfon, Tory MP for Harlow, who this week in Conservative Home backs John Strafford’s analysis that lack of democracy is driving away members.
” I began to realise that, far from being a lunatic, John was quite sane…and it was perhaps us who closed our ears to what he was saying who were the crazy ones. For many years, he rightly predicted that a lack of democracy would lead to a loss of membership. He was right.”
The issue will be raised at the Tory Party conference fringe 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.
The Adam Smith Institute will hold a meeting on Tuesday 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.
How party politics have changed. A year ago it was Jeremy Corbyn whom the Tories regarded as unelectable and a joke. Now it is the Tories that are worried they are becoming unelectable and are running a party few people would want to join.
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Your members have woke up. That’s why they have left. Half of them was at Labour Party conference enjoying the hype and the inclusiveness oh and the Parties.
Teresa May should take heed and deliver the constant stream of soundbites that Maggie Thatcher used to employ. That gives courage to voters to join the membership – all that is heard nowadays is the strident calls of the extreme left. Who can blame the Tory membership for falling away?
‘Strident calls of the extreme left’ versus Thatcherite ‘soundbites’? No: I think the point is that voters moving towards Labour are responding to an innovative manifesto of radical policies that answer the needs of ordinary people, rather than present a tired agenda designed to appeal to the worst instincts of self serving little Englanders unable to adapt to a changing world.
Membership can be overrated, Labour had more members in June 2017 when they lost than in May 2005 when they won.
Tory membership was low too in 2015 but the Tories still won a majority under Hague in 2001 it rose and they were beaten.
Members help get voters out to vote who are already likely to vote for the party, they do not change minds, it is party policy, the party leader and the state if the economy which does that.
There is one thing that is important in a democracy and that is suitable candidates. You can send the Tory oddball to fight in Liverpool or Jarrow, but when they stand in a winnable seat you are in trouble. A parliamentary will consist of those who are marked for high office, those who do hold high office, those who have held high office and those managed to get on the party list, but could never hold high office.
Now when the selection base shrinks the PM may not have enough talented people to choose from for ministers as the selection criteria is lowered and the talentless or eccentric become MP’s. I can think of a number of Tory MP’s who would fit the bill. So already are seeing the effects of the shrinking membership of the Tory Party.
Now when Tories think the man from the 19thc would make a good leader, then one suspects the membership is living in Downton Abbey or another world.
I never knew the Con party was a democratic organisation. Leaving that aside, The party has been in almost terminal decline for a long time. If aTory was an animal it would be on the endangered list in many parts of the United Kingdom.
The best evidence for this is that in many safe Labour seats, the party seems to have hardly any members or workers on the ground. If they scrapped the free leaflet drop, I suspect many areas would not recieve a leaflet, neither while someone canvassing. In my area I have seen the local party become lees active, fighting fewer council seats because of a shortage of candidates and becoming a party that surfaces at elections.
They have shunted this 100k figure out because they feel that none of the newer members will renew from this time last year.With only two more special advisors to christmas its unlikely that they will ever see 100k again in their lifetimes.
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