On the eve of the Conservative Party Conference, John Strafford, chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, has revealed that membership of the Tory Party is set to plummet to 100,000 (and even lower than the Lib Dems). He says that in 300 constituencies, Conservative Party membership has dropped to 100 people or fewer.
‘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.’
This may make for pleasant reading for the Labour Party, but I feel Mr Strafford is over-egging this.
Behind the figures
The disparity between the Conservative Party and Labour Party membership figures has a lot to do with leadership elections.
These were certainly the driver behind Labour’s membership reaching over 350,000 in 2015 and nearly 600,000 last year (it’s actually not moved much since then), while Theresa May was elected unopposed last year. People joined the party to support a candidate (mostly one called Jeremy Corbyn).
Were the Conservatives to hold a leadership election before the next General Election, their membership will increase significantly as the candidates jockey for more votes.
Bricks and mortar
The Conservative Party has a far network of party offices that Labour does not have. In many constituencies the Labour Party does not have an office and only sets one up in a shop front during an election campaign.
Another advantage that the Conservative Party has on the ground is its collection of support through nearly 200 Conservative Associations, which offer communities a space for social functions and keep association members in touch with the local Conservative Party. The Labour Party equivalent of this (the National Union of Labour and Socialist Clubs) numbers under 50 in England, Scotland and Wales.
The fact that many Constituency Labour Party (CLP) groups are cash starved does not make the situation better. The General Election left CLPs in a situation where many had to start crowdfunders to get delegates to Conference and I know of one CLP that had to sleep in a camper van.
The Labour Party centrally offers £2.50 per year per member to CLPs so this situation on the ground won’t change very much.
Labour’s higher membership offers an opportunity for a strong army of volunteers but it will need more than this if it is to see off the Tories election after election. We need to reach out to those members and keep them engaged. If we don’t have community resources like offices and clubs then we must look for alternatives.
Local parties also know best about the campaigns that matter and so would be best equipped to spend money on social media advertising and other campaigning materials. I spoke to a member of Aldershot CLP at Stand up for Labour’s conference event in Brighton and he said the Labour Party nearly doubled their vote through the use of social media focused on local people. If they had more cash to spend, it could have led to Labour winning an ‘unwinnable’ seat.
I set up Stand up for Labour to support CLPs. It is a way of bringing local members and supporters together in a social setting and creating a sense of community. It also raises valuable money for their campaigns. With other initiatives like this, Labour can transform its advantage in members into something significant and, potentially, wipe the Tories out.
- Stand up for Labour has set up a Crowdfunder to support a tour of the country that will energise CLPs and raise valuable funds for them. In return for contributions, Stand up for Labour offers tickets for shows, t-shirts, mugs, signed posters or, even, curry!