Covering up “embarrassing” membership numbers reveals a wider crisis in the Tory Party

The Conservatives may have as few as 70,000 members, putting them behind Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems and possibly even the Greens.

The Tories may be suffering an “embarrassing” drop in members, a senior party politician suggested over the weekend — which would explain why they’ve not released figures since 2013. 

The Conservatives must “come clean” on membership numbers, former party chairman Grant Shapps said on Friday. “Transparency” was vital even if the figures were “embarrassing” he said.

“Coming clean about membership is step number one” in rebuilding the Conservative Party’s strength ahead of the next general election, Shapps said on Friday in an unexpected intervention.

CCHQ last released membership figures in 2013 showing the party had just under 150,000 members — some sources believe the number has dropped below 100,000.

Other sources within the Tory party claim membership could be as low as 70,000.

The Tories would be the fourth largest party in the UK, behind the Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems if the figure were below 100k.

At the same time signups to the Labour party have surged by over 300,000 in the last three years, taking party membership up to over half a million.

As the graph below shows, the lack of transparency over Tory party membership is becoming increasingly conspicuous:

Shapps intervention suggests the Tories continue to suffer a massive crisis of engagement and democracy threatening the party’s very survival, much inline with what a Tory think-tank warned last September.

The Tories risked “losing the political narrative and momentum for the foreseeable future” unless they transformed themselves, the Tories’ oldest think-tank, the Bow Group, cautioned during the conference last year.

What the Bow Group pointed out then remains unchanged now:

  1. The average age of a party member is currently 72 years old.
  2. There has not been a Conservative Party leadership election since 2005.
  3. Since 2005 Conservative Party membership has fallen by two thirds.
  4. Labour members now outnumber Conservatives by 7 to 1.

In a striking intervention, they argued there must be a “revolution” in the party, emulating Labour in order to survive, saying:

“Labour have gone through the necessary and painful transition from centrist politics and have emerged stronger. The Conservative Party must urgently follow suite”.

“The Bow Group has long seen the issue of declining Conservative Party membership and enthusiasm for the Conservative vision as symptom of lacking party democracy and a rigid adherence to centrist values.”

Shapps intervention suggests that the party’s problems with membership and engagement are becoming only more pressing. The Tories face utter irrelevance if things continue as they are, and that’s probably not a bad thing.

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