Sunday, 21 December 2008

Conservative Home on boosting Tory membership

Various blogs have picked on the News of the World story reporting a decline in membership for the Conservatives (illustrated graphically on your right). As I have said before I think the Tories should find this slightly worrying because it suggests a lack of popular enthusiasm for the brand of opposition they are providing as well as the obvious implications for infrastructure and activist base.

So, it was with some interest that I turned to Conservative Home to see what medicine it prescribed. The causes it cites are interesting because they should give us some hope that alothough the Lib Dems are not exactly rolling in members either, being a member of the Liberal Democrats is a much more hospitable climate than being a member of Conservatives; especially when it comes to membership rights;

  • "The ageing nature of Tory members - the age issue alone cannot, however, possibly explain the speed of the decline;

  • The erosion of members' voting rights - although Michael Howard was unsuccessful in his attempt to end the role of members in choosing the party leader, David Cameron has successfully curtailed members' role in selecting Westminster parliamentary candidates and ended their ability to deselect sitting MEPs;

  • The lack of a membership magazine - under William Hague's leadership members were sent a glossy magazine called Heartland. No magazine or equivalent reward for membership exists now.

  • Individual policy disagreements - many Associations, for example, reported a large number of resignations after the grammar schools row in 2007."

Unsurprisingly, the suggestions to rememdy this focus around giving the membership a stake in their own party. Tim Montgomerie calls for the restoration of voting rights, giving members a say in the formulation of certain policy and lastly for building a periphery using web-based campaigning. Obviously, Conservatives feel a sense of alienation from their own party which is rather summed-up neatly by this comment from 'Mark';

"I joined the Conservative party a few months ago at the same time as a friend joined the Labour party. These are small comparisons, but I received a rubbish plastic membership card, she received a hard, glossy and really nice Labour party membership card. (Although my association has since sent me a nice one).

She receives regular letters from her ministers, MP, etc informing her of what's going on, inviting her to events - I've received one quite nice paper booklet and lots of letters asking for money. Of course there are ideological issues at stake, but there are some pretty bread and butter things that are wrong too."

I can't help but think some of this stems from a still-lingering mindset that the Tories are a 'natural party of government' and shouldn't have to actually do anything to recruit members and give them a stake in their party. However, it is a view that could potentially damage their electoral fortunes in a tight 2009 contest when an energised and invigorated membership could tilt the scales one way or another.

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