Tory membership slumps under Cameron (and Labour’s membership numbers aren’t rosy either)

July 6, 2012 11:10 am

Since David Cameron became leader of the Tory Party – this is what has happened to their membership:

That’s a drop from 258,000 members to just 177,000 members in just seven years. In those same seven years, lets take a look at what happened to Labour Party membership:

So Labour Party membership is stable right? Or to put it another way, Labour Party membership is still 4,000 lower than in the aftermath of the Iraq War and a tough election campaign in 2005 – despite the influx of tens of thousands of new members to the party post May 2010 and during the early months of Ed Miliband’s leadership.

Labour now has the largest membership of any British political party, but there’s little to celebrate.

As Politics.co.uk notes in the Wilson/Heath era, 10% of the British public were party members. Now that’s just 1.1%.

Truly, politics is now the preserve of the 1%…

  • UKAzeri

    consumers dont do politics … though ‘politics’ does them  :))

  • aracataca

    Yes a slightly skewed assessment of Labour’s figures Mark, don’t you think? We were in government at this time, the post Iraq resignations had not fully followed through by 2005 and as any activist knows at election times membership figures increase (well they did around here anyway). We must clearly recruit more members but aren’t these figures at least mildly encouraging at least in comparison with the Tories?

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  • http://twitter.com/bencobley Ben Cobley

    Let’s be honest, these are worrying numbers for everyone concerned with having a lively and healthy political scene in our country, and any idea that Labour can feel relatively good about them is way off the mark (aren’t we meant to be the party of ordinary people as opposed to just the rich and powerful?).

    Politics has become yet another specialist occupation or pursuit, with its own language and codes that work to alienate and intimidate outsiders.

    • treborc

      I suspect people really do not care much any more and the young are so turned off politics they just cannot be bothered.

      It’s sad but not to unexpected when you see the antics of Osborne and Balls, when the country is screaming for somebody to take the mess seriously.

      • http://twitter.com/bencobley Ben Cobley

        I didn’t think Ed Balls was engaging in “antics” – the Boy George had challenged his integrity and he was absolutely right to stand up for himself (and was very effective in doing so). That sort of backbone and strength of character under pressure is precisely what I want to see in our politicians.

        • Bill Lockhart

           Balls and Cooper, those serial home-flippers, don’t get to whine about “integrity”.

          • http://twitter.com/mistyblulabour dave stone

            You may have a point re expenses but surely even you are capable of recognising the uselessness of Osborne. Is Cameron so weak that he’s afraid to appoint Cable?

          • Bill Lockhart

             As far as I’m concerned, a plague on all their houses. Osborne is an over-promoted sub-prefect and Balls is overweening personal ambition made flesh. The notion that either of them is in politics to “serve”  is simply laughable.

          • treborc

            Bit like Blair and Brown, Cameron and Osborne, but Ball’s is not a lot better either, sadly for a chancellor labour and the Tories do not seem to have anyone who would be seen as being capable.

          • John Dore

            Alistair Darling most certainly is.

          • treborc

             Then sadly labour has nothing to offer then does it.

    • Richard Baron

       There is no risk at all to a lively and healthy political scene. We can easily have that without the big organisation and high spending of the traditional parties. There are plenty of fora for debate, and it would be good if parties did not have the money to win elections on the basis of public relations strategies, rather than real policy argument.

    • aracataca

      Wrong or right isn’t this a pessimistic and slightly nihilistic vision? Doesn’t it also present a view of the world that plays into the hands of the dominant groups in society? Western democracies have been characterised by a 2/3 party political structure for over a hundred years but there have been periods within that time (and within those structures and codes) of immense political and social change.

  • Baldric

    I wonder how much of the fall in Tory membership is mirrored by a rise in UKIP membership?

    • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.blott Matthew Blott

      Good point.

    • blingmun

      Probably not greatly. I left the Conservative party over Cameron’s EU lies. I will probably vote UKIP at the next election but I do not feel committed to UKIP just yet. I think it will take a few years for UKIP to get the full benefit of the Conservative Party’s terminal decline.

      Here’s to a new political reality :-)

      • treborc

        Well I suspect getting a few MP’s will help.

  • http://twitter.com/ElliotBidgood Elliot Bidgood

    BBC gave some historical context on this in a report last year:

    “1951 Conservative 2.9m – Labour 876,000

    1971 Conservative 1.3m – Labour 700,000

    1981 Conservative 1.2m – Labour 277,000

    1991 Conservative 1m to 0.5m – Labour 261,000 – Lib Dem
    91,000

    2001 Conservative 311,000 – Labour 272,000 – Lib Dem
    73,000

    2011 Conservative 177,000 – Labour 190,000 – Lib Dem –
    66,000 (Source: Estimates based on party reports and House of Commons
    Library)”

    And from 2008, about when our membership was at its lowest ever (176,891)
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/2475301/Labour-membership-falls-to-historic-low.html

    Not bad, in a sense. I can’t find concrete figures, but Labour and Conservatives both had 400,000-ish in the mid/late 90s. So right now, this is probably only first (or maybe second)  time we’ve overtaken them, albeit not by much.

  • Chris

    Conservative Party Membership figures will only include those paying the full £25 fee, introduced during Cameron’s tenure. Large numbers of older members have refused to increase their subscription and are consequently listed as “Friends” on the party database.

  • Karl Hungus

    I was told recently, by a Green Party member so not exactly an unbiased source, that the Young Greens are the largest political youth organisation in the country, with more members than Young Labour or Conservative Future. Is there anyway of checking this out? It sounds vaguely plausible. Apathy is likely to be the primary result of bland, unprincipled politicians attempting to outdo each other in their appeals to the self-satisfied media classes and a handful of swing voters in swing constituencies, but I’d also expect the fringe parties to do well

    • http://twitter.com/TomMillerUK Tom Miller

       With no power comes no responsibility!

    • aracataca

      Ah yes the Green Party. Of course the record of the Green Party in Ireland is less than perfect. Between 2007 and 2011 they kept a bunch of property developers in power who called themselves Fianna Fail. In addition to purchasing enormous quantities of housing stock at knock down prices the leadership of Fianna Fail offered the Irish people an exciting mixture of clientalism, religion and nationalism. They joined forces with property developers and financiers and decided in their wisdom to put the debts of the country’s major banks on to the government’s balance sheet- thereby bankrupting the country. All the time they were kept in power by the (butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths) Green Party. 

      Of course the Irish electorate found the Green Party out and their representation in the Irish parliament was reduced to precisely zero at the general election in 2011. What annoys me about the Green Party is that they don’t offend anyone. They come over as sugar and spice and all things nice.  IMHO they remind me so much of the Fib Dems who have of course recently been found out in our country.

      • An Duine Gruamach

        And the Labour Party in Norway are socialists, the Republicans in America aren’t Catholic nationalists like in NI and the Democratic Liberals in Romania aren’t really much like the Lib Dems here.  Your point? 

        • aracataca

          That the performance of the Green Party when in government in Ireland wasn’t good. Of course if you disagree with that point……

  • DanFilson

    I think it is amazing that over 1% are party members. Membership of organisations is quite rare with the exception of the National Trust, where there is a direct link between being a member and deriving a benefit. We live increasingly in a What’s In It For Me society, and the media panders to this at every budget with Are You A Gainer Or Loser columns. We need to regenerate altruism by creating slogans – and policies – that resonate with the public’s better natures.

    • http://twitter.com/mistyblulabour dave stone

      “Membership of organisations is quite rare ”

      Don’t forget, trade unions have a membership of over 6 million, including 2.51 million in the private sector.

      • treborc

        You cannot blame the Public for being like this can you, most people these days are in politics to make money, if it’s not having an address book or selling contact with the leader, or stealing expenses.

        So if the Young think it’s OK to live like that, then the “what’s  in it for me may be the way to go.

  • http://twitter.com/HarryThompson11 Harry Thompson

    Labours membership figures aren’t that bad. Its not as if we went from 2005-2010, compromising all that went for wrong for Labour’s popularity in that time, and lost barely any members. A massive surge occurred at the start of the ‘Miliband era’ – so rather than a tiny decline, we actually had a massive drop and are now experiencing quite a resurgence. A line graph would be better than a bar chart for this one.

  • Politicol

    I rejoined the Labour Party to support Ed Miliband’s leadership and for the first time (having previously held politically restricted posts) felt able to be active.  Two years on I am feeling excluded (by esoteric structures, faces which fit and the lack of any induction or explanation of the party), frustrated (by the archaic structures and lack of socialist policies), bored (with only being asked to hand out leaflets), angry (with how shortlists and candidates are selected, despite having no political ambitions myself) and disillusioned (by the lack of a ‘new politics’ as promised and things like £500 per ticket seats for party sports dinners). It seems very like an exclusive club in which I as an ordinary, working-class woman, do not fit and never will.  I have met some great people – really committed to making a difference – but I don’t think that will be enough for me to stay, I really don’t. I am on the verge of concentrating on my voluntary work which actually does make a difference to my local community, rather than playing political ludo which doesn’t. The Labour Party needs to modernise – desperately.

    • aracataca

      Of course we do, but how?

    • http://twitter.com/NewhamSue Newham Sue

      Politicol, check out the website of labourleft.co.uk. They’re running courses to help working class women who want to move forward in politics. 

      • Winston_from_the_Ministry

         I don’t think that’s her problem.

        Clearly Politico thinks that you shouldn’t have to “move forward” for your opinions to count. That as a member of the party she should feel included.

      • J Reid

        I seem to recall there was An organisation called Labour left that wes expelled from the labour party in 200 (for putting up it’s own candidates agisnt the Labour ones in the London Mayoral election is this the same organsation,have they got back in, regarding not beign abloe to get involved, I don’t kno wwhat your constituency, the only example I’ve ever know was East ham and Essex which go from being East ham they won’t let people come in change things make it more easy to get involved ,becuase the people in pwer there ,like having the power, Or Essex, where its’ such A strong tory area, they’re happy to just concentrate on criticisng the tories with out offerring any form of alternative,, anyway if your constituencyi’s not liek this, you have my sympathies, don’t know why they won’t let you get more involed, other wise I point this out to region to get A bigger hand in running things,

        • treborc

           Your not still moaning about your right wing Progress for god sake.

          • j Reid

            I’ve enver subscribed to progress, i said a few months ago it’s irrelivent, but i still don’t want it expelled,

        • Alan Giles

          Throw another log on the fire, Mr Reid.

          If you spent as much time being critical of current Coalition policy and the failed policies of New Labour, as you do trying to make bogeymen out of all people on the left of yourself (which must include 90% of LL readers) you might be more interesting to  read – as it   is – ploughing through your messages is like trying to toe the Queen Mary through a sea of Mars bars.

          As I have mentioned to you before, if you are only interested in attracting extreme right-wingers to your local party, it is going to be of little consequence.

          • john p Reid

            all people are welcome to the local party, jon Cryer’s coming to give a talk afterall

          • Alan Giles

            Let’s be clear about it, Mr Reid. You have said – in  terms on this site frequently in the past – that left wingers are “loonies”,”communists”,  “trots”(sic) and you have referred to me as a “hard line left winger”. A few weeks ago you made a gratuitous reference to immigrants when nobody throughout the thread in question had even mentioned immigrants, legal or otherwise.

            If I may say so, your vision of Labour’s future isn';t mine, and I find your right wing attitude off-putting, and I suspect, if the party continues to support tabloid led Tory Lite policies , it will result in defeat in three years time. Blair’s time has been and gone, and any attempt to reintroduce New Labour is doomed to disaster. Ex Prime Ministers are like old heavyweight boxers – they never come back, or if they do they are flat on their backs in round one. 

          • John Dore

            Alan, one day you’ll wake up to the fact that nobody really cares what you think.

          • treborc

            We do not even need to wake up to know your  a bit screwless

          • Alan Giles

            And in your arrogance you imagine people DO care about what you think?. Your personal abuse to other posters, interlarded with lavatory langauge. It might be entertaining, but it has no real value.

          • John Dore

            It was getting nice here….. and then you came back. N0w its the same endless old crap from Mr Partridge. Blair blah, Purnell blah, Byrne blah, You’re a Tory….. going on and on.

    • http://twitter.com/NewhamSue Newham Sue

      Sorry that posted prematurely, what i also wanted to say is that I feel your pain, but that I know changes are afoot and Ian McNichol is planning big changes to open up the party and deal with a lot of the cliqueness you refer to. You might also be interested in the Labour Women’s Network, getting hooked up with a Trade Union (if you’re not already in one) or Movement for Change (in terms of mixing community activism with Labour politics, though sounds like you’re already there on that one. Good luck!

      • treborc

        I doubt Mr McNichol will do nearly what he hopes, sadly and I really do hope I’m wrong, but if reforming labour is anything to go by nothing much will change.

    • Guymonde

      Almost like you, Politicol, I rejoined Labour just after the general election. Leaving aside that it took over 6 months for my membership to be properly processed (I got to vote – for Ed :) – in the leadership election but got no card, nor contact from the local party, nor answers from central office) i’ve found myself very disillusioned by the opportunities to participate.
      Old git as I am myself, it’s quite depressing that everybody in the local party seems to be old gits (and git-esses) and on the whole it’s a very unwelcoming environment: you’re assumed to know how things work and if you don’t you’re ignored: perhaps I could ask a lot of dumb questions but I think that would just irritate.
      I’ll probably stay as a member (until some new calumny is committed) but I won’t engage much. Probably part of the 90% of the 1%

  • http://twitter.com/RF_McCarthy Roger McCarthy

    So have the 2011 membership figures now been published – or is that ‘today’ still Dec 31 2010?

    And sure I did a graph of past data – will hunt it out.

    • Ajennison750

       As a former Tory member now leaning to UKIP I would argue that NONE of the main political parties represent what policies the majority want.

      Labour lied about a referendum on Lisbon. The Tories lied about a referendumon Lisbon.

      Why would anyone join a party that rats on promises?

      • Hibernian

        If I were you I would plead guilty of party hopping due to diminished responsibility and throw yourself on the mercy of the court. 

        • John Dore

          Perhaps in English?

          • treborc

            He’s saying your an idiot?????

          • John Dore

            Yawn, the deputy chairman and founding member of the AOI, calling the kettle black.

          • treborc

            So now your black as well now

      • John Dore

        Its really funny to watch UKIP ( the real Tory party) take votes off the Tory party. 

        Voters haven’t a clue who they are voting for.

      • treborc

         So join a party or vote for a party which has how many MP’s remind me

    • http://twitter.com/RF_McCarthy Roger McCarthy

      Lab Members 1997-2010 attached as image

      • Peter Barnard

        Thank you, Roger M (Labour membership).

        The almost one-third reduction in membership between 1997 and 2001 reinforces what members here in Chester tell me (I only joined in 2004) : a lot of people joined before 1997 for the simple reason that they wanted the Conservatives out, and once that was achieved, they left.

        • treborc

          I think it was people left as they found labour was in fact the Tories nothing changed.
          I joined 1963

          • Peter Barnard

            I dunno, Treborc – I can only go on what members who were around at the time told me.

          • treborc

            If I wanted labour to win, I would not join a political party, I just vote for the party.

            I just think people fell out of love with New labour very fast, and boy is it going to take a lot to get them interested.

          • John Dore

            Nobody cares about you or what you think. You’re just another keyboard warrior on the internet pushing your narrow point of view.

            In fact you are really boring.

          • treborc

            Well my view maybe narrow at least I have one, sadly you seem to spend a lot of your time agreeing with people view and then running off  about the left, you and a few others on here with your silly right wing new labour bull sh*t , you left here not long ago and went to progress sadly even they told you the best exit

  • Amber Star

    We need business meetings for ‘business’ & discussion groups for policy & more social meetings for members. It’s difficult for some to feel they are welcome & belong in the Party.

    Events are too expensive. Our branch voted not to have events which cost more than £25 per ticket because above that price means only very well-off members can attend.

    There also needs to be discounts for purchasing 2 or more tickets. People who want to bring a friend (exactly the way to expand membership) simply can’t afford to invite guests.

  • paul barker

    1st,  those figures for now/2011 are actually for  xmas 2010, we wont get the official figures for xmas 2011 till later in the month. All the parties are very secretive about membership, understandable but a mistake .
    My current guess for labour & libdems are 160,000 & 55,000.
    As a broad rule “interesting” elections like 1997 & 2010 generate rises in party memberships & being in government leads to big declines. Labour fellby half in the 6 years after 1997, tories & libdems are suffering now.
    Democratic politics are facing a real crisis unless these declines can be stopped.

  • Cole

    Meanwhile an organisation like 38 Degrees has over 1 million members. Must be some message there.

    • Clear Bell

       Yes, 38 degrees figures are impressive – but they are not members in any real sense. They are people who vote for various causes, and those with the highest votes are petitioned for.

      So the commitment is minimal really and the politics is, as you would expect, very narrow in focus sometimes weirdly so. The comments sections are always potentially bizarre on most websites by they can be very disturbing on 38 degrees….

      • Cole

        Well, that’s true if you define membership as handing over money – which is typical of the thinking of old style organisations. 38 Degrees members actually decide together what they’re going to campaign on, a far cry from political parties. And many members do far more than just sign petitions,

        As for the ‘bizarre’ comments, you’d expect a few in an organisation with over a million members. Are there really no strange people inside political parties?

  • derekemery

    Out of a population of 60,000,000  200,000 party members corresponds to around 0.3% believing in their particular party politics which is insignificant.

     In contrast nearly half the UK population believe in aliens http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/8169628/Almost-half-of-all-Britons-believe-in-aliens.html

    • treborc

       Well we have seen Byrne……so Aliens do exist

      • Daniel Speight

        And Adonis.

        • LaurenceB

          CP3O without the shine.

          • treborc

             But the dents.

  • http://twitter.com/bencobley Ben Cobley

    (this was posted for exchange with aracataca in response to my original post)

    I don’t quite understand what is nihilistic about seeing things as they are Surely if we want to change things for the better, we should recognise what it is that we would like to change? Then we can better challenge ‘dominant groups’. I see that as the precise opposite of nihilism.

  • Graeme Burrell

    Oh dear… Labour membership is only 4,000 away from its high in 2005,  and STILL some people in the party are whinging… I guess Mark Ferguson must be one of those ‘half-empty glass’ kinda guy… ;-)

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  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.m.peacock Andrew Mark Peacock

    its tough times for people joining a potlical party.

    • treborc

      You would have thought now is the time to join a party, to be part of what you believe is right getting the country going, labour should be shouting about the unemployment the sick the disabled the poor, what  do they shout about, we are the party of the hard working, no need then to join a party

  • Hooft

    There will always be a fixed quota of Labour members while the Labour party is committed to taking other peoples’ money and giving it to its supporters.

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  • 000a000

    It would be interesting to see plot party membership and annotate with leadership elections and election victories. 

    You may find Labour is just experiencing the natural effect of being in opposition, and having a fairly fresh leader. 

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