There’s a fascinating post over at Conservative Home today, in which former MP (and now ConHome contributing editor) Paul Goodman laments the decline of Conservative Party membership, and tries to put his finger on what exactly is causing it.
The situation the Tories find themselves in is of course similar to the one which Labour faced post-1997. Government inevitably means compromises, policy disagreements and declining enthusiasm amongst your core support. It’s an incredibly difficult task for a party to maintain membership levels whilst in power – nevermind increase them – but the scale of the Tories’ decline, and the fact that it started before they won power (down over 80,000 since 2005), suggests a more long-term decline.
Whilst it would be easy to be over-confident about Labour’s current membership position as the party continues to grow in size (with membership increasing both straight after the election and during the leadership contest/conference) we shouldn’t forget that back in 1997, Labour Party membership reached 405,000.
Whilst current polling might be positive for the party (with recent polls showing Labour as either close behind the Tories, or even marginally ahead), the renewal of the party and the movement in opposition is crucial if the party are to return to power, and be successful once there. One of the main driving forces behind Ed Miliband’s campaign was the idea of change, not just in terms of policies, but changing the party itself. That project must now begin in earnest, and at LabourList we want to hear your views on how that should happen.
Building the Labour Party into a mass membership movement has been something which countless numbers of party members have demanded over recent years. But how can we go about doing this? The leadership contest involved this subject of party reform being kicked around at length:
– Is the cost of membership a problem?
– Should we abandon the membership model altogether and look for supporters and donations instead?
– Do current party structures serve the membership (and the party) as well as they should?
– How about taking a year out from party meetings and looking again at how we work?
– Is community organising the way to go, or should we learn from marginal seats where the focus was on “get out the vote” efforts?
– How do we interact with new members?
– How much power over policy should be devloved to members?
– And how do we persuade people that joining the Labour Party is a positive way of making a difference both nationally and in their community?
These are just some of the questions that we’ll be trying to tackle in the coming weeks. If you’ve got a view on how the party can change, improve and grow, then email us with your suggestion, or tell us about it in the comments below.