Tory Activists’ website ConservativeHome has been waging a campaign over the summer for Conservative HQ to release their membership figures after it was rumoured they had dipped below 100,000.
After several weeks, Conservative Chairmen Grant Shapps and Lord Feldman capitulated and released figures showing membership stands at 134,000.
This is half the number of members who voted in the Cameron-Davis leadership contest for the Tory Party back in 2005 when membership stood at 253,600. Where has everyone gone?
A fair few will have died such are the perils of keeping up membership numbers in local Conservative Associations up and down the country but the vast majority have just decided not to renew their membership. There has been no scientific analysis of why over a hundred thousand members have deserted the Tory grassroots but the upsurge in membership in UKIP and the collapse of the Conservative vote in the English County Elections in May provides some clue.
Natural Tories, me included, have never been a fan of the Coalition Government. But for every three Conservative Party members, two voted for David Cameron in the 2005 leadership contest, so we can deduce from the massive drop in total membership that many supporters of the Conservative leader eight years ago have now left the party (and not all for the next life!). For the record, I am still a member of the Conservative Party although somewhat disaffected as regular readers will have gathered.
It is not surprising membership has fallen off a cliff. Many of the base gave Mr Cameron the benefit of the doubt whilst he was Opposition leader as he tried to “detoxify” the Conservative Party by embracing hoodies and hugging huskies. But things started to unravel during the 2010 General Election when instead of talking tough on welfare and uncontrolled immigration as ways of tackling the economic mess Labour were leaving the country, windfarms and the Big Society were on the Conservative leader’s lips. It was no wonder we lost the General Election. But to jump into bed with a man who will say anything for power, Nick Clegg, was the ultimate kick in the teeth to Conservatives up and down this land. The membership knew when Cameron formed the Coalition many real Tory policies were buried and predictably metropolitan elite policies on gay marriage and wind farms became prevalent. And to add salt to the wounds the Prime Minister’s Eton chums went round trashing local associations and calling them “swivel-eyed loons”.
The upshot is David Cameron has made it even more difficult for the Conservative Party to ever win a General Election. With a membership below 140,000 the troops on the ground required to win the party a majority in Westminster just don’t exist. It didn’t have to be like this. Yes, David Cameron did not win a majority but he could have formed a minority Government and gone to the country again in the Autumn and by changing the message to one which reflected Britain in 2010 rather than in 2005, a different result could have been achieved. Now the worse of both worlds exist: the Conservative electorate worries if the Tory Party stands for their values anymore and even if they do, Mr Cameron hasn’t got the ground troops to go and tell them.