Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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Conservative Party membership halves under David Cameron

Slump: Tory membership has halved since David Cameron became leader

Slump: Tory membership has halved since David Cameron became leader

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.

Tragic.


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I must be a swivel-eyed loon then!

Swivel-eyed: Tory leadership attacks own party members

Swivel-eyed: Tory leadership attacks own party members

When I heard on Saturday morning a “senior figure, who has strong social connections to the Prime Minister and close links to the party machine” had called me a swivel-eyed loon for still having the Thatcherite values of family, enterprise and aspiration, which attracted me to the Conservative Party in the first place, I was not surprised.

Since 2005, the Tory Toffs have recaptured the leadership of the Conservative Party, where they see their natural home and indeed they have led the Conservative Party for most of its history. It was only in 1975 the Toffs got pushed aside by a handbag waving grocer’s daughter called Margaret Thatcher, who then went on to win three General Elections in a row, not achieved by any of the Tory Toffs who led the Party before her. It demonstrates the vast achievements of Mrs Thatcher that she not only saved the country but ensured the Conservative Party attracted people into its ranks from all walks of life by her no nonsense rhetoric and straightforward leadership. Lord Lawson puts it well in his memoirs:

‘At a more down-to-earth level, Margaret [Thatcher] was unusual, for a Tory leader, in actually warming to the Conservative Party – that is to say, the party in the country rather than its Members of Parliament. Certainly, that had not occurred for many years. Harold Macmillan had a contempt for the party, Alec Home tolerated it, Ted Heath loathed it. Margaret genuinely liked it.’

However, in 1990, the Toffs had had enough and decided to take their Party back from the peasants swivel-eyed loons and knifed Mrs Thatcher in the front. Apart from the short interlude of John Major’s premiership, we are now, unfortunately, back in an era where the leadership has overt contempt for the ordinary party member and activist.

Chum: Conservative Co-Chairman Lord Feldman

Chum: Conservative Co-Chairman Lord Feldman

By 2005, the Toffs had not only taken their Party back (as they saw it) but had also wrestled back control of the leadership. The metropolitan liberal elite were back in charge. As with any elite, meritocracy is the first thing to go out of the window and instead in comes nepotism. Hence why David Cameron has stuffed his inner circle with fellow Etonians and Oxford men. Andrew Feldman was one of Mr Cameron’s chums and tennis partner at Oxford University so Dave made him Chairman of the Conservative Party when he became Prime Minister in 2010. And for good measure he made him a Lord too.

The unnamed senior figure close to the Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader who, when questioned by three journalists in a Westminster restaurant about the Party’s internal arguments over the Government’s gay marriage bill and Party’s perennial difficulties with the EU said:

“There’s really no problem. The MPs just have to do it because the associations tell them to, and the associations are all mad swivel-eyed loons.”

The three journalists – James Kirkup, Sam Coates and James Lyons – who spoke with the Conservative Party “senior figure” have Palace of Westminster Lobby passes, which means they can have little tête-à-têtes with MPs in Members’ only areas in the Houses of Parliament – but they cannot reveal their sources under “Lobby rules”. However, it has been alluded across the mainstream and social media the source of the damning quote was Lord Feldman. Lord Feldman has strenuously denied he made the comments and has threatened to sue the three journalists. At the present time, no writ has been issued.

Frankly, the suspicion the leadership detest ordinary party members and volunteers is not news. The evidence has been around for some time. Before the Coalition with the Yellow Peril was formed the high command tried to ban party members from a say in electing their leader, they imposed “enlightened” metropolitan liberal candidates on Tory Associations in the shires and market towns of England and for many years ordinary members have no say at Party Conference and are merely there as a “rent-a-crowd” for the TV pictures. Once David Cameron became Prime Minister he went further in his disdain for the values of true Tories by concentrating Government time on gay marriage and wind farms rather than fixing the crashed economy.

Even before the “swivel-eyed loon” comment the damage had been done. The first rule of party management is to lock in your base then branch out to people who would not normally support you. Without people to stuff envelopes, deliver leaflets and knock on doors, you don’t have a political party. David Cameron and his Eton and Oxford chums have done the complete opposite: offending the base and desperately trying to win over people who will never vote Tory. As a result, there will be severe consequences: by May 2015 the Conservative Party will lose a fifth General Election in a row, David Cameron will retreat to a consultancy in the Cotswolds and it will be left to the voluntary party (those that are left) to pick up the pieces. Aren’t our leaders just charming, eh?