The Conservative Party's disdain for their membership

As the Campaign for Conservative Democracy gathers pace, Dr. Jon Stanley investigates the root causes of the Conservative Party's collapsing membership.

Who watches the watchmen?
Dr Jon Stanley
On 28 January 2019 19:19

One of the most critical risks doctors need to handle is bleeding. Often it’s internal. We are taught that shock from haemorrhage is like scoring a game of tennis. 

We class haemorrhagic shock by how much blood has been lost already. Is it less than 15%? It is more? Is it more than 30, or even more than 40%? Even if blood loss is constant its effects can present late, and when they do it can enter a critical period very quickly. 

When we don’t know how much bleeding there is and we don’t know even if it is happening because it is internal then we face losing control of the patient, which is most often terminal.

Simply transfusing blood and praying will not cut it.  You need to stop the bleeding, stop the causes of bleeding and resuscitate fast or permanent damage can result even if the patient survives.

The Conservative Party is in shock. It is delirious, sick, panicking and it is continuing to haemorrhage members through needless self inflicted trauma. That it cannot even assess where these losses are or why explains why it is in such a pitiful state.

The Bow Group is the oldest conservative think tank. We know the Conservative Party and its history and we have closely observed their steady loss of members over many years, but most markedly since the "Cameroon era" post 2005. Anyone for a pint? Force through same sex marriage using opposition support? Fancy another? 25 years of prevaricating over EU membership. A little reform, a lot of reform over what the party stands for and it’s not hard to see the damage Cameron did to the morale of members who left in their hundreds of thousands, many to UKIP, or to no fixed abode.

The problem is the patient is in denial about how serious the bleeding is. The "Tatler Tory" scandal and the more recent election expenses scandal were both due to a lack of members, and crucially activists. To try and plug this gap Conservative Campaign Headquarters’ (CCHQ) decided to bus predominantly very young and inexperienced activists up and down the country and aggressively bullying became common place. It resulted in the death of a young activist, a huge sex and corruption scandal and a breach of electoral spending laws. The youth wing was shut down following the scandal and there followed a string of resignations from CCHQ, but despite a £2 million investigation even this didn't prompt any serious reflection or reform.

We estimate that the Conservative Party has seen its membership drop from c.400,000 to under 100,000 since 2005, with 35% of members leaving in 2013 over Cameron's Same Sex Marriage Bill alone. The membership that remains is no longer trusted to select the MPs (who in turn select the Party Leader), or given any meaningful role in the Party's direction. We first had the A-list, and now we simply have CCHQ allies (usually of a metropolitan liberal perspective) crowbarred into safe seats, and still no leadership election since 2005. 

What the Bow Group did was target the root cause of the crisis within the party. How much blood loss is there? Where is it? Why do we have associations that are effectively zombie branches? Why do we have a Party Vice Chairman using polls and smokescreens to refute our estimates (and they are estimates) that in 2017 the average age of active party membership rose to 72, and who's numbers continue to shrink?

In 2012 we began a comprehensive study of Party membership, from it we projected that the Conservative Party would fall into third or fourth place in terms of national membership figures within a decade. So staggering were the findings we continued to dig into the figures until present day, working in partnership with the Campaign for Conservative Democracy and a number of other public organisations. In 2017 we were party to a survey of local Conservative Associations, some of the results of which we published, and to return to the medical analogy they showed the patient was terminal.

No sooner had we published the figures were CCHQ aligned journalists, such as Conservative Home's Mark Wallace claiming we had made them up. What he inadvertently exposed (and would know if he read his own website), was that CCHQ were doing just that, using a poll of 1000 people by their favourite pollster YouGov commissioned by Tim Bale to show the average age of Conservative members was 57 not 72, and numbering over 125,000. Those of a keen eye may ask why CCHQ needed to reference a poll to track the average age of their own members, surely they must have the data? The truth is they don't because there is no centralised system of accurate membership data, and in many local Conservative Associations the numbers are either inaccurate or intentionally witheld. The key is to track active members, and what we found was a very high percentage of people who thought they were members, but were paying inadequate or no subs (including MPs, Councillors and even Ministers), and almost as high a percentage of those who were signed up to a direct debit but were completely unresponsive to contact from their association.

When we made the estimate in 2013 that the Conservative Party would cease to be one of Britain's two largest parties within a decade the same establishment cronies laughed it off. Today (A mere 6 years hence) we know for sure that the Conservative Party now sits behind both the Labour Party (By more than 500,000) and the SNP, with the Liberal Democrats claiming to now also be ahead of them. It is perfectly possible based on these projections that in a further 10 years the Conservative Party won't even be in the top five largest political parties in the UK, for perspective, under Margaret Thatcher it was the largest in the world.

The Party has become something of a tontine, with CCHQ bods and their orbiters waiting out the decline of membership so long as there are MPs to carry on the next cycle of choosing one of their own to lead them who then perpetuates the cycle of candidate choice to continue the metropolitan liberal takeover.

This conscious uncoupling of membership and leadership reached a critical point in the last General Election where polling went through the floor from a manifesto well off course and out of tune with its base supporters, it continues now the natural party of government is polling below a Marxist revisionist who won’t meet the PM but will have tea with Hamas and the IRA. 

Aside from the obvious democratic deficit of a Party of a few hundred MPs funded by 25 donors running the country, without members a party lacks activists, those who do and deliver. The ground campaign in 2017 was more one sided than the Franco-Prussian War. The media strategy is became even more divorced from reality after the General Election, when former Zac Goldsmith campaign manager, Carrie Symonds was appointed CCHQ Director of Communications, following the election. Ms. Symonds focused on metropolitan issues that had served her well in Richmond, such as the welfare of sea turtles, marijuana legalisation and gender politics, while the concerns of everyday members such as immigration, security and natural family life were not paid lip service. This shows no signs of improvement as Symonds has moved on to a well paid job at Bloomberg and CCHQ's new Head of Communications is David Cameron's former spin doctor and a key figure in the remain campaign, Caroline Preston. I wouldn't hold your breath for a popular nationwide conservative movement to stem from these minds, but I would imagine there will be plenty of recyclable rainbow bags for all. 

Party membership and internal practices are generally always going to chiefly be matters of interest for political nerds, but recently with the large number of MPs from Brexit voting constituencies attempting to subvert the Brexit process the public and national media have started to ask questions of how MPs actually came to be MPs, and why the process is so distant from the general public, with the debate even reaching the pages of the Sun last week.

We have a good idea where the problem is. We know why the loss of membership has been so great. There is something else doctors know when treating the critically: Where there is pus, let it out.

Dr Jon Stanley is a Senior Research Fellow at the Bow Group

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