Today, Grant Shapps will announce a rise in Conservative Party membership to 149,800 – up 15,800 from the figure of 134,000 released to ConservativeHome last year.

The increase of 11.7 per cent in a year will be hailed by Shapps as “the first rise in a decade”. It’s certainly welcome news that the lengthy and severe decline in party membership hasn’t just been halted, it’s now being reversed.

Two other factors are felt to be particularly encouraging.

First, this is a figure compiled from formal records in December 2013, so there have been nine months of potential further increases.

Second, CCHQ also tallies a larger figure for the wider party which they assess as including donors, activists and others who play a supportive part but do not pay membership fees as well as traditional members. That number has risen by 50,000 to 224,000 – a sharp increase on last year of 28.7 per cent.

While the core membership figure remains, rightly, the official number, this site has long argued for a broader recognition of the Conservative movement around it – and for the party to reach out to those who are sympathetic to its cause.

Shapps will remind the audience that last year he introduced “the 3,000th member of our growing volunteer army, Team2015…A year later; Team2015 isn’t 3,000 strong, it’s 25,000 strong.” 

In other words, a large proportion of the growth in that figure for the wider party has come from increased recruitment to Team2015, who will be deployed to campaign in their nearest 40/40 target seat.

It’s a bit of good news after a torrid 24 hours which saw the defection of Mark Reckless to UKIP and then the resignation of Brooks Newmark from his ministerial position amid a sexting scandal. It’s also encouraging that, having been persuaded to release the figures for the first time last year, CCHQ and the leadership evidently intend to continue doing so.

It will take time and effort to restore the losses of the last decade, but this is a first sign that it can be done, and that those who preach the inevitable decline of the grassroots are wrong.

A replacement for Merlin – at last

Shapps will also unveil Votesource, a replacement for the troubled Merlin voter contact database which CCHQ has developed in-house. The system will be accessible remotely both to reduce Association costs and make it possible for canvassers to access it from mobile devices on the doorstep and equipped to tie in with newer campaign tactics. Importantly, it will also be swifter than its sluggish predecessor.

For any activist or Association executive member who wrestled with Merlin, had to raise funds to get a special terminal, or saw their hard-earned data vanish overnight – as happened to many local parties in the run-up to the European elections – the end of the old system will be welcome news. Hopefully its replacement will be better suited to the job, helping us put our grassroots efforts to the best possible use.

Conference survey: Attendees less annoyed about the cost, more disgruntled with the leadership

ConservativeHome’s latest survey of party members reveals an unexpected fall in the numbers dissatisfied with the cost of attending party conference. Of 220 attendees surveyed, 57.3 per cent agreed that “attendance is too expensive” – 14.9 percentage points fewer than the 72.2 per cent who gave the same answer last year. Among the 493 party members surveyed who are not attending, the proportion citing cost as a deterrent fell by a more modest 7 percentage points.

There was also a fall in demand for the annual conference to take place at more affordable venues, down 16 points to 48.4 per cent.

Those are still high proportions, and we would support action to make it easier and more affordable for members to participate in the biggest Conservative event of the political calendar, but they are notable falls – particularly because they run counter to what one would instinctively expect.

Extending the time window to secure an early bird rate on passes may have played a part in the shift – as well as the opportunity to earn discounts through participation in social action and campaigning projects.

David Cameron may face a less positive audience, though – among attendees, our survey found increases in the proportion disillusioned with the leadership (up 11.5 percentage points to 34.1 per cent) and party direction (up 4.6 percentage points to 28.2 per cent), as well as in the number who feel “party members have no real say in the conference” (up 6.7 points to 84.5 per cent).

Add recent events to that mix, and it looks set to be a bumpy few days.