The News of the World reports that Tory membership is down by 40,000 (approximately 15%) since David Cameron became leader.

The graphic on the right from the NotW (click to enlarge) shows that membership is falling in the Associations of all shadow cabinet members.  ConservativeHome had been pressing to see membership data but in a extraordinary act of secrecy, CCHQ refused to publish the necessary numbers.  I suspect that the NotW numbers come from individual returns of Associations to the Electoral Commission.

Membership is falling for a variety of reasons:

  • The ageing nature of Tory members – the age issue alone cannot, however, possibly explain the speed of the decline;
  • The erosion of members’ voting rights – although Michael Howard was unsuccessful in his attempt to end the role of members in choosing the party leader, David Cameron has successfully curtailed members’ role in selecting Westminster parliamentary candidates and ended their ability to deselect sitting MEPs;
  • The lack of a membership magazine – under William Hague’s leadership members were sent a glossy magazine called Heartland.  No magazine or equivalent reward for membership exists now.
  • Individual policy disagreements – many Associations, for example, reported a large number of resignations after the grammar schools row in 2007.

The decline has happened despite extensive recruitment efforts from the party – including a mass mailing by Party Chairman Francis Maude at the end of 2005 and has contributed to the party’s financial crunch.

What do you think needs to be done to reverse this decline? Or do you believe that the possibility of a larger membership is impossible?

I would do three things:

  • Restore all voting privileges to members;
  • Give members a direct say in formulating certain policies (as set out here);
  • Run campaigning websites dedicated to the most important issues to the Tory mission (eg environment, crime, taxpayer value for money, immigration and international justice) and build up emailing lists from those websites (eventually this would produce extra members but they would also act as alternative lists of supporters).  (More here).

Tim Montgomerie

* 10am: A member of the shadow cabinet has emailed me to cast doubt on the accuracy of the NotW table – pointing out that – at least in his case – the change largely reflects boundary changes. We wouldn’t, of course, have to guess at changes if CCHQ pursued a policy of transparency.

* Monday update: A member of Horsham Conservatives informs me that some of "the best Tory parishes have been transferred to neighbouring associations, such as Arundel and Chichester". 

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