In 2013, this site saw information that supported the membership figure then declared by the Conservative Party: 134,000. A year later, the Party said that this had risen to 149,800. Grant Shapps drove the disclosure of both these figures. After he left CCHQ, it clammed up again.
Brandon Lewis is too smart an operator to believe that non-disclosure was sustainable, and over the weekend he declared that membership currently stands at 124,000. Our last guesstimate, made in September last year, was “around 100,000” – a figure that tallied with that of John Strafford.
So a 124,000 estimate sounds plausible. But this assessment comes with qualifications.
First, it is only correct to say that Party membership is roughly “twice the size originally thought”, as the Daily Telegraph does today, if one accepts the original estimate as being 70,000, the figure it cites (which we didn’t).
Second, any comparison of figures may not be like-for-like. On the face of it, membership has fallen by about 25,000 since 2014. But the caculation made now may not be made on the same basis as that made then. The drop may be smaller. Or bigger.
Finally, there is the question of how much information CCHQ actually holds – and how accurate it is. That some Associations hold their membership numbers back is well known. That some of the details will be out of date is surely incontestible.
So there are factors in play that both inflate and depress that 124,000 figure.
Tim Bale, who co-runs the ESRC Party Members Project, told this yesterday evening that “given the crazy patchwork that is the party’s membership ‘system’, I cannot for the life of me see how any number CCHQ comes up with can be taken as definitive. I wouldn’t even trust the latest figure to give us an accurate idea of the trend over time.”
Lewis said that 6000 new members have joined since the Prime Minister’s December Brexit deal. One insider view is that CCHQ has simply added these to a membership total for last year (whatever that was), and that this figure will drift down again when non-renewals are next taken into account. Full credit, though, to him for getting a figure out there, and thereby enabling this discussion to take place.