Earlier this week, Anna Soubry said, in the context of the row about alleged infiltration of the Conservative Party, that it should end its “membership drive” until the matter had been cleared up. She thereby drew attention to a neglected aspect of the controversy,
It has been widely asserted that any significant increase in Tory membership is a consequence of a) deliberate entryism by Leave EU or b) former UKIP members signing up to the Party anyway, or both.
But as the Broxtowe MP has reminded us, CCHQ has been undertaking a membership recruitment exercise since late winter. This has therefore overlapped with the recent activity by Leave EU and other quarters.
Party sources say that a hundred new campaign managers have been recruited since last summer’s election, and that increasing membership is part of their mission. Certainly, CCHQ has not automatically been turning away – for example – former UKIP members. Look no further than Great Yarmouth, Brandon Lewis’ own constituency. Last year, the local Association absorbed seven former purple councillors.
One source claims that Leave EU has generated a mere 0.8 per cent of membership applications. ConservativeHome suspects that this claim is more than a bit on the low side. Admittedly, we are sceptical of the self-reinforcing triangle of Leave EU’s assertions, Remainer over-reaction and media excitement during the August lull. But we don’t see how the Party or anyone else can know much more than mere numbers – suggestive though these may be.
None the less, the CCHQ membership drive must be responsible for some of the increase over the last few months. The question is how much.
The Party claims some 124,000 members. Obviously, much depends on how and who you count. But we were always suspicious of rumour that the real number was under 100,000.
Membership is already low enough, and the average age of Party members high enough, without one having to believe some of the more downward-facing estimates. Of course it is in CCHQ’s interest to talk up Lewis and James Cleverly’s role in recruiting new members. But something can be so and have force none the less.