Tory membership crisis?

Insiders say figure is as low as 70,000

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Tories should 'come clean' on membership

By Diane Cooke

Unlike Labour, the Tories don't publish an official membership figure. That's probably because at 70,000, according to John Strafford of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, it looks pretty pathetic compared to Labour's 570,000, which makes it one of the biggest parties in Europe.

That would make the Conservatives the fourth largest party in the UK, behind the SNP and the Liberal Democrats, according to politics professor and party membership expert Tim Bale.

The Conservatives' diminished membership - it stood at 400,000 in 1997 - was one of the reasons for their 2017 electoral humiliation, according to The New Statesman. Labour's activists, battle-hardened from two leadership campaigns, easily outgunned the Tories in marginal seats, writes George Eaton, who makes the argument that such a small membership could encourage entryism.

"Should some of the 2.4m people who voted Liberal Democrat or the 594,068 who voted Ukip (or the 16.1m who backed Remain and the 17.4m who backed Leave) sign up, they could shape the Tories' future."

Tory former chairman Grant Shapps says the party should come clean about its membership. "Transparency" was vital even if the figure appeared to be "embarrassing".

The party last published figures in 2013, when it had 149,800 members but has refused to publish an update since.

Mr Shapps said David Cameron had "taken some convincing" to release the figures at the end of 2013.

The then Tory leader believed it would be a "difficult and embarrassing figure to publish", said Mr Shapps, who was party chairman at the time.

He said he had argued, in a written submission to Mr Cameron, that it would be "embarrassing not to publish the figures and it will help us increase the membership - and it did".

Mr Shapps said "coming clean about membership is step number one" in rebuilding the Conservative Party's campaigning strength ahead of the next general election.

A post-mortem on the party's 2017 general election campaign, by former cabinet minister, Sir Eric Pickles, called for urgent action to increase membership and the party has said it is "in the process of taking forward his recommendations".

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