Coffee House

Can the Tories become a mass membership party again?

11 November 2013

In the average Tory seat, only around 0.5% of Tory voters are Tory members. Grants Shapps, the Tory chairman, wants to change this. He’s written to every Tory MP asking them to take charge of a push in their seat to raise this percentage to 3. If this drive succeeds, Tory membership would rise to 800,000 plus.

Opinion among Tory MPs on this move is divided. Some think that the era of the mass membership political party is over. Others, though, argue that increasing membership is doable—even if Shapps target is a tad too ambitious. There is also the issue of how the Tories can increase their presence in areas which they have been absent from for t0o long.


At the moment, only two Tory members have associations which pass the Shapps’ size test. One of them is Geoffrey Clifton Brown. The other is someone who has a distinct advantage when it comes to recruiting people to his association, David Cameron.

Update: A senior Tory says that there are actually more than a dozen assoications which pass the 3% mark

More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us now.

  • Jambo25

    According to a Telegraph story in September true Tory membership could be at or below 100,000. The SNP, operating in an area with only about 8.5% of UK population has at, or slightly above, 30,000. Tory membership, in Scotland, is at, or more likely, below 2,500.

    • Daniel Maris

      That’ll be the lairds then.

      • Jambo25

        I’m writing from Scotland but there is a serious point to be made for much of the UK. The Tory Party lost touch with much of traditional, “One Nation” conservatism decades ago. From the time of Heath, on, it became, essentially, a party of the South and Midlands and really only of the rural and suburban areas of those regions. It had some outliers in Wales, the North and Scotland but they’ve been contracting for years.

        The glory years of Thatcher hid what was decline. Looking back, now, we can see that Thatcher appears to have been an aberration and that a large part of her electoral success depended on luck. The Labour Party chose to tear itself to bits after 1979. There was the SDP split and Labour selected Foot: probably the worst party leader in modern history, as their leader. Galtieri invaded the Falklands and Thatcher had her Boudicca moment. In addition North Sea Oil revenues pored in.

        The last Tory majority came in 1992 and possibly wouldn’t have come then had Kinnock not been Labour leader. Since then the Tories have proved incapable of gaining a majority and I doubt they will in 2015 either. You simply cannot gain power in the UK if you turn your back, electorally on Scotland, most of the North, Wales, the Midlands and even inner city areas of the South.

        The Tories have to find a way to reconnect with all or most of these regions and countries or, long term, they are dead meat.

  • Tom Tom

    Tories should create a Roma Section and a Somali Branch to boost membership

  • Smithersjones2013

    Hmmm When all else fails set a target. Well it doesn’t matter how many members you’ve got if you don’t do anything with them. My Tory association hasn’t canvassed or leafleted me (beyond the obligatory mailshot) in 14 years and I doubt its done anything since the 1980’s.

    The Tory ‘David Brent’ is wasting his time. After all who seriously wants to be associated with a divided, dysfunctional broken organisation with such a lousy reputation as the Tories. Shapps won’t change a thing.

  • black11hawk

    I recently signed up to the Conservatives and I’m glad I did.

  • William Haworth

    Is large groups of people meeting in a village hall the only way to run a political party these days? Finding a 1990’s solution to a 1950’s solution may work for the EU, but Tories are supposed to be smarter than that.

  • xdhfjgjgkykyy

    The only way that can happen is if the Tories morph into UKIP tory backbenchers have our views but they just obey the Tory leadership we want out of the EU and immigration stopped

    Please sign and share, blog, tweet, facebook the Daily
    Express petition to stop EU immigration. Over 85,000 have signed.

    Sign here-

  • swatnan

    Who in their right minds wants to pay a membership fee of upto £50 to join a Party and get b****r all in return? Rather than going for mass membership, ‘Michael Green’ should be pressing for State Funding of all Parties, so it all comes out of general taxation.

  • macks30

    I don’t think I will vote for any of them, we have had far
    too many rich boy career MP’s, they have caused too much damage & hurt too
    many people, what’s the point of getting the same old same, our political
    system is broken, we need change, to what !! I really don’t know, I just know
    this is not working.

    • Russell

      Don’t waste your vote or you will continue to get the dross supplied by Labour, Conservative and LibDems. If you really want a change try voting for one! Vote for UKIP along with many millions who will in next years MEP elections and more importantly the 2015 General Election. The only way to get change and give these morons a bloody nose is to vote for a party that has as its number one priority…the British people.

  • macks30

    I really don’t think the Tories could have done more to alienate themselves from the general public, as I have said in another post, with the likes of Shapps/sourbry/Zahawi/Duncan Smith, it is going to be nigh on impossible to win anything.

  • Tony_E

    No. even people who vote Conservative don’t necessarily identify with the people they see on the government benches. You cannot belong to something which doesn’t encapsulate your social background, whatever your political leanings.

    Also, at a time when the arguments for and against political movements have been somewhat infantilised, it’s difficult to make a cogent argument to the more politically aware of the working and lower middle classes who know that whatever happens it’s not them that will benefit. They already realise that the asset rich have siezed control and pulled up the drawbridge generations ago. Those elites will have their consciences pricked to hammer everyone to pay for the ‘visible’ poor – and eveyone in the the middle will be slowly marginalised and milked for the political benefit of the elites’ collective morality.

    And unfortunately particularly for the Tories, this was their ground, their footsotsoldiers against socialism: the ‘aspirant working’ and especially the ‘Skilled Working’ classes, the lower middle class and the military. These are the milch cows of the modern era. And we know it.

  • ScaryBiscuits

    Shapps’s message would be a lot more credible if he had more members in his own constituency and wasn’t just appointed because of his blind loyalty to Cameron. Party Chairmen used to be people who were useful to the party, either because they gave a lot of their own money or because they persuaded many others to do the same, or both. Shapps is neither.
    Even more scandalous is the other co-chairman, Feldman, who is not only unelected (either to Parliament or the party) but also wasn’t even a member of the party before Cameron was leader. His personal donations represent a lower proportion of his salary than £25 does for the average member. He calls these people ‘loons’.
    Douglas Carswell would be a much better choice and he could bring back democracy to the party. Of course Cameron wouldn’t appoint him because he isn’t a chum. Cameron treats the party like his private club rather than a professional organisation with a job to do.

  • macks30

    1,Shapps, dodgy)
    2 Anna Soubry,no respect )
    3, Ian Duncan Smith, pathological hatred of the poor )
    4,Zahawi & £6k energy bill )
    just four reasons why the Tories will fall flat, to be fair, 340 MP’s from all parties leached their energy bills on expenses, it’s within the rules, nice.

  • MrJones

    The Cameroons only represent the City of London – so no.

  • gerontius

    “Can the Tories become a mass membership party again?”

    Don’t know, don’t really care, but I would just observe that you can’t have a mass political party without political principles or values that large numbers of people can subscribe to and the modern Tory Party doesn’t have either.

  • Lady Magdalene

    There aren’t enough bankers willing to join and the Guardianistas who Cameron has been busily courting for the past 7 years will never join the Conservative Party.

  • AnotherDave

    Trying is more likely to succeed than not trying, but the open dislike for conservatives displayed by Mr Cameron and his chums is not going to be helpful.

  • M. Wenzl

    Shapps looks like a man indulging in the smell of his own farts.

  • monty61

    So this is the cunning plan for winning in 2015? Genius I say.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Shapps is a Millipedal mole.

      Has to be.

  • In2minds

    Can the Tories defy gravity?

    • kyalami

      With all that hot air, one would think so.

  • kyalami

    No, they can’t. The atmosphere in most constituency associations is poisonous. And many will choose anyway to do the opposite of anything proposed by Shapps.

  • Alexsandr

    If they came knocking at my door I would set the dogs on them. But I don’t have dogs so it will have to be the moggies :)

  • Colonel Mustard

    They ought to do a deal with the utility companies so that if you join the Tories you get a 25% discount on all your bills. . .

    • ScaryBiscuits

      Even better, you could get a vote in who is selected to be your local MP (not merely choose from a pre-selected list from central office) or what the policies should be at an annual conference.

  • Normandee

    Identity crisis needs sorting out first, tories, conservatives, or social democrats, I’m not sure they know, I certainly don’t, wherever they are on the political spectrum I only know they have left me behind.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    I am surprised that CMD’slove of gay marriage, the EU and UAF hasn’t translated into a flood of new applicants from the non-toxic members of the electorate.

  • asalord

    SNP membership continues to increase.
    Vote Yes 2014.

    • Hello

      That’s what Stalin said in the 1920s.

  • Hello

    They could start by scrapping membership fees. People aren’t going to pay for party membership so this model is not going to raise money in the future, they may as well get ahead of the curve and change the funding model.

    Though it still leaves the question of exactly what membership is for. I haven’t a clue what I’ve gained for my £25 a year, other than a paper card (laminated, of course — no expense spared). Oh, and I get an awful lot of emails from leading MPs telling me that I should vote Conservative — as I presumably just joined the party for kicks. Oh, and then an awful lot of letters asking for donations.

    I mean, just install some XBoxes and beanbags in the local associations…membership will be flying along. All the associations offer is canvasing and I don’t think there’s an awful lot of people that get an adrenaline rush at the thought of canvasing. Canvasing isn’t something you do, it’s something that’s done to you.

    • Wessex Man

      it would probably be best if you said goodbye.

      • Hello

        Certainly. To who?

        • the viceroy’s gin

          The nearest fencepost to your front door would probably give you at least as much satisfaction. The fencepost likely never belonged to a dining club, and probably would never think to call you a bigoted racist troglodyte.

          So hand the fencepost your dues, and it’ll never bother you again. It’s a good deal.

  • Andy

    The answer is I doubt it. It isn’t the Tories as such, it is that people just don’t seem to ‘join’ things these days. I have been involved in loads of local organisations and they all end up the same: a tiny handful of people end up doing all the work. I was involved in one organisation and I had to hold two offices simple because no one would step up to the mark. And yet everyone moans like mad when there are no local events but don’t seem to work out the simple fact that there are no local things because they are too lazy to get off their fat arses and actually lend a hand.

    • Hello

      “but don’t seem to work out the simple fact that there are no local things because they are too lazy to get off their fat arses and actually lend a hand”

      That’s me…and proud.

  • London Calling

    Can the Tories become a mass membership party again?……………
    What did the Tories ever do for us? will be asked………as long as there’s a list, more membership should be forthcoming………..:)

  • Russell


  • Tom Tom

    Just focus on Berks, Bucks, Somerset, Wilts, Kent……..the rest of the country isn’t particularly interested

    • Wessex Man

      You cheeky monkey you, I live in Wiltshire and would touch the Tories with a very long stick!

      • kyalami

        Oh, stop boasting. It isn’t that long.

    • dalai guevara

      Perhaps they also ought to focus on Manchester Central.
      A £25 fee will get you into the Party conference every two years (a convenient walk in, surely) and that dismal Lucy Powell would finally have to give us a run for her money.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        I hadn’t realized you socialists nutters ever played with anything but others’ money.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    Well, if the Cameroons want sudden and massive membership gains, I’d suggest they go out and take down the sign out front of the building, and put one up that says “UKIP”.

    That seems to get names flooding in these days, for some reason.

    • dalai guevara

      Thank God we have a FPTP system. That will keep the loons where they are.

      • Alexsandr

        yes. in government :(

      • Lady Magdalene

        Yes, FPTP seems to be keeping them all in LibLabCON.
        Which is why we must shatter the Consensus Trinity.

        • macks30

          I don’t think I will vote for any of them, we have had far
          too many rich boy career MP’s, they have caused too much damage & hurt too many people, what’s the point of getting the same old same, our political system is broken, we need change, to what !! I really don’t know, I just know this is not working. we must have change

        • dalai guevara

          You will not do that with FPTP in place.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Yes, in this age of rapacious corporatism, austerity for some, promiscuous litigation, suffocating bureaucracy and a strategic void we really do need grounded politicians who will concern themselves with more important things like relationships and how much sugar there is in marmalade.

        • dalai guevara

          Colonel – that is as always an issue of communication. My hunch is you will not limit yourself to gathering the intelligence from these pages alone.

          • Colonel Mustard

            Unfortunately the gathering of ‘intelligence’ these days is more akin to trying to drink from a score of fire hoses on full power than sipping from a cup of tea. Somewhere along the line doing it because you can and quantity rather than quality seem to have set the running, whether it is in blogging, spying or lawmaking.

            • dalai guevara

              Carpet bombing and tiling are back in fashion it appears.
              I can sit at the TEDx conference and comment live on a poem delivered by Lemn Sissay whilst simultaneously rebutting the Eddies and Daniel M’s of this world, reassuring them that everyone migrates nowadays. You take your thoughts with you, you do not leave them behind.

              • the viceroy’s gin

                …you seem to take your stupidity with you, as well.

    • AnotherDave

      UKIP reached 31,000 members in September.

  • Daniel Maris

    “Can the Tories become a mass membership party again?”

    No – who would want to be associated with a party that undertakes the the sort of political character assassination attempt that we saw Anna Soubry use on NIgel Farage on Question Time.

    • serialluncher

      Could you imagine if she said he had the charisma of a damp rag?

    • hampsteadowl

      Aw didduums. Did the nasty lady get cwoss with poor little Nigey-Wigey. Never mind, run back to mummy and she’ll give you a big kiss and make you some special jam sandwiches for tea.

      God, you Ukippers are pathetic. Strutting around belching your hate-filled rhetoric, yet the moment someone stands up to your beloved leader, he collapses like a Rompuy rag and you start squealing about “political character assassination” and the like. You don’t have to agree with Anna Soubry’s argument to recognise that she was perfectly justified in making it on, and to do so by confronting Farage’s ideas, not through personal abuse which is, as serialluncher reminds us, his own stock in trade.

      Fraser Nelson’s piece on Malala has brought out all the usual UKIP suspects bloviating about how weak Islam must be if it cannot withstand criticism. Look to yourselves Kipper wimps: from this angle, you’re the ones who can’t bear the thought of disapproval and who start to whine if anyone takes you on.

      Downward tick away by the way: each one I’ll take as a vindication that there is nothing to you except poisonous graffiti on blogs like this and the self-delusion that comes with the idea that rating someone else’s comment matters a damn.

      • gerontius

        “Downward tick away by the way: each one I’ll take as a vindication that there is nothing to you except poisonous graffiti on blogs like this and the self-delusion that comes with the idea that rating someone else’s comment matters a damn.”

        You seem a little sensitive to the idea that people might downward tick you. happens a lot does it?

        By the way, get a dictionary and look up the word irony

      • Keith D

        A bit focussed on Farage, UKIP, and Islam arent we?.
        Could it be the rattle is out the pram because, diddums, CMD’s chickens are on their way home. Roosting season,
        Now why are we so focussed on these issues?. Oh of course, because each one represents the unfathomable disconnect between silver spoon Dave, and the British people.
        But of course its not Dave is it?. No, the fault lies with all of us xenophobes who dont wish our grandchildren living amongst the enrichment so gladly inflicted on us by the likes of you.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Methinks you protest too much. ‘hampsteadowl’ taken in the context of the above does not conjure a picture of perspicacity. Are you a little man with big glasses and big power with very rigid habits?


      • Alexandrovich

        Hampstead…Hampstead. That’s North London isn’t it?.

    • Frank

      Or one where the chairman is Grant Shapps!

  • MartinW

    And the answer to the question is – Never, with Cameron in charge. A change of leadership is the essential first prerequisite, and then we must get back to core values and policies of benefit to the British populous as a whole.

    • Wessex Man

      Who is going to step in and take his place and win back all these members, there is no one time up for what was once a great party that has turned into something quite unpleasant!

    • telemachus

      It is Cameron that would attract the young
      The young have no truck with the Eurosceptic fossils who would run the party
      They have no truck with the misogyny and xenophobia which are the undercurrents
      They have no truck with homophobia evident at the time of the marriage bill
      They have moved on
      In short they in fact want a reasonable party

      • Neotelemachus

        Do you even understand what you are saying Idiot #1?

      • crosscop

        “The young” are increasingly Muslims. 25% of births are now to foreign born women. And that’s not even counting those babies born to British-born 3rd World colonists. Gay marriage won’t last long when these new “Britons” are old enough to vote.

    • Colonel Mustard

      This space reserved for tagging of pithy pro-Tory, anti-Labour slogans by the Tory online rebuttal unit equivalent of telemachus and associates.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here