Whilst Cameron is poncing about at the latest European Council meeting, trying to pretend to his party that his non-veto was a veto and he isn’t backtracking, Conservative Home has further evidence of the sharply declining Tory party membership.
Depressing reading I’m sure it is for most Tories (except Cameron), Adrian Hilton’s article is a rather apt analogy for the political process as a whole, as he lays bare the extent of decline in party membership.
Referring to Beaconsfield ” the Tory Premier League historic and prestigious seat of Disraeli”, he illustrates the decline of membership by the graph above and writes:
This pattern of decline is in evidence in just about every Conservative association the length and breadth of the country. Beaconsfield can still glory in having the second-highest number of members of any association, but the fact remains that this represents a loss of almost 5000 paid-up supporters (76%) over the period I’ve been a member, and the reduction continues at the rate of about 100 a year. But more pressing even than the likelihood of extinction within a decade is that, on present rates of fund-raising and income, the association is projected this year to record its first ever financial loss.
The flight of members then is so acute that even the ‘wealthy Beaconsfield Conservative Association’ is unable to cover its costs (other than by mortgaging assets). This crisis in membership therefore, argues Hilton, really ought to be a priority concern as the threat is now existential.
So what is the cause of the ‘alarming rate of decline’. Well Hilton has a theory which in my view not only applies to the Tories but the entire political system:
…there was a time when being a member of the Conservative Party was an active democratic pursuit – we could freely select parliamentary candidates, propose motions for conference and even participate in debates from the floor. It was a festival of genuine political participation: we didn’t all agree, and neither did we have to pretend to: democracy is messy…
Sadly, all of these processes are now controlled by the centralised oligarchy, and members are left with the façade of engagement. Candidates are imposed, selections are rigged, and the annual conference is no longer a vibrant celebration of democracy with halls packed to standing: it is a technocratic rally to demagoguery, and a poorly-attended one at that (at least by Party members). No contentious “big issues” are discussed or debated… It is little more than window-dressing and sophistry for mass media consumption….
Replace the words ‘Conservative Party’ with ‘Labour’ or ‘Lib Dems’ and you wouldn’t have to re-write much, if any at all, and replace with words like ‘MP’s’ or ‘government’ or ‘local councils’ etc and the sentiments still apply – in spades.
“Little more than window dressing and sophistry for mass media consumption” summed up the 2010 election perfectly, with contentious “big issues” not being discussed nor debated as demonstrated so clearly.
As the article makes clear ‘on the ground’ Tories are being treated with absolute contempt, yet that is a malaise which infiltrates everywhere.
Under Cameron, the Conservative Party has become increasingly centralised, top-down and anti-democratic… why would hard-working, intelligent and highly educated [sic] Conservative Party members put up with this?
Or indeed us voters in general. The article concludes that despite Cameron’s empty rhetoric of returning power…
“…from the state to citizens; from the government to parliament; from Whitehall to communities. From Brussels to Britain; from judges to the people; from bureaucracy to democracy”.
Precisely the opposite has happened:
Under Cameron, the Conservative Party has become increasingly centralised, top-down and anti-democratic.
And, more sinisterly:
But, as sure as night follows day, this will lead to the state funding of political parties. As I say, it appears almost purposeful.
Cameron’s party is the perfect analogy of our current political climate; centralised and contemptuous of those it supposedly represents. Interestingly the Tory grassroots’ reaction to it’s party’s ever increasingly anti-democratic nature has been one of apathy (my emphasis):
The vast majority seem passively content to permit their memberships to lapse, often citing (if asked) some generalised disillusionment with the lack of Tory ‘robustness’ – whether in government or opposition.
We are contending more with incremental indifference than forthright objection, and no number of polite letters or coaxing phone calls seem to persuade them to reconsider.
…members are left with an apparently unbridgeable epistemic distance between themselves and the Party Chairman, and so they fade away.
A mood reflected by the ever lower turnouts in elections, the electorate like the Tory members are retreating from a system that no longer reflects their views nor cares. But the sad truth is we simply cannot sustain a political situation where political views can no longer be expressed, in a purposeful (and peaceful) manner, indefinitely.
We live in dangerous times.