Analysis: How the UK’s Conservative Party increases its membership



Fri, 14 Dec 2018 - 03:29 GMT


Fri, 14 Dec 2018 - 03:29 GMT

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Britain February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Britain February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall

CAIRO – 14 December 2018: ‘The more the merrier’, a phrase normally applied to informal events, can surprisingly describe the idea of political party memberships.

From Winston Churchill to Theresa May, party leaders have always tried to increase the size of their party’s memberships.

Whether it is through speeches, applying certain laws, or even knocking on individuals’ doors, the truth remains: the key to having more members is in pleasing people. This is because democracy in Britain does not mean that the people rule, however, it means that the people elect the party that represents them, according to researcher Chivers.

More members mean more donations and therefore more money can be spent on campaigns to win elections, and propaganda to lure more citizens into becoming members. But one can still question who the members are. Typically, many people join the Conservative party for various reasons. Some may have wanted to join in order to be heard, yet others may have been approached by current members of the party, in order to talk them into joining the Conservatives, as Whiteley points out in a 1994 paper. What is certain though is that most of the members are inactive and are only there to give money to the party rather than campaign on its behalf or attend meetings.

Since the widening of the franchise in the 1860s until 1997, the Conservative party has been known to be the most successful political party in the west, Seldon clarifies in much of his research. Their success and continuous importance on the political ground are a result of two important points. Firstly, their electoral success in regards to general elections, which has greatly shaped the Conservatives as a party that always plays a major part in politics, which makes people reluctant to voting for anyone else, as they believe that no other party will ever win. Secondly, ‘Britain’s society and economy have been substantially shaped in the conservative image,’ as, mentioned by Ball and Holliday (2002). This again contributed to the memberships increasing, as the most important things people care about are the economy and society. Our understanding of the economy has made this country better, and Britons do not want to go back to the low economy of before the way, and there fore they again will be reluctant to any change, in fact they become members as they want to continue with this way of managing the economy. Both these reasons have contributed a lot as, humans in natural, would rather stick with the tried and tested than go for something new and mysterious.

Furthermore, in 1867, the National Union of Conservatives and Constitutional Associations was established in order to stimulate more citizens to join the party. Additionally, the Conservatives issued the Corrupt Act of 1883 and proposed the Maxwell-Fyfe committee, which disqualified any large donations by wealthy parliamentary candidates and MPs to any constituency associations. This attracted citizens’ attention and conveyed the Conservatives as honest people, who are concerned about the public. This lead to the increase of the members as people wanted to be part of such a ‘great Party’. Not only did this increase the Party’s membership, but it also caused many to withdraw from other Party’s as the question of why other parties did not establish this Act, spread through people’s minds.

During the time of Sir Winston Churchill, the conservatives did more than their fair share in fighting to increase their memberships. Starting with the Second World War, Churchill encouraged the Conservatives to fight for their country, so to appear brave. By the start of 1941, 184 Conservatives agents along with 135 Conservative MPs and most of the Conservative members of which were of legal age were in the armed forces. This, Ramsden points out in his research, along with the death of 14 MPs and the 17 that were decorated, caused many to believe that the Tories are ‘glorious and trustworthy’. At the time, the Tories were viewed as nationalists and that is the spirit that people were in need of.

Churchill, noticing this, went on to do a series of speeches and knocked on people’s doors to thank them for helping their country, making people happy that someone appreciates what they are doing for their country. This made people think that he was in touch with his community, again leading to the increase of his party’s memberships.

After the war, Churchill lost many of his followers and members as most citizens wanted to forget about the war, Addison points out in 2011. In an attempt to persuade them to become Tories again, he transformed the party into a new younger party. First, he created the Young Conservative Organization, which was astonishingly a great success, as it appealed to those young ones who were looking for social activity – like Margaret Thatcher; this also appealed to the parents that wanted their kids to be more social. Then he created a new Conservative Political Centre and this made the British believe that the Tories have become more modern, increasing their supporters, Johnson argues in 2003. This happened by firstly drawing in the younger people that wanted to participate, then making them talk their parents, friends and other family members into joining the party. Many of these joined just because they were asked to join by people who were close to them, and others were simply unaware of the Conservative policies and only read about them after they were approached.

Moreover, what made people come pouring into the party was the image of a new more educated Conservative organization that had been painted by the Swinton Conservative College, that led to plenty of conservatives returning by 1955. This idea of a more educated Party, for people who had been in war for a long time, gave people hope that the country will become better and will move forward. But most importantly, Churchill made it seem to non-members that being a Conservative is what shaped him into the Greatest English Man alive, making hundreds become members.

Baroness Margret Thatcher, of course, managed it in a whole different manner. The ‘Iron Lady’ had a very strong personality that attracted people to listen to her. Her excellent way of publicizing her policies, along side her speech skills, acted as a stimulus for all of Britain to join the Conservatives. Starting with when she was running for the first time, she publicized pegging the mortgage rate to nine and a half per cent, even though it was not her idea. This was not only helpful to the party in terms of increasing their membership and getting more votes, but it also benefited her in the sense that it increased her supporters within the party. She also, took advantage of the British people’s ‘strong anti-union sentiment’ and offered free economy and tax cuts, as Daniels argues in a 2013 paper, which increased her supporters.

Unfortunately, under David Cameron, Carswell found in 2013, the membership nearly halved. Cameron tried increasing the number of members by renewing the party. Very similar to Blair’s ideas of attracting members, he tried showing people the ‘new’ face of the Conservatives; he referred to it as ‘the detoxification method’, says Heffernan and others in a 2011 article. Unfortunately for him, Blair’s method may have worked at the time but has now caused backlashing and great party loses. One of the many points that he thought would increase his popularity and show the party as changing was his support for gay marriage; this backfired on him and was a ‘slap in the face for the vast majority of the Tory members’, according to Goldman’s 2013 publication, as it went against the Party’s policy. This caused members lose trust for the Conservatives, some even felt betrayed as they felt that the Conservatives were u-turning.

Some believe that this decline in memberships is due to current members not being heard. Party leaders, who said that the party is willing to listen to all the members, later challenged this. In an attempt to save his party, Cameron, sends a weekly email to members asking them about their ideas and complaints. To back this up, and make people feel wanted even more he publically suggested that, ‘Parties should throw their doors open to people from outside the party.’ Despite their regular emails to members, the Conservative Party happens to have the least developed communication system between all the major parties in the West, according to a comparative study, they have only recently started to utilize Facebook. They may deliver hand written letters to citizens in order to lure them into the party but they do not communicate over the net like they should be doing. This has conveyed to the British people that the Conservatives are only interested in a certain class of people. This has affected the Conservative membership greatly, as it made people back away due to the fear of people neglected or unaccepted.

In conclusion, even though the Conservative membership may have halved since the beginning of Cameron’s term but it is not because people are less interested in politics. However, it is because people do not think that they are being heard. Modern day British citizens are more likely to join ‘single issue campaigns than political parties that represent antiquated class interests,’ as expressed by Goodman in 2013 as they are more likely to be accepted in them. They do not think that a huge party with so many interests will be able to change things as quickly as a single issue campaign will, because political parties have a lot of issues to deal with at the same time.



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