Cameron's charm fails to halt slide in party membership

Local Tory parties have lost almost a quarter of rank-and-file members since their leader took over

David Cameron's charm offensive has failed to attract new members to the Tories – or keep hold of tens of thousands of people who were already in the party when he arrived.

Local Conservative parties have lost almost a quarter of their rank-and-file members since Mr Cameron took over in late 2005.

Although the Tories have enjoyed a huge opinion-poll lead for several months, they have not been able to translate the surge in popularity into an increase in membership on the scale experienced by Labour during Tony Blair's early years in charge.

The total membership in more than 200 constituency associations – barely a third of the overall number – who provided relevant figures to the elections watchdog fell from 185,000 to 145,000 between December 2005 and December 2008. The constituencies experiencing falls include "safe" seats, the bases of shadow Cabinet members and target seats that must be taken if the Tories are to win the next general election.

In Mr Blair's first year as Labour leader, his party's membership rose by over 100,000 to 320,000.

Elections experts last night said that, despite his electoral popularity, the figures suggest that Mr Cameron has failed to convince enough individuals to back his "project" with their cash – or campaigning efforts. The details come after it emerged that the Conservatives had collected £6.4m in donations between April and June this year, with some £2.5m alone coming from wealthy City financiers.

Dr Tim Bale, the author of the forthcoming book The Conservative Party: From Thatcher to Cameron, said the Tories were suffering from a general decline in the traditional status of political parties as mass movements.

But he added: "Local effort – canvassing, leafleting, market stalls – can and does make a significant difference to a party's vote. Given how far ahead the Tories are in the polls at the moment, one could argue that they needn't worry too much about this. But if things tighten – if the country climbs out of recession more quickly than predicted, and, above all, if Labour dumps Brown and replaces him with someone more voter-friendly, then the size of Cameron's majority may depend on getting people to go out and knock on doors."

Peter Facey, of the constitutional pressure group Unlock Democracy, said the Tories had abandoned their traditional reliance on the contributions of hundreds of thousands of individuals. "In terms of fundraising, they have taken the New Labour route, with dinners and '1,000 clubs', getting more people to give quite large sums of money. The idea of people paying to be party members in large numbers is over – partly because many of the older members have died off – and the Tories realise that."

All local political parties in Britain are required to provide the Electoral Commission with their annual reports and accounts every year. Some 229 local Conservative Associations presented membership figures for both 2005 and 2008. An analysis of the returns shows the associations lost more than 40,000 paying supporters during Mr Cameron's first three years in charge.

Many of the local parties blame the economic climate for the plummeting figures. They have added "unofficial" members, including those paying for regular dinners with MPs, to their full lists.

A Conservative Party spokesman said Mr Cameron retained a broad-ranging support within the country at large. The Tory leader has been calling for a limit of £50,000 on individual donations to political parties, to widen their appeal. The spokesman said financial returns showed the party had the widest range of supporters of all parties.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz