Labour membership falls to 'lowest level for 70 years'

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Indy Politics

Labour party membership has fallen to its lowest level since Tony Blair became leader, according to figures released yesterday.

Labour party membership has fallen to its lowest level since Tony Blair became leader, according to figures released yesterday.

The party's annual accounts showed membership stood at 214,952 at the end of December after a year wracked by internal rows over Iraq and plans to modernise public services.

This represents the lowest membership total since Ramsay MacDonald was leader in the 1930s, according to the pressure group, Save the Labour Party.

Members of Labour's ruling national executive were briefed yesterday that membership had fallen further to around 208,000 this year, although it was thought to have stabilised.

The membership figure is well down on the 265,000 inherited by Mr Blair when he became leader in 1994, and far below its peak of 407,000 at the time of the 1997 general election.

Membership last year stood at 248,000. Senior Labour figures, including Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, have written to up to 200,000 lapsed Labour members in recent months, urging them to rejoin the party in an attempt to stem the exodus.

But there was better news for the party's finances, with an operating surplus of £2.637m in 2003, compared with deficits of almost £1m in 2002 and £8.9m the year before.

Labour's leadership has been under pressure from members over the war in Iraq with some MPs reporting deep dissatisfaction among the party's grass roots. They have also highlighted discontent over the decision to introduce university top-up fees of up to £3,000 a year, which scraped through the Commons with a majority of just five votes, while last year the party faced divisions over plans to create foundation hospitals.

But senior figures played down the membership figures, insisting that new members were still joining the party.

Ian McCartney, the Labour party chairman, said that 9,000 new members had been recruited in 2004. He said: "The results from 2003 show a genuine improvement in the financial position of the Labour Party. Since the last General Election, the party has faced a testing period financially.

"However, the surplus reported and the 9,000 new members recruited in the first part of this year shows we have taken steps that will ensure the party is now well-placed to meet the challenges ahead."

Peter Kenyon, of Save the Labour Party, said action was needed to attract members willing to get involved in campaigning ahead of a possible election: "What we are looking for are positive steps on the part of the leadership to ensure that we are going to be able to rebuild our membership and urge our members to play active parts in future election campaigns."

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