Stay in touch!
Sign up to be updated with Evolve's latest stories, and for opportunities to get involved.
The news follows recent reports that suggest the Conservatives have lost nearly a third of their members in the past four years, with membership falling hugely by around 50,000.
The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg initially reported an anonymous source who presumably said the average age of Tory members was a slightly less embarrassing 71, but after thorough research, we can confirm Ms Kuenssberg underestimated by a single year.
Average age of tory party is apparently 71
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) October 2, 2017
There is a cheap joke in here about the BBC getting things wrong, but I’m going to resist making it.
The Bow Group’s full report into the state of the party makes for even bleaker reading for the Conservatives.
It states that beyond the loss of 50,000 members in 4 years the trajectory has continued far longer, also estimating that the party has lost an astounding two thirds of its members since 2005. When combined with other reporting by the Political Studies association we can build up a better picture.
As membership has fallen dramatically, the average age of the party has risen by over 10 years.
For context, Labour in a similar period saw membership increase by nearly 400,000 and saw a drop in age of around 11 years, from 51 to 42.
This reporting suggests a bleak prognosis for the Tories’ future. Their membership are not just ageing but younger members appear to be the ones actively leaving the party. There has never been a strong Tory youth wing but what remains appears to be minuscule, consisting of people disparaged by the Bow Group’s own chairman, Ben Harris-Quinney, as “just wanting to be an MP.”
If one can stop laughing at the irony of a man named Harris-Quinney calling for a Grassroots revolution, it quickly becomes apparent that the party’s problems extend far beyond mere age. Their membership is now seven times smaller than Labour’s and is also now smaller than the Lib Dems. Furthermore, their internal structures are wholly undemocratic and analysis by party activists reveals that members feel the party hierarchy is completely unaccountable to its members.
This is no more apparent than from footage of the Tory party Conference. Without clear avenues to affect policy, the conference has become sparsely attended, with even alleged rising stars like Ruth Davidson are preaching to empty rooms.
In stark contrast to Labour’s leadership contest bonanza, the Tory party have not held a leadership contest since 2005. Their members are said to “lack the ability to freely select candidates, intervene on policy issues and select leaders without central party interference.”
To make things even worse for the party, nine of their affiliated groups are actually protesting at their own party’s Conference to demand internal democracy.
All of this, combined with astonishingly out of touch policies, are why the Tories are so fundamentally failing to attract younger members. Any grassroots efforts – even ones that might appeal to Tory voters – take a back seat compared to the desire of the central offices to protect both themselves and the powerful.
The Bow Group’s recommendations really aren’t astounding in their radicalism:
- The election of the Party Leader by the membership at least every five years
- The election of a Party Chairman annually
- Free primary selection process for all candidates
- The ability for members to vote on policy at Conservative Party Conference
- The restoration of the role of members to speak from the floor at Conservative Party Conference
These really aren’t wild or extreme positions for members to take, and are also basic tenets of almost every single other political party.
The demands contrast hugely with the wide-ranging new powers the Labour NEC handed their members at last weeks conference – with lowered thresholds for leadership candidates and greater influence on policy and candidates.
For an indication of how worried the Bow Group are, they even gave praise to a certain Jeremy Corbyn.
What Jeremy Corbyn has achieved in the Labour Party initially looked a folly, however Labour have gone through the necessary and painful transition from centrist politics first, and have emerged stronger.
If an average member age of 72 teaches us little else, it’s that the Tories’ huge disconnect from the British public is now mirrored by a similar disconnect to their own members. Another contributor to the report says as much – pointing to the “Dementia Tax” as an obviously damaging policy that was completely ignored by the central office.
The Bow Group may well be wrongheaded on many issues but do provide an accurate critique of the lack of democracy within the Tory party.
A fact that is leading to their current sorry state.
Has anyone got a tiny violin?
Become An Evolve Politics Subscriber
Your subscriptions go directly into paying our writers a standard fee for every article they produce. So if you want to help us stay truly independent, please think about subscribing. We literally couldn’t function without the support of our fantastic readers.
Or a One-Off Donation to Evolve Politics
If you don’t want to subscribe, but still want to contribute to our project, you can make a one-off donation via the donate button below. All your donations go directly to our writers for their work in exposing injustice, inequality and unfairness.