Benedict McAleenan is a former Conservative Agent and currently works in Public Affairs at Edelman. Follow Benedict on Twitter.
ConservativeHome has rightly been wondering about Party membership figures. And the Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph, ever keen to help, have done the maths. But Conservatives should not despair at the claims. As society has changed in the last 60 years, so has the way people engage with brands and movements. Across Europe and across the parties, traditional party memberships have been dropping for decades.
To say that a drop is a “dire situation,” or “an emergency,” or that we’ll have no GOTV operation come 2015, is just wrong. It suggests we can’t conceive of anyone helping us without paying £25 first. It suggests we’re not comfortable with alternative ways to build relationships.
Between 2008 and 2010, I worked for now Party Chairman Grant Shapps, helping him to take his own majority from 5,946 to 17,423 – a swing of 11.1 per cent, or just over double the Party’s national average. It isn’t a natural Conservative seat either – Grant won it in 2005 from Labour after a hard, two-election struggle. Did we manage that by fretting about membership numbers? Did we see a drop in membership as “an emergency”? No, of course we didn’t.
We achieved a swing of 11.1 per cent by connecting with the community at every turn, offering it something of value and keeping careful track of our relationships so that we could turn to them when we needed. By the 2010 campaign, we could mobilise a thousand activists, but only a fraction were Conservative Party members. Most were local people with whom we’d communicated with, helped or worked with at community events in the years before. From these, we built an incredibly effective campaign machine.