I asked on this site in early August why the Party wouldn't declare a membership figure, and ran the editorial asking the question every day for a week - a first for this site. The answer was plain. 253,600 members voted during the 2005 leadership election, and Downing Street didn't want headlines declaring that since David Cameron won it membership has fallen by roughly half. These are certain to follow the figure that senior CCHQ sources have disclosed to ConservativeHome - 134,000 constituency members, which is a bit over that halfway mark. So how reliable is that headline total? And why has CCHQ changed its mind about releasing it?
This site has seen an individual constituency breakdown of the 134,000 figure, but has not had the time to examine it closely: we will do so during the next few days. (The Party claims that the total membership figure is 174,000.*) There are three main reasons for the decision itself.
I chaired a panel on family policy yesterday at the Conservative Renewal Conference at Windsor: the speakers were Harry Benson of the Marriage Foundation, Kathy Gyngell of the Centre for Policy Studies and my former Parliamentary colleague Tim Loughton. Later, I was a panel member myself for a Question Time-type session with Adam Afriyie, Marta Andreason, Alex Deane from the City of London and Weber Shandwick, Simon Richards from the Freedom Association, and Matthew Sinclair from the Taxpayers' Alliance - very ably chaired by our own David Dimbleby, Windsor and Maidenhead's very own David Burbage.
I wrote yesterday that it is perhaps surprising not to see the economy or tax in the top five issues raised by respondents to our "red lines" poll. It's therefore necessary to say today that an economic issue came in sixth. On a scale of one to ten, in which one represents "very negotiable" and ten "non-negotiable", the statement "the structural deficit should be eliminated by 2017/2018, if not sooner" scored a eight - coming in only a fraction behind those top five issues - an In/Out EU referendum and renegotation; the reduction and equalisation of constituencies; keeping or lowering the benefits cap; keeping or lowering the immigration cap and pressing ahead with the development of shale gas.
Here are the remaining scores of economy and tax-related issues:
There are in some cases only marginal differences between the scores, so it follows that not too much should be read into them. However, it's worth noting that the proposal for the restoration of the 10p income tax band, supported on this site by Robert Halfon and opposed by Andrew Lilico comes in bottom of this list.
I reported yesterday that the top "red line" for Conservative Party members for any coalition negotiations with the Liberal Democrats after the 2015 election is holding the In/Out EU referendum in 2017 - after the promised renegotiation.
If these commitments are treated as one, the next four red lines in our members' poll came in as follows. On a scale of one to ten, with one representing "very negotiable" and ten representing "non negotiable", all came in at eight, with very marginal differences beween them, as follows:
I am not at all sure that the reduction and equalisation of seats will be in the Tory manifesto, given events in this Parliament, but the priority which members give to the move reflects their frustration and anger with how the Liberal Democrats behaved.
The benefits and immigration caps are popular with members as well as voters, and their ranking reflects that. There is unabashed enthusiasm for shale. It's perhaps surprising not to see the economy or tax in the top five issues. We will turn to them tomorrow.
By Paul Goodman
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Utterly unsurprisingly, holding the promised In/Out EU referendum in 2015 was the top "red line" issue for any future Conservative/Liberal Democrat negotiations in our survey which over 800 Conservative Party members answered. We asked respondents to list a series of issues on a scale of one to ten, with one representing "very negotiable" and ten representing "non negotiable". Both "In-Out referendum on Britain's EU membership in 2017" and "Attempt to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU" came in at 8.5.
"Britain should leave the ECHR" scored seven. I suspect that party members' priorities are the other way round in this respect from voters, given the public reaction to the Court's "votes for prisoners" rulings. (Policy Exchange's research in Northern Lights, which looked at a series of wedge issues, found 70 per cent of respondents believing that "human rights have become a charter for the criminals and undeserving".) Six per cent believe that a British Bill of Rights should be introduced.
Turning to the Commons, Britain's relationship with Europe is clearly a very significant issue for Conservative MPs, as the history of rebellions in this Parliament confirms and as Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart suggested on this site in May. It's impossible to know what their view would be of any proposal to re-form the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats, but my best guess is that David Cameron would find it impossible to drop the 2017 referendum (presuming he wished to) - because Tory MPs' views on holding it are not all that different from Party members'.
Recent opinion polls written up by Anthony Wells of YouGov show the Conservatives at 34, 33 and 33 per cent, and Labour at 38, 37 and 37 per cent. Let's apply three conclusions. First, neither of the main parties is in a strong position. Second, David Cameron has closed the gap on Ed Miliband, and may well close it further if economic recovery continues. Third, the former has to get anywhere between ten to seven points ahead of the latter to win a majority, thanks to Britain's vote distribution - unless you buy Peter Kellner's imaginary scenario of a disproportionately good result for the Conservatives in key marginals.
In short, prudent Tories shouldn't rule out the possibility - to put it no higher - of the next election producing much the same result as the last one, and thus think ahead. What should the Party do in such an event? Should it take a different road from that taken in 2010, and urge the formation of a Conservative minority government? Should it seek to come to a deal with one or more of the minor parties, such as Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists? Or should it follow the same path as last time, and seek to re-form the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats? And if it makes the last choice, what should Cameron's "red lines" be?
David Cameron is absolutely right to plan properly for post-2015 election negotiations, as the Daily Telegraph reports today, either with the Liberal Democrats or with other parties (such as the Democratic Unionists, were the numbers to add up). As the paper kindly acknowledges in an editorial, one of my leitmotifs since the 2010 election is that the Conservatives can't win a majority next time round given the distribution of the vote - a problem that the cut in the number of Commons constituencies proposed by the Government, and so ignobly sunk by the Liberal Democrats, would have addressed. If the Commons is hung in 2015, the Prime Minister would have a responsibility to the country to strive to keep it out of Labour's hands.
This means building strong foundations for any consequent coalition - a necessity which, last time round, was compromised by the rush to office of both parties, and their unpreparedness, plus that of Whitehall, for the dance of negotiation which a hung Parliament brings with it. The Liberal Democrats made a hash of their position on tuition fees. And the Conservative leadership was too quick to dump parts of the programme on which it had just fought the election, such as its commitments on inheritance tax and stamp duty. Furthermore, Tory MPs weren't given the chance to vote formally on the coalition deal. It was presented to them at a single meeting of the 1922, and sold to them on a mistaken prospectus.
The Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times (£) both burrowed into the Electoral Commission's records recently for details of Party membership figures. It was only a matter of time until a full calculation of the data was carried out, and this site has made one based on last year's figures.
The real full time membership figure will be higher than 59,000 or so. There may be accounting units other than the 674 we have identified. And if, for example, half the 386 units who haven't declared are roughly comparable to the 139 who have, full-time party membership would remain well above the 100,000 mark.
Ed Miliband intends to change the way in which trade union members are affiliated to the Labour Party. One can argue back and forth about whether this is more or less likely to reduce union influence on Labour. (Mark Wallace offered a thorough analysis on this site in the wake of Miliband's original speech.) What is likely, however, is that it will change Labour's calculation about party funding dramatically. To date, the two main parties have had the drop on each other over the issue, like gunslingers in a western: Labour has had no real interest in changing the law to stop the Conservatives gaining big donations, because the move would render its union money vulnerable to a Tory counter-attack. Obviously, the opposite applies. Or it has to date, because - as I say - Miliband's plan has changed all that.