As the Labour conferences is just about to start one of the greatest achievements of Jeremy Corbyn has been to revitalise political activism in Britain.
According to a report in the House of Commons library active membership of political parties fell to its lowest ever recorded proportion of the population – at 0.8 per cent – in 2013. It was virtually teetering on near extinction. It had also veered to the right – with UKIP going from now nowhere to 74,000 members.Labour in 2013 was also at a low before Corbyn won the leadership of 190,000 members.
So dire was the membership of political parties that political commentator Andrew Rawnsley in a comment is free article in The Guardian could joke that as many people had declared their religion in the census as a Jedi knight than belonged to each of the main two political parties.
After Corbyn’s leadership victory in the autumn of 2015 membership of the Labour Party had soared to 388,000. Under his leadership, despite a hostile press, it grew again to 544,000 by the end of last year. Since then it has risen to 552,000 in June. And on the eve of the party conference now stands at 569,500.
To do him credit the other person who revitalised an ailing party was Tim Farron. Fuelled by their Remain stance the Liberal Democrat party moved from 61,000 members in December 2015 to 78,000 by the end of last year and to 102,000 by May this year. though this is dwarfed by Labour.
Between the two of them they have increased membership of political parties to 1.7 per cent of the population – still small – but more than double the numbers in 2013.
The biggest losers are UKIP who have seem their active membership collapse in lone with their poor election performances. Membership of UKIP was around 74,000 in December 2015 but had fallen to 39,000 in July last year and fallen again to 34,000 by December. No new figures have been issued since.
Slightly surprising has been the demise of the Greens – though they seem to have started to turn this around.Their membership fell from 63,000 to 46,000 from 2015 to 2016 but the trend appears to have reversed itself – with an increase back to 55,500 in March this year.
Membership of the Scottish Nats has also stopped growing with it flatlining at around 118,000.
The real mystery is the Tories. They say their membership is 149,000. But this figure has never been updated since 2013 as no political party is obliged to publish its membership numbers in its annual report. Their shyness in producing any new membership figures since then – suggests that they may have suffered a decline in membership.
Certainly if they had any big increase in membership they would have immediately published details – to try and take the shine off Jeremy Corbyn’s extraordinary ability to attract new members in droves.
It has recently come out that the average age of Tory members is 72 which suggests that while there have been enormous increases in Left and Centre parties – the Tories could well be in terminal decline and turning literally into the party of the living dead!