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The change in title by Cameron from Conservative Central Office to Conservative Campaign Headquarters may have reflected an underlying view that the promotion of local organisation on a permanent basis between general elections was of declining value.

Anyway, as a possible result of changing social habits which have made party membership less fashionable but also — I believe — as a result of long neglect of party management issues by successive leaders, Conservative membership has changed from being three times larger than Labour’s to being a third or a quarter of it. The current figures would once have been unthinkable. According to the most recent published figures, the Conservatives had 149,800 members in 2013. This was barely larger than the SNP’s 2017 total of 118,000 and the Liberal Democrats’ 102,000. Individual Labour membership stood in June 2017 at 552,000.

For every 20 individual party members Labour had at its peak in 1952, the party had 11 members in 2017. For every 20 members the Conservative Party claimed in 1952, it had just one in 2013.

Theresa May is in the exceptional position of becoming the Conservative leader having earlier chaired the party headquarters. She is in a good position to tackle the rot, but will also have other things on her mind.

It is hardly surprising that steeply falling membership has had financial consequences for both the central and local Conservative structure. The ability to attract millionaire money has only partly lessened the underlying problem. In fact, it may have made the difficulties worse by providing a relatively lazy way to avoid the drudgery of trawling for tens of thousands of small and medium-sized donations. The most recent annual party accounts show that in the non-election year of 2016, central Conservative income amounted to £28.3 million. This was significantly lower than Labour’s £49.8 million. Labour was helped by its share of “Short Money”, the state grant given to opposition parties in the House of Commons. But this explains relatively little of its financial lead. When all state grants are subtracted, Labour had a national income of £42.6 million compared with with the Conservatives’ £27.9 million. More-over, Labour ended the year £11.1 million in the black while Conservative HQ remained £4.2 million in the red. The general election campaign gave a temporary financial boost to the Tories as shown in donation statistics published by the Electoral Commission for the second quarter of 2017.

More significant is the analysis I prepared in 2016 for the Committee on Standards in Public Life on trends in local party funding. Despite the fall in membership, Conservative constituency associations still easily outspend their Labour counterparts. But this advantage has been steadily declining, as might be expected from the membership trends. Between 2003 and 2013 (two years without general elections), the average expenditure of constituency Labour parties rose 3 per cent faster than inflation (as measured by average wages). By the same reckoning, local Conservative spending fell by 29 per cent. Compared with 1993, estimated Labour local spending was 15 per cent higher in real terms by 2013 but Conservative constituency spending was 52 per cent lower in real terms.

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