UK Politics

Tories urgently need more volunteers, says Sir Eric Pickles

Theresa May Image copyright PA

The Conservative Party urgently needs to increase its number of activists on the ground, a post-mortem of its general election campaign has said.

It also needs to sign up younger members or risk being outgunned by the "united left" that rallied behind Jeremy Corbyn.

The report, by former minister Sir Eric Pickles, also recommended changes to the way the manifesto is drawn up.

It comes amid claims Tory membership could have dropped to 100,000.

But First Secretary of State Damian Green told ITV's Robert Peston it was 120,000 "last time I looked".

The party has not published membership figures since 2014, when it told the ConservativeHome website it was 149,800.

The site's editor Paul Goodman says he has been told that whatever the membership figure was in 2016, it has fallen by a quarter over the past year, with John Strafford of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy estimating it is now "around 100,000".

Labour Party membership has soared since Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015, and now stands at nearly 600,000 and its election campaign was boosted by young, enthusiastic members of Momentum.

The Tory youth wing, Conservative Future, was taken over by the central party in 2015 after a bullying scandal, effectively shutting it down, although there are efforts to set up a Conservative version of Momentum.

Sir Eric said the general election, which saw the Conservatives increase their share of the vote to 42% but lose their overall Commons majority, revealed "a clear campaigning deficiency" in the party.

He said there needs to be "a fundamental re-evaluation" of the way it runs campaigns, including:

  • Creating a "vibrant" new youth wing and ensure all candidate selection panels have two people under 30 on them
  • Recruiting more ethnic minority members
  • Ensuring the manifesto is backed by all senior figures and is not drawn up at the last minute
  • Establishing clear procedures and guidance for candidates and volunteers experiencing abuse

Sir Eric, who will present his findings to Conservative members at their annual conference in Manchester, said he felt "a sense of optimism" and believed the party was "in a mood to address the defects and deficiencies of our electoral machine".

"We can come out of this process stronger and better, but we will need to be brave, radical and modern in our reforms," he added.

Senior Tory backbencher Nigel Evans said the "stupidity" of the 2017 manifesto process should never be repeated.

"She had people at Number 10 who were making decisions where people like ourselves were sidelined," he told Sky News.

"We really did pay a very heavy price for that stupidity... We attacked the young and we attacked the old. There was hardly anybody left that we didn't attack."

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