‘Honoured that you are writing my father’s biography’ the late Tony Benn, ‘...wonderfully written’ Hilary Benn

‘Sparkles with fascinating detail…a remarkable story of Liberal and Labour politics in the first half of the twentieth century.’ Michael Crick, Political Correspondent, Channel 4 News

‘Casts much light both on the evolution of British radicalism, and on the legacy which he bequeathed to his son, Tony. Professor Vernon Bogdanor, King's College, London

‘Brilliant biography…wonderful reading about the father and...discovering more about the son.’ Steve Richards of The Independent

‘Well-written and carefully researched, this fascinating biography brings to life a major figure in British political history…an excellent job of weaving together the strands of a complex life…as well as filling in the background of the Benn family’ Richard Doherty, military historian

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Party membership collapses

Membership of political parties continues to fall. At its peak in the 1950s, the Conservative Party claimed over 3 million members, the Labour Party peaked at over a million and even the Liberals had nearly quarter of a million members at a time when they used to attract only 6% of the vote. The latest figures show Conservative Party membership down to 177,000, Labour at 194,000 and the Lib Dems on 65,000. A few smaller parties are increasing their membership, but this hardly affects the overall decline. Fewer than 1% of British people are now a member of a political party.

Should the major parties be worried? Over the whole of the last century, more than 100 seats at Westminster never once changed hands between parties, so perhaps some seats really are safe for the major parties no matter what happens. This complacency should be shaken by the fact that Martin Bell won one of the Conservatives’ safest seats (Tatton – now George Osborne’s seat) as an independent in 1997. Labour lost one of their safest seats (Blaenau Gwent) to an independent in 2005 and most recently George Galloway took the formerly-safe Labour seat of Bradford West for Respect at a by-election.  

The most memorable quote from a British politician over the last year was probably the victorious Galloway’s description of the main political parties as ‘three buttocks on the same arse’. Galloway clearly has his own particular vision of why the major parties are likely to occupy fewer seats in the future. But more conventional evidence does support his views. At the 1951 general election the three main parties won all except 3 of the seats at Westminster, but in 2010 no less than 27 seats went to candidates not allied to the three major parties. Whichever way you look at it, seats may well become less comfortable.

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