Thursday, 15 August 2013

Zombie Tories Today, Zombie UKIP Tomorrow

Stuart Parr blogged yesterday on the astonishing news that Tory membership could be as low as 59,000. Having crunched the numbers, he showed that even taking much more generous estimates of membership that the party, once sitting councillors were excluded, is now almost completely devoid of activists.

No one seems to know exactly how many members the Tory party now has, including the Tory party itself. Rumours circulate of estimates between 59,000, 84,000, 100,000 and 130,000. However membership does seem likely to have slipped below the psychologically important 100,000 mark. Still appreciably bigger than UKIP's of course, but crucially even those members who remain are horrible demoralised, with around half of them no longer campaigning for the party.

The Tories are now a Zombie party. Terrified that it's members and the country will perceive the horrible truth  must surely be the reason why the Tories refuse to release estimates of membership. However, it is another fantastic own goal by it's blundering, arrogant leadership. Refusing to be open about the issue won't stop rumours circulating, and, as is the way with rumours, getting ever more wild over time. More importantly, it is yet another insult to it's poor remaining membership. After all, would you want to be a member of an organisation that refused to tell you even the most basic of information about itself?

Given our own rapid rise in membership, it is very tempting for us 'Kippers to sit back and gloat, and look forward to the wonderful day when UKIP membership overtakes not only the failing Lib Dems but also the weak and sickly Tories.

Not so fast.

The fact is that our structure is as archaic and in desperate need of reform as all the other parties. The era of the rigid silo is well and truly over. In the internet age, political parties will have to take on the characteristics of social networks.  Policy formation, for instance, must be crowd-sourced rather than confined to a closed and select few, and there must be all sorts of models for social engagement and membership.

In no way should the hard work and guts of UKIP activists in getting our party up to a historic high of 30,000 members against the fierce head winds of general voter apathy and alienation be disparaged. However, as the pundit Fraser Nelson never tires of pointing out, something is desperately wrong with party politics in this country when other voluntary organisations and causes routinely have memberships in the millions.  Put UKIP membership figures in that context and it shows just how far we have to go.

The first political party who radically reforms itself on social network lines may see huge increases in membership, and there is a great danger that it won't be us. Nothing is as dangerous as success, as the saying goes, and it is very tempting indeed to think that nothing is wrong and to carry on as we are.

It has been to UKIP's huge luck and advantage that it's principle rival has been lead by people without an original idea in their heads over the last few years. It would be extremely foolish to bank on that luck lasting forever. Facing extinction, there are strong signs that the Tories are now beginning to look seriously at Douglas Carswell's ideas to "spotify" the party. Carswell, perhaps the most brilliant original thinker in British politics today, has already proven the worth of his ideas in his own Tory branch in Clacton. Given his head, he would be far more formidable opponent than dunderheads like Cameron or Grant Shapps.

The political fates are always fickle: although now very seriously wounded, you should never underestimate the Tory party's ruthless instinct for survival. It has still got significant financial resources,  individual though woefully under utilised talent and  residual - though badly tarnished - brand recognition and loyalty. A Tory party returned to it's members and supporters via the social network route could well leave UKIP high and dry, struggling to catch up but without the depth of resources to do so. It is therefore absolutely essential that UKIP is both first and boldest in embracing the new models of social organisation that are an inevitability in the age we live in.

The Tories may be a zombie party, but that is the thing about zombies: they have a very nasty habit of rising from the dead.

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