Conservative Party is “closed to new members”

Secret survey by CCHQ reveals a reluctance to accept new members among local Conservative Associatio

The Conservative Party is a far more exclusive club than previously thought. Mark Wallace has got hold of some rather alarming research that shows a rather lacklustre attitude from local Conservative associations towards those wanting to join the party. In a "mystery shopper" test, more than half did not receive a response to their application, while 10 per cent were told that the association was "closed to new members".

Apparently Andrew Feldman reported (at a meeting this morning) on a study CCHQ has carried out into the effectiveness of local Conservative Associations. In a "mystery shopper" exercise, CCHQ wrote to over 300 associations under the guise of being a person who wanted to join up, and asking how to do so.

Over half of the letters received no response at all, which is bad enough. Weirdly, a handful who wrote back said the applicant would need to pass a membership interview before they could join the Conservatives. Most worryingly, though, around 10 per cent wrote back to the pretend applicant saying they were "closed to new members".

While Labour is practically giving membership away for free, the Conservatives are a more discerning bunch. Still, at least it shows ideological consistency. The party's membership policy matches its immigration policy: we're full, you can't come in!

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.