Have 150,000 people really left the Labour Party over Brexit?

If anyone were in a position to know, then the spur would have to have been the result of an event half a year ago, rather than the party’s handling of Brexit now.

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Have 150,000 Labour members left over Brexit? That’s the arresting statistic that is doing the rounds at the moment, and has been reported by several newspapers. The Labour Party has described the stories as “entirely untrue” and the figures as “fabricated”.

The important thing to remember about any story about party members leaving is that no one is in a position to provide accurate information – including whichever political party is being discussed. Most party activists leave in the same way that one ends a gym membership or a Netflix subscription – by cancelling it with their bank and letting the relevant organisation find out in the fullness of time. A handful will publicly announce it, whether by emailing the central party, their local association or constituency party; but most will just quietly exit.

It is not like when people join a political party, when the party finds out about it pretty quickly and where most parties prompt new members to tell them why they have joined.

We do know from Labour’s recent elections to the ruling National Executive Committee that party membership has fallen from its 2016 peak to a little over half a million. Anecdotally, there is clearly some discontent within the Labour Party grassroots over Brexit, and it does seem to have increased in recent weeks.

But we should treat any story putting specific figures on that discontent with scepticism. As boring an answer as it is, we won’t know what the state and size of the Labour Party membership is until the party next has an internal election.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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