Party conference season kicks off this weekend, but who is actually going? A ComRes poll out today suggests 38 per cent of Conservative backbenchers will be unlikely to attend their party’s annual gathering in Manchester. 14 per cent of Labour MPs have also stated they won’t be attending but thankfully for the Lib Dems, everyone polled said they would be probably or definitely be going:
Why is this a particular problem for the Tories? In this week’s Spectator cover feature, Ross Clark examines the plight of all parties and their conferences. He argues the Conservative party is now more akin to a rural bus service:
‘The website ConservativeHome (which now stages its own conferences) last month surveyed Conservative constituency associations which do return membership figures. It ads up to just under 60,000 paid-up members. This suggests total membership is unlikely to exceed 100,000 — less than half of the 253,600 when Cameron was elected leader.
‘Never mind trade unions, the Church of England, county cricket: the Conservative party has taken over the role of Britain’s most rapidly declining institution. With an average age of 68, the Conservative party is like a rural bus service whose clientele has dwindled year-on-year to an elderly rump, to the point at which it would be cheaper to replace it with a dial-a-ride taxi service.’
In this week's View from 22 podcast, Fraser and Ross blamed the influx of lobbyists as making the Tory conference unappealing. This has been countered by unofficial meet ups, such as Conservative Renewal conference in Windsor tomorrow. The event is billed specifically as an alternative conference ‘organised by Conservative grassroots members for people who want to talk about conservative policies.’
This renegade conference has not been welcomed by the party machine. It has been dubbed by some as a plotters gathering and the two cabinet members due to speak — Michael Gove and Theresa May — have been ‘warned off by No.10’, according to Ephraim Hardcastle. Not the best way to reconnect with your party's grassroots.