Membership of UK political parties

Published 30 January 2015

The UK’s political party system is at a time of considerable change. Membership of the three main political parties is at a historic low: less than 1% of the UK electorate is now a member of the Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat Party. Yet membership of smaller parties has risen markedly. This note analyses the size and social characteristics of political party memberships.

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The UK’s political party system is at a time of considerable change. Membership of the three main political parties is at a historic low: less than 1% of the UK electorate is now a member of the Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat Party, compared to 3.8% in 1983. Latest membership estimates from the parties suggest that the Conservative Party has 149,800 members, the Labour Party 190,000 and the Liberal Democrat Party 44,000.

According to estimates reported by the BBC in January 2015, the coalition of UK Green Parties had around 44,000 members, the SNP 93,000 and UKIP 42,000. Party press releases from each respective party indicate that in June 2014 membership of the UK Independence Party was around 39,000; in January 2015 membership of the Scottish National Party was around 93,000; in January 2015 membership of the Green Party (England and Wales) was around 35,500 and that of the Scottish Green Party was 8,000. Though none of these parties can claim to equal either the Conservatives or Labour in size, their rise nonetheless represents a notable change in the make-up of the UK’s political landscape.

This note provides, in section 2, data on membership of the three main political parties from 1928 and for the UK’s smaller parties from 2002. Accompanying commentary is provided on the difficulty of measuring and comparing party memberships.

The social characteristics of political party members and supporters are analysed in section 3. By bringing together a range of sources, this section offers an overview of the data available to measure support for and engagement with political parties.

Non-party political activity is analysed in section 5 in order to contextualise the fluctuating popularity of political parties. Activist, trade union and charitable bodies have featured prominently in the UK’s political history and, the information presented here suggests, continue to do so.

Commons Briefing papers SN05125

Author: Richard Keen

Topic: Political parties

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