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Membership of UK political parties

Published Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The UK’s political party system is at a time of considerable change. Membership of the three main political parties is near a historic low: 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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According to the latest party press releases and media estimates (at 11 August 2015):

- The Conservative Party has around 149,800 members, as of December 2013.

- The Labour Party has around 270,000 members, as of August 2015.

- The Scottish National Party has around 110,000 members, as of June 2015.

- The Liberal Democrat Party has 61,000 members, as of May 2015.

- UKIP has around 42,000 members, as of January 2015.

- The Green Party (England and Wales) has 61,000 members, as of June 2015.

Membership of the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats is at a historic low. In 2015 1.0% of the electorate was a member of these three parties and, in 2011, 0.8%. This compares to 3.8% in 1983.

Membership of “other” parties has increased markedly in recent years. In June 2015 Green Party (England and Wales) membership was around 61,000, compared to 13,800 in December 2013, while in June 2015 SNP membership was around 110,000, compared to 25,000 in December 2013. UKIP’s membership increased by around 10,000 over the same period, from 32,000 in December 2013 to around 42,000 in January 2015.

In 2014 income from membership fees comprise 23% of the Green Party’s (England and Wales) income, 19% of the SNP’s, 18% of Plaid Cymru’s, 15% of Labour’s, 14% of UKIP’s, 9% of the Liberal Democrat’s and 2% of the Conservative’s.  

Identification with political parties has declined over the past thirty years: the 32nd British Attitudes Survey found that in 2014 37% of people identified very or fairly strongly with a political party, compared with 46% in 1987. Identification with a political party is particularly low among the young.

Membership of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties is disproportionately high among men, the retired and those with professional or managerial status, compared to the electorate as a whole.

This note uses a range of sources to examine party membership and support in the UK, specifically membership levels, the income membership fees generate and the social characteristics of party members. For context, it also provides data on membership to non-party political organisations including trade unions, charities and campaigns.

Commons Briefing papers SN05125

Author: Richard Keen

Topic: Political parties

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