The allegations flying around regarding a senior Tory activist named Mark Clarke are pretty lurid, so I shan’t repeat them here. What interests me with this article in mind is how he managed to get to such a senior position in the first place – apparently he came with stories about how he could lure thousands of young activists back into the Tory fold. This was enough for Clarke to have largely free reign by the sounds of things, and whatever the substance of the allegations against Mr Clarke the whole thing has already rebounded in the face of the Conservative Party. If the Labour Party weren’t in meltdown at present, the damage would be even worse.
From the sounds of things, Clarke offered the Tory high command what has now become political gold: some way of improving membership, particularly amongst the young. This is because political parties, all political parties, even Labour despite the against the grain upsurge they are seeing in numbers since the general election, are shrinking in terms of membership. This means that as fewer people join the two largest parties, the more power those members have in terms of determining who runs the country. And for any number of reasons, those people are not very representative of the voting population as a whole, even of those who vote for the same party as they do.
We are witnessing this with Corbyn’s leadership – the man won with a huge mandate, his supporters say, surely this demonstrates his electability? The problem with this thinking is that while yes, according to the rules of the Labour Party, Corbyn is leader with an overwhelming mandate, again, the membership of the Labour Party is tiny in comparison to even those who voted Labour in May 2015. 9.3 million people voted Labour at the last election; there are currently around 370,000 Labour members. That means that Labour members represent just 4% of those who voted for the party at the election (and that’s assuming all those members voted Labour, which is by no means a certain with the newer in-take). As a result of this, just how representative the membership’s views are in relation to the group of people who voted Labour in May, never mind the general population of Britain, is debatable (and will be revealed in time).
There are many lessons the Tories should take away from the Mark Clarke saga, but not least of which is how seemingly willing they were to put aside any usual worries and give someone the keys to the castle on the promise of activists and plenty of them. The desperation is understandable but cannot be allowed to continue. Almost everyone I speak to in politics shakes their head furiously when I ask whether or not the Conservative Party could “pull a Corbyn” – i.e. elect a leader that is ideologically close to the membership but might very well be viewed as politically extreme by the general electorate. Never happen, they say – the Tory membership is too “logical”. Having been to Conservative Party conference for the last several years, I can tell you that last point is extremely debatable. Putting that aside, no one thought Corbyn could win, remember? Truth is, all of the parties could be pulled in even more ideological directions, away from the voting public further and further, until…..well, I have no idea. What happens when Peter Bone is prime minister and Jeremy Corbyn the leader of the opposition? Let’s hope we never find out.