Tens of thousands of new members have signed up to join the Tories over the last year, dramatically increasing the electorate that will choose Theresa May’s successor. The Tories now have more than 160,000 paid-up backers, which represents an increase of almost a third since March 2018, according to The Sunday Telegraph. The rise was partly down to a recruitment drive led by party chair, Brandon Lewis, who has held the position since January 2018.
The rapid swelling of the electorate is likely to fuel speculation the party is being “flooded” by hardline Brexiteers – a move likely to concern Remainer “moderates” within the party.
People’s Vote cheerleader Anna Soubry, a former Tory minister who quit the party over Brexit, claimed earlier this year Conservative associations had been “infiltrated” by former Ukip activists, the party previously led by Nigel Farage, in what she termed “purple momentum”.
She claimed: “Overwhelmingly the majority of associations are being infiltrated by nationally orchestrated entryism, blatantly designed to remove rebel MPs who they label traitors.”
Ms Soubry, now a Change UK MP, said her values were “no longer welcome in the Conservative Party”.
Staunch Remainer Dominic Grieve in March lost a vote of no-confidence by his own constituents in a move some saw as evidence of Ms Soubry’s warnings.
But a member of her association rubbished the claims, saying: “It’s a load of rubbish. I feel quite offended.
“We’re a broad church in the Conservative Party. People have returned and come back.”
Mr Lewis, who will oversee the leadership contest triggered on Friday by Mrs May, revealed the increase in his party’s membership in an article for The Sunday Telegraph.
The MP for Great Yarmouth said: “When I took on my role last January, I made it clear that building and professionalising our membership was a key priority.
“That is why I brought in specialist staff to improve our retention of members, centralised the administration of membership and built our campaign manager programme to drive steady, daily recruitment on the ground of those who share the party’s aims and values.
“This work has meant that in a year we have built our membership from 124,000 in March 2018 to over 160,000 today.”
In March 2018 Mr Lewis said party membership had grown by 6,000 since Mrs May’s initial Brexit agreement with the EU in December 2017.
The party’s new official figure means it has 30,000 more members than the 130,000 registered in 2013, under David Cameron’s premiership.
Of the party’s membership surge, Mr Lewis said: “The growth rate has been much higher in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland than in England.
“And the areas in England where we have seen the biggest boost have been the East Midlands (39 percent) and the North East (37 percent).
“We have also grown our youth membership by 64 percent, and established 100 Young Conservative branches in the past year.”
The standard membership fee for joining the Conservatives is £25 per year.
Mr Lewis also explained issues members “care about” comprise the economy, housing, the environment and the NHS.
His hesitance to mention Brexit may be seen as a warning to potential candidates they should not make the contest a single-issue race.
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