Membership of UK political parties - Commons Library Standard Note

Published 23 September 2014 | Standard notes SN05125

Amended 15 December 2014

Authors: Richard Keen

Topic: Political parties

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 estimates suggest that the Conservative Party claimed 134,000 members, the Labour party 190,000 and the Liberal Democrat Party 44,000.

Yet membership of smaller, often nationalist parties has risen markedly since the new millennium. In June 2014 membership of the UK Independence Party was around 39,000; in November 2014 membership of the Scottish National Party was around 92,000; in December 2014 membership of the Green Party was around 29,000. 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.

Section 2 of this note sets out available data on membership of the three main parties back to 1928, as well as more recent figures for smaller parties. Section 3 examines data available on the social characteristics of party members and supporters. Section 4 compares party membership levels in the UK to other European countries while section 5 examines non party political activity in order to contextualise the fluctuating popularity of political parties.

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