Party membership in a Covid world

The Covid pandemic is causing a problem for political parties the world over. Naturally, the most important challenges are those faced by ruling parties – who have a duty and responsibility to their nations to create the most effective response to the pandemic – who must make the hard choices. But there are other issues facing political parties during this time period. Perhaps two of the most notable problems that parties will need to overcome are inextricably intertwined and of vital importance to the continued survival and efforts of a party – fundraising and rising disinterest.

The UK Conservative Party must not allow itself to ignore these problems – they must be addressed now before they get worse. Firstly, apathy has almost certainly taken hold among much of the party infrastructure. This is partly due to the lack of events and boots on the ground campaigning, but it will also be due to the lack of any real issues for the members to get behind the government on. Of course, the grassroots may have been able to rally around a solid and consistent response to Covid. However, as the pandemic measures drag on as well as the coronavirus and its knock-on effects continue to dominate the news cycles, morale is not high.

Moreover, the lack of morale and Covid blocking most local activities will lead into another significant problem for the Conservatives – local fundraising. Without the lifeblood of a local association: regular activities, canvassing, fundraising events and others – the small-scale funding that keeps the local party ticking over will cease to be. More worryingly, many local parties had already been struggling with funding well before the start of lockdown with more and more becoming wholly reliant on funding from CCHQ. This issue may have had its roots in changes to how the party collected its membership fees and been a pre-existing problem, but lockdown will have only exacerbated the concern.

Of course, it is not just local associations that will have been struggling during this crisis. Even the central party infrastructure of all parties will have been suffering. Just as local associations cannot hold fundraising events in the same ways as pre-lockdown, neither can Party headquarters or party leaders. The glitzy restaurant pieces where donors get to rub shoulders with whichever party leaders they support – cancelled. Many large donors are busy trying to support their own struggling businesses, they do not have the spare money to throw to their choice of party.

Given that these measures and social habits may continue for at least the near future, parties are having to get creative. Barely a week goes by where I have not received an invite to pay to attend an online “conference” or “discussion” or some other Zoom format with a senior Conservative politician. This may be the start of a new direction in party events and fundraising – something that is more convenient and possible no matter the pandemic or any other looming national crisis. However, these events are currently nowhere near as effective as in person events.

For party politics to continue unabated parties will need funding and campaigners – Covid might hasten the end of in person campaigning as relations and canvassing become solely online events but I would not bank on it.  

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