Political parties see membership rise

Russell Hargrave discovers that more people are returning to local politics since last year’s election

Political partiesThere has been a sharp rise in the number of people joining political parties in the borough since the 2015 General Election.

According to information provided to the Echo, the biggest increase has come in the Labour Party. Over 1,000 new members have joined across Waltham Forest since May last year, doubling the size of the party locally.

A Green Party spokesperson said that their local membership had almost doubled from 280 members to nearly 550. Membership of the local Liberal Democrats has also increased by 20 percent during the same period, while the UK Independence Party (UKIP) confirmed that they had also experienced “a boost” in members. The Conservative Party did not respond to requests for membership information.

This picture of political involvement in the borough matches high-profile national campaigns to raise participation in political parties, including Labour’s new ‘Momentum’ group inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign, the so-called ‘Green surge’, and the ‘Lib Dem fightback’ started after their poor showing at the election last year.

The growth has been welcomed by both political parties and local grassroots campaigners.
Alistair Strathern, a Labour councillor for the Higham Hill ward on Waltham Forest Council, said: “We are incredibly excited that Labour membership across the borough has more than doubled since the general election.

“We are looking forward to the increased impact and energy this will bring to local campaigning, including more people coming out to canvas with us on the doorstep.”

Bob Sullivan, the former leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the council and chairman of the party in Leyton and Chingford, hailed the arrival of more active members and added that the additional support meant the party was “looking forward to upping our game”.

The challenge facing the parties is to translate extra membership into greater success at the polls when council elections next take place in 2018.

In the meantime, there is optimism that growing party political activity will also have a positive impact on grassroots volunteering and campaigning in the area.

Sophie Bolt, who has helped run local campaigns with We Are Waltham Forest and Stand Up To Racism, said that she has already seen more community engagement.

She said: “People who had been active previously, but had become disillusioned, have come back. It’s having a real impact on people turning up for local causes, because they feel they have more to gain, and more reason to take part.”

Helen Johnston, an expert on volunteering who works for Walthamstow charity The Mill, is also encouraged, but cautioned that it will take time before the benefits are felt.

She said: “Once someone starts getting active at a political party, they are part of a group of friends which pull them into doing more.

“It’s much easier to get people involved if they follow the recommendations of people they already know.”