Political party affiliation in the United Kingdom

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Membership and supporter status within political parties in the United Kingdom typically contain restrictions including:

  • Age restrictions
  • Citizenship restrictions
  • A commitment to the party's principles
  • Limiting holding membership of other political parties
  • Limiting standing against officially endorsed candidates
  • Membership of specifically prohibited political parties
  • Personal conduct expectations and party rule compliance

Practically, involvement in a political party without membership may limit an individual's involvement. Parties that offer a lower level of affiliation, such as supporter status tend to have looser constraints.


Membership of political parties has been in decline in the UK since the 1950s, falling by over 65% from 1983 (4 per cent of the electorate) to 2005 (1.3 per cent).[1] Typically party affiliation allows an individual to support only a single party. However a notable exception to this is the Co-operative Party which supports only Labour and the SDLP.

Current membership[edit]

Some political parties in the UK disclose their membership, some do not, there is no legal or electoral obligation to give figures let alone accurate figures. Some parties are active in and contest seats throughout the entire United Kingdom, whereas others are only active and contest seats in a particular country or countries in the UK.

Party Total current membership Full members (if applicable) Registered supporters (if applicable) Date Regions served Comments
Labour 430,000[2] N/A N/A July 2021 UK Labour has three categories of membership, but a recent breakdown of them is not available. In late 2015, the membership was approximately 53% full members, 27% union affiliated members, and 20% registered supporters.[3]
Conservatives 200,000[4] N/A N/A 27 March 2021 UK Membership was announced by the Conservative Party’s co-chairman Amanda Milling in March 2021
SNP 119,000[5] N/A N/A May 2021 Scotland There was a huge surge in membership after the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, prior to which the SNP had just over 25,000 members.[6]
Liberal Democrats 98,247[7] 98,247[7] 17,102
(as of September 2019)[8]
31 December 2020 UK Membership increased sharply after the confirmation on 18 April 2017 of the 8 June 2017 general election.[9]

Membership again increased sharply in the period before and after the two elections of May 2019, for the UK Councils and the European Parliament.

Green Party of England and Wales 53,000[10] N/A N/A July 2021 England and Wales
UK Independence Party 3,888[11] N/A N/A 31 December 2020 UK
Co-operative Party 12,067 members plus subscribing co-operative societies.[12] N/A N/A 2020 UK Though the Co-operative Party stands joint candidates with the Labour Party, their membership bases are independent (members have the option of joining both parties).
Plaid Cymru 11,500[4][13] 11,500 N/A October 2019 Wales
Reform UK N/A N/A 115,000[14] May 2019 UK Reform UK, previously known as The Brexit Party, claims to have over 100,000 registered supporters, these are not party members as the party has no membership structure.
Scottish Greens 7,500[15] N/A N/A August 2021 Scotland


There are few high-profile cases of membership criteria enforcement and as such tend to happen under exceptional circumstances.

2015 Labour leadership election[edit]

During the 2015 Labour party leadership election it emerged that 260 former candidates from the Green Party, Left Unity and the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition had attempted to become registered supporters, but were subsequently blocked from voting.[16] Shortly before this, it was revealed that Conservative MP and former junior minister Tim Loughton had been caught applying to become a registered Labour supporter, subsequently claiming that his intention was to "blow the gaff on what a complete farce the whole thing is".[17] Veteran Labour MP Barry Sheerman also joined calls for the election to be "paused" over the fears of infiltration by other parties.[18] The Labour Party told representatives of the four candidates at a meeting on 11 August that 1,200 members and supporters of other parties had been excluded and a further 800 were under investigation.[19] Harriet Harman at the time admitted that as many as 100,000 people may be blocked from voting.[20]

The number of those rejected eventually reached 56,000,[21] around 9.1 per cent of the 610,753 considered eligible to vote at the start of the contest.[22] According to the party, 45,000 of those were rejected for not being on the electoral register.[23]

Labour also confirmed that it would cancel supporters' votes after they had been cast, if it was found that they were members of other parties.[24] A number of high-profile individuals have been blocked from voting, including Marcus Chown,[25] Jeremy Hardy, Douglas Henshall,[26] Ken Loach,[25] Francesca Martinez,[26] Mark Serwotka,[27] Pete Sinclair,[28] Mark Steel,[29] Luke Wright[30] and Toby Young.

Andrew MacKinlay, a former Labour MP, further alleged that Labour was attempting to rig its own leadership election against Corbyn;[31] a view shared by Jeremy Hardy.[32] Such allegations became known to the media – and particularly Corbyn supporters – as the "Labour Purge", with #LabourPurge trending on Twitter.[33][34] Claims of such a "purge" of Corbyn supporters were rejected by Harman who insisted that the exclusion processes were impartial to candidates.[35] Scottish newspaper The National printed a page-long satirical cartoon speculating further vote-rigging by Labour's leadership.[36]


Political realignments in the Brexit process led to Ann Widdecombe being expelled from the Conservatives after she defected to the Brexit Party in the 2019 European elections to run for MEP.[37] Michael Heseltine has the whip removed after expressing his intention to vote Liberal Democrat.[38] Conservative policy appears to make such expulsions discretionary.[39] despite threats from Conservative Campaign Headquarters.[40]

Tony Blair's support from pro-remain parties led to questions why he had not been expelled from the Labour Party.[41] Alastair Campbell was expelled from the Labour Party after saying he voted for the Liberal Democrats in the 2019 European election.[42] Many Labour members came out in support of Campbell using the hashtag #expelmetoo reporting they had similar voted for the Liberal Democrats or other remain parties.[43]

Criteria for membership[edit]

Party Membership restrictions
Conservatives "open to all who share its objects and values and who undertake to be bound by this Constitution"

"Membership of the Conservative Party is not compatible with Membership of or association with any other registered political party"[44]

Labour "are not members of political parties or organisations ... declared ... ineligible for affiliation to the party."

"[Must not stand in] opposition to a Labour candidate"
"[Must not support] a political organisation ... who stands against an official Labour candidate"[45]

Liberal Democrats "Open to all persons who agree with its fundamental values and objectives without discrimination as to age, ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation."

"Membership may be revoked [due to] standing against the candidate of the Party"
"Membership may be refused [due to] membership of another political party in Great Britain"[46]

SNP "I endorse the aims of the Party"

"A member may not contest or be a member of any organisation [deemed to be a Political Party] contesting elections in opposition to the Party"[47]

Sinn Féin "only residents of Ireland are eligible for membership"[48]
Plaid Cymru "I endorse the aims of the Party and agree to abide by its constitution. I am not a member of any other political party active in Wales"[49]
Alliance Party
Green Party of England and Wales "I/we accept the party’s aims and do not belong to any other political party."[50]
Scottish Greens "I accept and will further the aims of the Scottish Green Party, and am not a member of any other political party except a sister Green party"[51]
Green Party in Northern Ireland "not a member of any other political party."[52]
TUV Support for the principles of Unionism, Independence from the Republic of Ireland and Family values[53]
UKIP "open to any natural person who shares the objectives and core beliefs of the Party"

"[Membership shall be revoked if a member] joins another political party ... or any organisation membership of which the NEC has declared to be incompatible"
"[Membership shall be revoked if a member]has set up or has aided and abetted the setting up of another political party"
"[Membership shall be revoked if a member]stands against a UKIP candidate in any election"[54]
"I am not and have never been a member of the British National Party, National Front, British Freedom Party, British People's Party, English Defence League, Britain First or the UK First Party."[55]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ John Marshall: Membership of UK political parties; House of Commons, SN/SG/5125; 2009, page 6. www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/briefings/snsg-05125.pdf Retrieved 5 January 2012
  2. ^ Courea, Eleni (24 July 2021). "Huge legal bills leave Labour feeling the pinch". The Times. Retrieved 31 July 2021.
  3. ^ Wright, Oliver (10 September 2015). "Labour leadership contest: After 88 days of campaigning, how did Labour's candidates do?". The Independent. Retrieved 11 September 2015. the electorate is divided into three groups: 292,000 members, 148,000 union “affiliates” and 112,000 registered supporters who each paid £3 to take part
  4. ^ a b Merrick, Rob (27 March 2021). "Tories hail big rise in party membership, because 'everyone loves the prime minister'". Retrieved 17 May 2021 – via independent.co.uk.
  5. ^ Matchett, Conor (26 August 2021). "SNP spent £615,000 on office refit, annual accounts confirm". The Scotsman. Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  6. ^ "Scottish referendum: 'Yes' parties see surge in members". BBC News. 22 September 2014.
  7. ^ a b "Liberal Democrats annual report year ended 31 December 2020". The Electoral Commission. 31 December 2020. Retrieved 6 September 2021.
  8. ^ "Registered supporters 2019". Liberal Democrats.
  9. ^ "Lib Dem Membership tops 100,000 after snap election call". BBC News. 24 April 2017. Retrieved 24 April 2017.
  10. ^ Proctor, Kate (16 July 2021). "The Green Party Is Tearing Itself Apart In A Furious Row Over Trans Rights". Politics Home. Retrieved 18 July 2021.
  11. ^ "United Kingdom Independence Party Limited (a company limited by guarantee) report and accounts 31 December 2020". The Electoral Commission. 31 December 2020. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  12. ^ "About the Co-operative Party". Co-operative Party.
  13. ^ "Plaid Cymru see 25% membership boost following Adam Price's leadership victory". Nation Cymru. 12 October 2018. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  14. ^ Farage, Nigel (15 May 2019). "The Brexit Party now has over 100,000 registered supporters". Nigel Farage Official. Twitter.
  15. ^ Carrell, Severin (11 August 2021). "Deal between Scottish Greens and SNP delayed as deadline looms". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  16. ^ Patrick Wintour and Frances Perraudin (7 August 2015). "Labour leadership election: 260 members of rival parties ask to vote". The Guardian.
  17. ^ Perraudin, Frances (5 August 2015). "Tory caught signing up as Labour supporter wanted to expose vote 'farce'". theguardian.com. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  18. ^ Carole Walker (10 August 2015). "Labour contest should be 'paused', MP Barry Sheerman says". BBC News. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  19. ^ Mason, Rowena (11 August 2015). "Labour leadership contest: campaign teams summoned over ballot concerns". The Guardian.
  20. ^ Nickerson, James (25 August 2015). "Labour leadership race: Acting leader Harriet Harman admits up to 100,000 members could be purged from vote". City A.M.
  21. ^ Blanchard, Jack (26 August 2015). "Labour Party rejects 56k bids to vote in leadership contest to calm fears of Tory infiltration". Daily Mirror.
  22. ^ "Over 600,000 people will be able to vote in the Labour leadership contest". LabourList. 12 August 2015.
  23. ^ "Number of voters in leadership contest revised down to 550,000". LabourList. 25 August 2015.
  24. ^ "Labour is going to cancel some supporters' leadership votes after they've been cast". The Independent. London.
  25. ^ a b "The Labour Purge Is Underway, And They've Banned Me From Voting Corbyn (IMAGE)". Scriptonite Daily. Archived from the original on 11 June 2017.
  26. ^ a b Glaze, Ben (20 August 2015). "Genuine Labour supporters barred from voting for leader due to 'robust' checks". Daily Mirror.
  27. ^ "Labour leadership: Mark Serwotka of PCS union has vote rejected". BBC News. 26 August 2015.
  28. ^ "Labour supporters claim leadership vote 'purge'". Channel 4 News.
  29. ^ Aubrey Allegretti (13 August 2015). "Mark Steel's Ban From Vote in Labour Leadership Election Prompts Raging 'Entryism' Debate". Huffington Post.
  30. ^ "Labour leadership race: Now Labour is blocking genuine party members from leadership vote". cityam.com. 20 August 2015.
  31. ^ Riley-Smith, Ben (21 August 2015). "'Labour purge' is deliberate attempt by party to stop Jeremy Corbyn winning, former MP claims". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  32. ^ "Jeremy Hardy: 'Labour trying to rig leadership election'". BBC News. 21 August 2015.
  33. ^ Riley-Smith, Ben (21 August 2015). "'Labour purge' is deliberate attempt by party to stop Jeremy Corbyn winning, former MP claims". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  34. ^ "#LabourPurge: Supporter's fury as they are stopped from voting for next Labour leader". Metro. 20 August 2015.
  35. ^ Sebastian Payne (25 August 2015). "Harriet Harman: we are not purging Corbyn supporters". The Spectator.
  36. ^ "Not Waving But Purging". thenational.scot. Archived from the original on 25 September 2015.
  37. ^ Hunt, Darren (24 April 2019). "Ann Widdecombe reveals she has been EXPELLED from Tories after defection to Brexit Party". Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  38. ^ BBC (20 May 2019). "European elections 2019: Heseltine loses Tory whip over Lib Dem vote". Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  39. ^ Peretz, George (1 May 2019). "Are Conservative members who endorse the Brexit Party at risk of expulsion?". Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  40. ^ Pearson, Allison (1 May 2019). "Why I will be voting for the Brexit Party". Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  41. ^ May, Josh (30 April 2017). "John Prescott questions why Tony Blair has not been expelled from Labour". Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  42. ^ Mason, Rowena (28 May 2019). "Labour expels Alastair Campbell from party". Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  43. ^ Tobin, Olivia (29 May 2019). "#expelmetoo: Furious members who voted against Labour in European elections dare party to kick them out after Alastair Campbell's expulsion". Evening Standard. Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  44. ^ "Constitution of the Conservative Party (Page 10)" (PDF). Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  45. ^ "Labour Party Rule Book (Page 9)" (PDF). Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  46. ^ "The Constitutions of the Liberal Democrats" (PDF). www.libdems.org.uk. Retrieved 24 June 2016.
  47. ^ "CONSTITUTION OF THE SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY" (PDF). www.snp.org. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  48. ^ "Join Sinn Féin". www.sinnfein.ie. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  49. ^ "Join Plaid Cymru -The Party of Wales today". partyofwales.org. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  50. ^ "Membership". www.greenparty.org.uk. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  51. ^ "Join the Scottish Green Party" (PDF). www.scottishgreens.org.uk. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  52. ^ "Membership Form". www.greenpartyni.org. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  53. ^ "Application for membership" (PDF). www.tuv.org.uk. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  54. ^ "The Constitution". www.ukip.org. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  55. ^ "Join Online". join.ukip.org. Retrieved 6 September 2014.