The Committee on Standards in Public Life is coming to the end of its evidence phase in the current inquiry into party political funding. It is due to report later this Spring. Many of those giving evidence have remarked on the bleeding to death of the three old parties, which enjoyed memberships of millions in the 1950s but can't even claim a combined membership of 1% of the electorate today. The reasons for falling memberships are complex, and involve many factors, but amongst those factors I had never included that identified by Professor Wyn Jones at the Cardiff session in January. "The Conservative organisation in Wales were Conservative Clubs (sic) which had their roots in the Sunday Closing Act 1881 and the fact that you could have a drink on a Sunday in a Conservative Club" revealed Prof Jones, and clearly we can see a link here between more liberal licensing laws and falling Party memberships across the UK.
Back in Ipswich, it was the compulsory afternoon pub shut-down from 2.30 - 5.00 pm that gave the Conservative Club its best trade, that and the full-size billiards table (yes, billiards - like snooker but with three balls only). It must have been the same the country-over. And suddenly the way in which MPs can reverse falling Party memberships without staining themselves with the odium tax funding is clear; we must restore the old restrictive licensing practices, the afternoon shut-down and the 11.00 pm curfew, and watch the Party clubs revitalise. Of course, an amendment to the Health Act that allowed smoking in clubs whilst keeping the pub ban would give them no excuse for Party memberships not to reach 10% of the electorate by the end of the decade. Simples.