AN EX-SOLDIER who plays the ukulele, a 28-year-old from Derbyshire and a woman who grew up in Lagos may not sound like typical Tory MPs. Yet they were among the fresh faces that Theresa May called in this week to overhaul the Conservative Party. During an otherwise calamitous government reshuffle (see Bagehot), Mrs May cleaned out the Tories’ management, appointing a new party chairman, a new deputy and nine extra vice-chairmen.

The small army of party-wallahs must solve a paradox. In the election last year the Tories won 42% of the vote, their highest share since 1983. Yet Conservative members are an endangered species. The party’s membership has collapsed from over 1m in the 1980s to an estimated total of fewer than 100,000. While the Conservatives sit in government, their membership is on the way to extinction.

Freshening up the party’s gene pool is the first task of the Tories’ new managers. Conservative members are older and more male than those of all other parties, and posher than all but the Lib Dems, according to research from Queen Mary University of London. As well as being less diverse, they are less keen on diversity. Whereas a majority of Labour, Lib Dem and Scottish National Party members want more of their MPs to be women, disabled, working class, ethnic minority, young or gay, this is a minority position among Conservative members (see chart). The sometimes narrow views of current members may put off new ones, says Tim Bale, who carried out the research.

To attract new recruits, membership needs to be made worthwhile, some Tory MPs believe. Unlike other parties, the Conservatives do not give their members a say on policy in exchange for the weekends spent stuffing envelopes with party propaganda. Although members vote for the party leader, they get a choice of only two candidates, selected by MPs—and in the most recent contest they had no vote at all, after Mrs May’s rivals all withdrew. A £25 ($34) membership fee is “a bitter pill to swallow in return for the right…to be an unpaid postman,” wrote Priti Patel, a former cabinet minister, on ConservativeHome, a website for Tory activists.

These problems are fixable. Membership fees could be reduced for young people or even made voluntary across the board, argues Ms Patel. Grant Shapps, a former party chairman, suggests allowing members to vote for the chairman and giving them more input on policy. And the party should not focus just on members, he adds. During the general election of 2015, 100,000 people signed up as volunteers, which helped the Tories to win an unexpected majority, he argues.

Still, a broader membership might make the party more likely to represent the concerns of its 14m voters, rather than the sometimes niche—and politically damaging—worries of its small band of activists. One organisation, Vote OK, helped to round up supporters in 2017. Its price? A wildly unpopular free vote on fox hunting.

Likewise, more young activists would bring instinctive savvy to the Tories’ haphazard efforts on social media. They have energy, too. “There is a shortage of young legs to deliver leaflets and generally prepared to be ‘out’ Tories,” says Jack Rankin, a councillor in Windsor and Maidenhead.

The opposition suffers no such problem. Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s membership has ballooned to 570,000. Labour activist groups such as Momentum act as political guerrillas, both on social media and on the doorstep. Conservatives may be instinctively wary of initiating similar efforts. Handing members too much power can cause shocks—as Mr Corbyn’s surprise election as leader in 2015, on a wave of party-member support, powerfully demonstrated.

But even Mr Corbyn’s biggest critics admit that the party has been invigorated. Now, with Labour’s activists on the march, the Conservatives have little choice but to try to jump-start their own efforts.