2,000 new Lib Dem members join in last 3 months of 2013: “first governing party in recent history to have increased its membership while in power”

Today’s Independent reports the story that Lib Dem membership is on the up – 2,000 new members joining in the last three months of the year mean the party has recorded a net increase of up to 800 members across 2013:

Much of the success, party sources said, was down to a new incentive scheme for local Lib Dem associations to recruit new members. Under the policy, if they can prove that their membership has grown over a three-month period, they get back 20 per cent of their subscriptions in that time to spend on local campaigning. If it has grown by more than 10 per cent, the amount they get back rises to 40 per cent. The incentive is expected to be especially valuable in marginal constituencies.

The Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron suggested the figures showed the “feel-good factor” had returned. “You can sense a change in the mood on the doorsteps too. People are starting to give the Liberal Democrats credit for some of the good things the Coalition has done,” he said. “They are also noticing the difference we have made in stopping the worst excesses of the Conservatives.”

The increase is a welcome boost to the party. There is an historic decline in membership of all parties – Tory party membership has halved since David Cameron’s election as leader to 130,000; Labour’s has halved since its 1997 landslide to 200,000 – which is true for the Lib Dems and has been particularly sharp during the Coalition. Here’s my graph of Lib Dem figures since the formation of the modern party in 1988:

lib dem membership figs since 1988

In the circumstances, simply arresting what has seemed like an inevitable decline is impressive enough; increasing it, even by a couple of percentage points, even more so.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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34 Comments

  • The crucial point about the fall in Labour membership was that it started within a few months of entering Government & quickly peaked. Most of the loss occured in their 1st Term in Office, the rate of decline falling slowly over the 13 years. Labour membership only began to rise once it was clear they would lose the Election & most of the rise came after they had left Office.
    The pattern for The Tories is much harder to see because their membership has fallen in or out of Power.

  • Have the LDs now got more members again than the SNP?

  • Caracatus – you can count on one hand (max) those seats having more than 500 members. I cannot say for certain where the claimed recent increases have come from, but I am fairly certain that there are seats which are being targeted as gains which have less than 100, in some cases as low as 70 members. I can say, that as someone involved in membership, HQ has been sending very regular emails aimed at stimulating activity!

  • “Today’s Independent reports the story that Lib Dem membership is on the up – 2,000 new members joining in the last three months of the year mean the party has recorded a net increase of up to 800 members across 2013″

    I can’t see that figure of 800 in the article – instead it says that “Overall the party will go into 2014 with over 200 new members” (and it describes the 2,000 as the amount by which membership grew in the quarter, not as the number of “new members”).

    Maybe the actual “Figures released by the party” could be given, so we don’t have to guess on the basis of contradictory statements?

  • “A figure of 700 is quoted here …”

    OK, so that’s three different figures – 200, 700 and 800. Presumably the Independent was reporting the raw figure it was given by the party, and the party is giving out higher figures based on estimates of additional recruitment by the end of the year. But who knows, really?

  • Austin Rathe 30th Dec '13 - 9:30pm

    The Indy story was a bit haphazard with the numbers. We are projecting to increase by 700 on the yet, but (obviously) we don’t have a final figure yet.

  • Alisdair McGregor 30th Dec '13 - 9:36pm

    @Austin: I do find it amusing that the plan that has galvanised the local parties into action has been by decentralizing the benefits of membership subs and providing a financial incentive. Economic Liberalism works!

  • “We are projecting to increase by 700 on the yet, but (obviously) we don’t have a final figure yet.”

    So presumably the 2000 is also a projection (whether it’s 2000 new members, a 2000 rise in membership over the last quarter, or whatever it means).

    Wouldn’t it have been better to (1) wait until the party had firm figures before making the announcement and (2) issue a proper press release so everyone could see those figures, rather than just showing them to a journalist who (according to the party) got the “take-home message” seriously wrong?

  • Austin Rathe 30th Dec '13 - 11:42pm

    Yes, funny that…

  • 5th place and no MEPs coming up in the Euros.
    That should be the concern.
    Then what at the General?
    When will we wake up.

  • As a relative newcomer to the Party myself I’d like to welcome on board any new members reading this thread and reassure them that,contrary to what they might think from some of the above comments,their support and commitment will I’m sure be valued.
    Any increase in membership has to be a positive sign.I imagine it has been brought about as a result of a great deal of hard work.Thanks to those involved,more of the same for 2014 please.
    A Happy New Year to all.

  • Nicely put Dean. As you say to the new members – welcome or (for returning ones) welcome back!

  • Austin Rathe 31st Dec '13 - 1:22pm

    @Dean – huge welcome

    @Chris we’ll release final figures when they’re final, now was a good time for us to maximise coverage of a year on year increase.

  • “There has been a catastrophic fall in membership of all the major parties in recent decades, and it is reaching the point where the both the viability and legitimacy of these parties is becoming questionable.” A good point well made. Isn’t it time that we and others took to the public the argument that they are ultimately responsible for the politics they get and if they don’t like what they get ask them what they’re going to do about it. For some reasons, not least the expenses scandal and Westminster elitism, the public are disconnected from the political process and see it as ‘them and us.’ We must take the argument to them, or are we just going to let Russell brand get away with his nonsense. Harrumphing from Paxman will not be enough. I’m just so fed up with people thinking its ok to moan at the bar. Happy new year.

  • Peter Watson 31st Dec '13 - 9:05pm

    Looks like the official estimate is that the party is “up 7-800 in total in 2013, inc c2000 in Q4″ (https://twitter.com/LibDemPress/status/417614621202481152). Strangely though, we were discussing this ‘news'(?) at the beginning of the quarter (http://www.libdemvoice.org/lib-dem-membership-up-for-first-quarter-in-a-decade-outside-elections-36537.html).
    However, the figures imply that the trend of falling membership had continued for the first 3/4 of the year, dropping by 1200 (> 2%) before a big incentive-driven jump in the 4th quarter which has led to sceptical suggestions in some places that local associations have signed up lots of family members, etc.

  • Michael Parsons 1st Jan '14 - 1:12pm

    Are these new members, from the lumpen mass (no great gain perhaps) or old ones responding to renewal pressure? As for Alisdaire’s suggestion that subscription refunds-per-member means economics works, of course it does: that’s why the Liberals abolished “treating”voters in pubs , and now fight open bribery at elections. Not a very clever remark, that one. I suggest like Cricket England in the current fourth test, there is all to play for still?

  • Peter: you’re missed out some of the previously published information judging by your comment – as it was in the third quarter that the party’s membership started rising (just – by a small amount), and in the four quarter it rose much more sharply, with the combined impact of those two consecutive quarters of growth being enough to more than cancel out what happened in the first half of the year.

  • Michael: not a very kind way to be talking about new members – “from the lumpen mass (no great gain perhaps)” – is it? How about a slightly warmer welcome to people who have decided to join the party and hand over cash to do so?

  • Michael Parsons 2nd Jan '14 - 12:23am

    @ Mark Pack
    Not deloberatly unkind, just asking with a’ perhaps’ : but I do apologise for the offence of course! Sorry! but still they might be ex-Tories who think the Coalition too left wing for allI know. I remember canvassing in Brixton that showed members joining becauise they thought the (then) Liberals were anti coloured immigration . Or another London victory which seems to have been bolstered by the anti-homosexual vote, if memory serves. This is the weakness of an All-Purpose Party concept (one choice solution, allthings to all men) as opposed to a more democratic (e-mail?) voting for issue by issue. Parliament may have fallen into disrepute partly because its Parties have set themselves an impossible task? become retailers of Snake Oil?

  • Peter Watson 2nd Jan '14 - 12:28am

    @Mark Pack
    Thanks for that.
    To clarify, does this mean that total membership rose by a small amount in Q3 and by 2000 in Q4, and dropped by around 1300 over the first two quarters, i.e. we have been told the nett figures but not the degree of churn.

  • Austin Rathe 2nd Jan '14 - 11:30am

    @Peter – those numbers are roady correct. In terms of churn, our average membership retention is now 90%, which is comparable to other large membership organisations. This is up from 74% a year ago.

  • Austin Rathe 2nd Jan '14 - 11:30am

    Sorry – that should read “broadly” correct.

  • Liberal Neil 3rd Jan '14 - 1:02pm

    Firstly I’d like to congratulate Austin on his leadership and organisation of the recent membership drive. he deserves a lot of credit for the work he has done to promote and encourage membership recruitment and the net rise last year would not have happened without him.

    Looking at the graph it is interesting that the largest drop in membership (in actual figures) occurred between 1996 and 2000 and this was also a comparable proportion to the drop we’ve seen since 2010. The third largest drop was then between 2005 and 2009.

    Overall we’ve seen a long and steady decline since 1996 with relatively small increases during the 12 months up to each general election. It’s also true that we haven’t run a national membership recruitment drive since the run up to the 1997 election. I was one of the people who helped organise that one and I’m guessing Austin was probably still in short pants at the time ;-)

    The positive thing to take away from this is that every local party that has put in the effort to recruit members has succeeded in doing so, and in every type of political territory. It’s also the case that most of the big increases have come in our held and target seats.

    @Caracatus is quite right that we used to have 500 as the membership target for seats that wanted to win. I don’t think there is a single constituency that currently has that many members, but there are half a dozen that are now on track to get back to that level (including my own). Membership recruitment still needs to be a higher priority for all our potentially winnable seats.

    @Simon Titley your overall pints are fair but remember that many local parties cover more than one constituency, or, typically in London, a Borough, so Local Party membership levels are higher than Constituency membership levels on average.

    @Peter Watson – AIUI we had quite a drop in Q1, a smaller drop in Q2, a small rise in Q3 and the big rise in Q4. Overall the combined rises in Q3 & Q4 outweighed the combined drops in Q1 & Q2 by 7-800.

  • Seriously, what are we doing about UKIP? From their website states:
    ‘2013 saw record growth in the number of people joining UKIP. Party membership started 2013 at around 19,500 but the party is finishing the year with over 32,500 members.’
    ‘In May alone, the month that the Council elections were held, UKIP membership went up by 2,500.’

    Our 800 net new members in 3 months equates to 3200 in a year, not very much more than UKIP net new members in just May.
    Something has gone badly wrong with our message. We have to acknowledge the reality, otherwise we can have no hope of correcting the problem. Any realistic suggestions please?

  • Liberal Stan 4th Jan '14 - 12:57pm

    The rise is support for the LD’s in my opinion is due mostly to the growth of attraction of young people towards the party, drawn in by the mix of classical and modern liberalism,

  • Successfully increasing our membership is, indeed a fantastic achievement given our present coalition partnership. Sadly, I have heard of several former members who did not renew this year. Despite the modest gains we have made though; while welcome; we are still in a rather weak position given the numbers we have lost since 2010.

  • I had a look at the Independent article linked to. It quotes a figure of 200 increase in the year. Is that a mis-print?

  • Austin Rathe 4th Jan '14 - 8:36pm

    Joe, yes, the Indy’s figures are pretty all over the place (and not the ones they were supplied with!).

  • @Joe King “Seriously, what are we doing about UKIP? ……. We have to acknowledge the reality; otherwise, we can have no hope of correcting the problem. Any realistic suggestions please?”

    Joe; I agree UKIP is a reality but I think all we need do is educate the public better so that they come to understand that the EU is a massive benefit to this country and that it sends us much more than it takes out.

  • Nick Collins 4th Jan '14 - 10:11pm

    Since September last year, I have received two telephone calls asking me to renew my membership. No more, please; the aswer is “No”.

    I regret, as so much wasted time, the hours I spent working and campaigning for a party whose performance as a partner in a vicious right-wing government I deplore..

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