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:
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.