We know that the Liberal Democrats, in common with other parties, have been looking at declining membership figures for some years now. Tim Farron alluded to this in his conference speech at the weekend.
Three times as many people entered the X Factor this year than joined a political party.
In the Liberal Democrats it has been a tough three years. People have not felt confident about recruiting members because of the wider political environment. Also, many local parties feel that there is no incentive to put time and effort into recruitment when there is little or no reward for them. Of course they may get extra people or help on the ground, but the subscription rebate system is so complex that they don’t see the financial rewards for their effort. I’m not saying that they have to sign up someone on a Tuesday when it’s a full moon while reading the Spotted column from Heat magazine, but it’s not that far off.
Way back in January, the party’s Membership and Supporter manager Austin Rathe came to Scotland and we had a really good discussion with him about membership. I said to him that we needed to give local parties a real incentive to recruit. Now, Austin is one of life’s experts at taking a vague idea and building something amazing with it.
The scheme he’s come up with means that local parties could earn themselves a very tidy sum indeed to help out their local campaigning. Every quarter, membership will be examined. If membership has grown at all, the local party will get 20% of the total membership subscriptions for that quarter back in their pockets. If it’s grown by more than 10, then the amount they get back rises to 40%. That is a radical incentive to recruit by any standards.
Local parties are automatically part of the scheme, there’s no bureaucracy to join. All they have to do is get out there knocking on doors, asking supporters to become members. For us, membership is really important because our members have clout within the organisation. Our members attend conference and vote on policy, they can get involved in interest groups like Liberal Democrat Women, Liberal Youth and LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, they choose parliamentary and council candidates on a one member one vote basis.
It is really good to see a radical and innovative plan to boost local parties’ campaigning strength while growing our membership at the same time. We want to see more parties join Bosworth, Ashfield and East Dunbartonshire and gain significant numbers of members this year.
Having more people around to do things makes everything easier, reducing everybody’s workload. Actually, who am I trying to kid? The workload will just grow to fit the capacity available, but that’s ok. This new deal for local parties wins more people and more money and shows how seriously the party considers membership. So, what are you waiting for? Grab some membership forms and get out there. There are, by the way, some good recruitment training videos on the Online Sills and Resources section on the members’ part of the party website.
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings