Lib Dem publish latest accounts, shows £410k deficit and party membership down to 42,500

The latest set of accounts for the Lib Dems have been published – I’ve uploaded it at the foot of this post. Here are 5 points that struck me I read through the document.

1) The party ended 2012 with a £410k deficit

The party recorded a £410k deficit, with £6m income and £6.4m expenditure. This is noted as a “disappointing result” and ascribed to the late receipt of a substantial legacy donation “which would have brought the result down to something much nearer to break-even”. Yet legacies are by their very nature unpredictable: it’s not something we can rely on this year. Ideally the party needs to break even on its regular incomings/outgoings and then be able to use windfalls for investment.

2) Membership falls again: it’s now 42,501, down 34% since 2010

“As at December 2012 there were 42,501 members of the Party.” This is a further 13% drop since last year, and a massive 35% drop since the heights of Cleggmania in 2010. What’s clear from the chart, though, is that this is in reality a continuation of a decline in membership evident over the past 15 years, which I explored here last year:

lib dem membership figs since 1988

3) This has cut the party’s income

There is a clear connection between these first two points. The party lost £40k of income compared to 2011 as a result of losing members. More significantly, this has also had a knock-on impact on donations: these were down some £290k (16%) on the previous year. Conference income was also sharply down by c.£100k. Add the three together and you see where much of the party’s deficit has appeared from. However, the party states that its Finance & Administration Committee “has taken steps to ensure that satisfactory surpluses will be achieved in 2013 and 2014″.

4) But spending on campaigns went up

On the expenditure side, staff costs rose by 8% to £2.77m. Campaign expenditure increased by an astonishing 150%+, from £333k to £849k. Much of this (I’m guessing) was the result of the London GLA and mayoral campaigns, which was largely driven by fundraising.

5) Lib Dem News closed with a £60k deficit

In its final year of publication, the party’s newspaper Liberal Democrat News recorded a deficit of £60k. We’ll see next year how this compares with the new members’ magazine, Ad Lib.

Liberal Democrats Statement of Accounts 2012 by Stephen Tall

* 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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41 Comments

  • Robert Wootton 26th Jul '13 - 3:05pm

    With 2p in my bank account at the end of the week, this post makes me feel rich! But its only a feeling. Not actuality.

  • jenny barnes 26th Jul '13 - 3:19pm

    If we take the 3 years 2010/2012 together, that’s a 28% drop in 3 years. 9% pa; and that includes the 10% Cleggmania rise. If the trend till 2009 had been continued, membership would have been just under 60k. So it seems to me that something has caused an additional 25% or so loss in Party membership in those 3 years. Maybe being in coalition with the Tories has something to do with it, maybe the party leadership telling the social democrat wing of the party to join Labour, who knows. But for a party that’s mostly funded by Mrs Smith’s Jumble sales and raffles, it’s a problem, to say the least.

  • paul barker 26th Jul '13 - 3:23pm

    The money is not a problem IF this was just a blip, theres no particulat significance to the end of the year in political terms. Does anyone know if the books have been balanced since ?
    Millibands new proposals seem likely to involve substantial cuts in Labours income. Logically that should make them more open to reform of Party funding but I havent seen any signs that they are moving that way. Does anyone else know any different ?

  • The important thing is that this is a £400k shortfall on a budget which projected a £200k surplus.

    Any underperformance came later in the year as the Party Treasurer told me at conference in March 2012:
    “Federal Party fundraising continues to go from strength to strength and first quarter results indicate that it remains very firmly on track for meeting this year’s ambitious targets.”

    Those targets were:
    Fundraising: £1,865k
    Appeals: £710k

    Donations declared on the accounts (which I assume include the above) come to £1,494k – so about £1,100k light.

    Also we got £150,000 extra in Home Office grants for conference which affect the total income and overall bottom line (conference costs don’t show a similar increase but I don’t know if that is a year to year figure.

    [Note: As the party's published budget changed its categorisations during the year - neither of which reflect the categories used on the accounts it is next to impossible to make an accurate assessment as to whether conference is being given accurate budgets!]

  • Helen Tedcastle 26th Jul '13 - 5:05pm

    It may well be a long term decline but look at the dip the line took from 2010! This is pretty poor. I think we need to be far more ambitious, to coin a phrase of David Laws.

    The Leadership will need to conduct a rigorous analysis of their performance and fast-track out of top jobs the weakest links – just as they threaten to do with public servants far less well paid. After all, they should practise what they preach. If so, we may find stray members returning.

  • Paul Barker writes :
    “Logically that should make them [Labour], more open to reform of Party funding”
    “…. reform of Party funding” ?
    I take it that is political spin for, ” let’s get the taxpayer to stump up the cash? ” Yea,.. why not? Tell you what, give them all an 11% payrise while you are at it. And don’t forget a decent £8000 or so travel expenses to shuttle the family backwards and forwards between their two homes, one of which is very likely funded by the taxpayer also.
    Is there ANY level, that politics will NOT stoop to, in order to filch yet more money from the taxpayers pocket?
    And you wonder why trust (and membership), in politics is falling like a stone?
    P.S.
    I’ve self moderated this comment, because what I really wanted to say would have most definitely gone into the Recycle Bin.!

  • It is very worrying that a budget of £6 million was 10% out on the forecast. A membership of 42,000 is too low to sustain the party. It used to be said a target seat need 500 members. One could hope a seat with a MP had 500 members. This new figure gives an average membership of 67 per local party. (slightly more if it excludes wales and scotland) For every constituen other doing g better than 67, there will others doing worse.

  • @ Simon Shaw

    Maybe not in so many words, but as good as. I certainly took the hint.

  • It’s obviously quality of membership, not quantity, that counts. We are (I predict) going to have more MPs after the 2015 GE then after the 1992 one when we had more than twice the membership.

  • The chickens are coming home to roost. Surely, though, the LibDems cannot be surprised at a falling membership. Just prior to the 2010 election the LibDems were seen as “modern/New Politics/liberal/progressive/pro student (especially less well-off ones)/pro state education/anti NHS commercialisation-privatisation/pro social justice………..and so on. So what went so terribly wrong inasmuchas lots of your people just lost faith – some of whom I know personally as good, principled people, as well as ex-LibDems.

  • I think you are being decidedly disingenuous. I don’t think it was my imagination nor do I think I was the only one who put that construction on Clegg’s comments. As an open letter to Clegg from Liberal Left said:-

    “Your conference speech sought to establish the direction for the party in the run up to 2015. You see ours as a party of the centre rather than centre left and accuse those of us who oppose the coalition of wallowing in opposition politics and wanting to stop the world and get off. You have even suggested that we should leave the party……..In the face of this, party members on the left have three choices. We can either leave, as you want us to do and thousands have already done; we can work quietly to promote the policy gains that have been won in government or we can argue our case in the party that we love and have spent our adult lives building.”

  • Andrew Suffield 27th Jul '13 - 1:23am

    It used to be said a target seat need 500 members.

    I think we’ve successfully proved that this just isn’t true, no matter how old the people who used to think it might be.

  • Richard Shaw 27th Jul '13 - 8:28am

    I take the view that time is better spend recruiting brand new members and re-recruiting lapsed members (who may simply have forgotten to renew) than chasing and worrying about those who have actively resigned, over one issue or another. If they’ve gone as far as to actively resign then you’re not likely to persuade them to rejoin in the near future – and who’s to say that after we appease them that they won’t leave again over another issue? No, better to spend time on the much larger pool of people who may join or help out if asked and those who do will probably be more resilient when it comes to being in coalition with one party or another. The same goes for voters – there’s plenty of undecided or persuadable Labour/Conservative leaning voters out there to target first.

  • @Alan Jelfs
    “It’s obviously quality of membership, not quantity, that counts.”

    I agree. To me, it appears that the quality is leaving.

  • jenny barnes 27th Jul '13 - 9:33am

    @simon shaw
    oh yes it did
    oh no it didn’t
    my side of the conference hall can shout louder than your side
    oh no it can’t

  • richard boyd 27th Jul '13 - 10:37am

    Are we alone? I was recently approached by the Scottish Christian Party, based in Inverness,
    who told me that their newest recruit was a fomer Tory Vice-hairman,
    Tory membership they assereted had fallne by 60% (from what I do not know).

    Simple calcalulation from a Yesterday’s man (Me). Lose a Councillor = loss of 20
    members.

    Richard Boyd OBE DL

  • Helen Tedcastle 27th Jul '13 - 12:43pm

    Richard Shaw

    ” If they’ve gone as far as to actively resign then you’re not likely to persuade them to rejoin in the near future… better to spend time on the much larger pool of people who may join or help out if asked and those who do will probably be more resilient when it comes to being in coalition with one party or another.”

    The old “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen argument.” This is very corrosive. It sends out the message that the party really doesn’t much care if its people disagree with the change in direction – hard luck. Maybe that’s why so many have left, who were in the party for decades.

    Is ‘resilience’ to current Tory-led policies the new benchmark for remaining a member? How about those who spent decades under fire when the Liberal Party had less than twenty MPs? I think they were a pretty resilient bunch.

    I would like to see the Leadership resolve to win back the lost members by returning to our core values, not extinguished by the neo-liberals yet.

  • Andrew Suffield 27th Jul '13 - 1:41pm

    Are we alone?

    No, political engagement is falling sharply and has been for the past several decades. All parties are showing similar rates of decline in membership.

    It sends out the message that the party really doesn’t much care if its people disagree with the change in direction – hard luck.

    That is the nature of democracy. If you can’t agree with the decision of the majority then that’s your problem. It’s the greatest weakness of democracy as a system for making decisions – but sometimes you do have to make a decision which can’t satisfy everybody.

    I would like to see the Leadership resolve to win back the lost members by returning to our core values

    I think they’d say that is exactly what they’re doing. You seem to be holding up the mid-20th-century doldrums as some pinnacle of liberalism in the UK, which is a bit hard to understand. I’ll just point out that the Liberal party used to be one of the two parties of government, before it fell to those levels, and that the LD party has been climbing back in that direction.

  • David Evans 27th Jul '13 - 1:54pm

    Indeed the LD party has been climbing back towards government for 40 years. Sadly when its leaders got there, they couldn’t remember why. Now it’s a long way down, but at least it will be a quick if painful death for many.

  • paul barker 27th Jul '13 - 2:25pm

    @ john dunn
    If I had wanted to argue for state funding then I would have. I was taling about restictions on spending, theres room to cut the present “limits” by three quarters or more.

    On the question of whos left, I havent seen any evidence that those who oppose Clegg, for example, have left in greater numbers than those who back him, just more assertions.

  • Helen Tedcastle 27th Jul '13 - 2:55pm

    Andrew Suffield
    ” That is the nature of democracy. If you can’t agree with the decision of the majority then that’s your problem. ”

    I’ve no problem with democracy – all for it. What I am against are decisions made to follow policies which fly in the face of core beliefs (may I draw your attention to public service policies enacted by this Government) and are enacted behind closed doors ‘for our own good.’ I also question attempts to shift our ground to the so-called ‘centre’ when we are a radical party (left of centre,if you like).

    I would prefer that this party does not become an FDP – small, managerial and uninspiring. I don’t think the ‘majority’ of party members have voted for it either.

  • “If you can’t agree with the decision of the majority then that’s your problem.”

    Surely that should read “the decision of the party leadership”? Many of the decisions people are unhappy with have never been endorsed by any kind of majority of party members or their representatives.

    Just out of interest, just how low would party membership have to fall before you were willing to admit it was a problem – for the party, I mean, rather than for those who’d left the party? I remember thinking things were looking grim when, in the aftermath of Charles Kennedy’s ousting, membership dropped below 100 per constituency on average. On the current trend it will be 50 per constituency in a few months’ time.

  • Tony Greaves 27th Jul '13 - 6:05pm

    Well said Helen. If the party has “changed direction” – yet to be proved, the GE manifesto will be an important weathervane – it will be as a result of a top-level coup rather than a decision by the members.

    On the membership figures, you can often make graphs show different things by drawing the best-fit line or curve between different points. The graph does show that for six years after 2000 membership was level. It also shows that in the past two years the decline has been steeper than at any other time. Far from being 35%, it’s about 40% over the two years.

    Congratulations to LDV for putting all this stuff on here, by the way. If there are problems they will never be solved if they are not highlighted and discussed.

    Tony Greaves

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 27th Jul '13 - 7:12pm

    The news about the falling membership and as a result our funds is depressing, but by regrouping and reestablishing what we as a Party stand we should be able to win back old and new supporters.

    We are the only major Party that remains a Party governed by its members, is really committed to social welfare and economic development, and remain realistic Europeans in that we are committed to Europe but do not support its failings and realise that reform is needed. We are a real potential alternative for disenchanted Labour supporters, and others with a Centre Left ideology who still remember Blair/Brown, but there exists this ‘elephant in the room’, the apparent desire of a minority in the Party that wish to follow the Tories into demise.

    If we start to define what we as a Party stand for, and are resolute in defending our position and not giving into chasing the worst of ‘The Mail’ readership then we will recover. Thankfully Party HQ is working flat out on resolving some of the ridiculous processes that currently exist that actually dissuade local branches from recruiting, but more needs to be done with regard to the policies that we put forward.

    There is though ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ and it need not be an oncoming train.

  • @Andrew Suffield :

    ” If you can’t agree with the decision of the majority then that’s your problem.”

    And of course you solve that problem by flooking your way into government and going against the wishes of the majority! And make excuse after excuse after excuse.

  • It’s hardly surprising is it? Orange Book Liberals are seen to be fairly indistinguishable from Tories. If Lib Dem voters had wanted a Conservative government they would have voted Conservative. If they didn’t want their supporters to abandon them they shouldn’t have abandoned their supporters. There’s going to be a lot of opportunity to reassess after 2015; hopefully those at the top will realise their strength is centre left, not centre, and give up trying to be Diet Tory. All the reasons why there was a genuine feeling that the Lib Dems were a viable alternative have disappeared with the usual excuses of ‘we had to compromise’, or ‘tough decisions had to be made’. Well unfortunately it looks like a lot of people didn’t care or didn’t believe them because the Coalition has delivered nothing at all for ordinary people and has royally shafted the poorest.

  • @ Andrew Suffield

    “That is the nature of democracy. If you can’t agree with the decision of the majority then that’s your problem.”

    Some of the move to the right has been done by the leadership and not by motions at conference. However I believe that the fight back has to happen at conference and us Social Liberals need to get majorities there and capture majorities on the Federal Committees. Then if the leadership still ignore us we will need to amend the constitution to make the leadership accountable to the membership.

    “You seem to be holding up the mid-20th-century doldrums as some pinnacle of liberalism in the UK, which is a bit hard to understand. I’ll just point out that the Liberal party used to be one of the two parties of government, before it fell to those levels, and that the LD party has been climbing back in that direction.”

    The Liberal party was becoming more of a Social Liberal party during the latter part of the nineteenth century so let’s not change history. The Liberals won a huge majority in 1906 and then enacted Social Liberal reforms. Those of us involved in the growth of the party from 1988 to 2005 do not recognise that we were climbing back to be the Liberal party of Gladstone and the past.

  • Helen Dudden 28th Jul '13 - 9:09am

    I think your party has become more of a Conservative, yes party. Immigration is another point, as well as social housing.

    That is what drove me away. The terrible situation on the subject of the bedroom tax, the way disabled people have been treated.

    I only hope this does not lead into UKIP territory, that will be something to think about.

  • Bill le Breton 28th Jul '13 - 12:02pm

    One of the aims of Community Politics Action is to increase participation in politics. Indeed the success of those who practice it is measurable in the increased participation that it produces. And I do not mean exclusively in winning elections. The electorate becomes more active; more hopeful that they can make a difference. They transform themselves from subjects to citizens..

    This quality is in stark contrast to the aims of other forms of political action – many of which are purposefully designed to reduce turnout and many more of which have the effect of turning people away from participation towards fatalism.

    I thought Mark Pack’s latest newsletter made an important point when it said that the present Leader has at no time in his membership of the Party shown any interest in Community Politics.

    That is why, despite his best intentions, his effect on the politics of the UK has been to reduce trust in politicians and participation in politics. If you can’t inspire and grow the number of activists in your own Party, what hope is there in developing a Liberal movement in our countries?

  • david thorpe 28th Jul '13 - 12:39pm

    I recently discovered from an official sour ce that the number 1 reason given by people for not renewing their membership in the past three months was the part commitment to marraige equality-

    thats a manifesto commitment we delivered-and people left because of it-I suggest they wil;l be happier in another party.

    Just as we delivered ‘cuts deeper than thatcher’ as we promised=-those who leave because of that are hypocritical -we promised it-announced it on national television and when cleggw as flavour of the motnh those people liked it-now hes not they have left-presumably to join labour another party which promised cuts deeper than thatcher and now promise to deliver them-but they are falvour of the motnth so………

    As for the bedroom tax-its a great polciy-anyone who has, as I have worked on the frontline of housing need-understand that-but the governments implementation of it is awful and they really doptn appear to be thinking strategically.

  • It wasn’t a manifesto commitment but that’s by the by.

    “The reasons people give for resigning” is not a great statistic as lots of people leave by just not renewing and never give a reason.

    If the bedroom tax has just been badly implemented, how would you have implemented it?

  • Helen Dudden 28th Jul '13 - 4:21pm

    It would have been better to have the homes in place before hand. How is it fair to tax someone, on the something they can do little about? The benefit cuts as the same, it could have been with more compassion and thought.

    I have felt for a long time that Nick Clegg was more in line with the Conservatives and I am in my 60’s so I can remember the time I worked to replace the Conservative MP in Bath.

    There is another article on the life style of Nick Clegg today, in the Mail. The cuts should apply to everyone, they are not selective.

  • There’s no great surprise that if you betray the principles a large proportion of the people who voted for you, you’re going to lose members and donations. You reap what you sow.

    To those saying that this is happening to everyone. No, it’s not. There has been a long term decline in party membership but over the period under consideration, Labour membership has remained largely constant while Cameron’s Conservatives have been wildly shedding members. Perhaps coalition is inherently toxic to political parties maintaining membership.

    Finally I note that the membership of several minor parties – and, especially, UKIP – are increasing.

  • Dominic Curran 29th Jul '13 - 2:11pm

    i really worry about Stephen’s unconvincing attempt to spin the ‘ continutation of a decline in membership evident over the past 15 years’ line about the fact that membership has fallen by a third since entering government.

    others have made the point that the fall is steeper, by some margin, than the trend suggests. It’s not, as far as i can tell, just ‘flighty’ loose members who left, either. I resigned in late 2010 after 18 years of membership, campaigning and working for the party (i hasten to add it wasn’t the fact of coalition, but the party’s behaviour once inside, not least twice signing off the NHS debacle). I know many many more who have done the same, or, if they were never members, have withdrawn their active support despite giving years of service to the party.

    Clegg & co are effectively killing the party, driving it into German FDP (5% of the vote, permanent coaliton partner) territory, and genuinely don’t seem to care. The BNP used to be the Millwall of UK politics, now I think it’s the Clegg Libdems.

    I’m genuinely sad that the party i gave so much to is now a shell of its former self. I don’t know what its values are or what it stands for, and notwithstanding some noble individuals still inside fighting the good fight, I think mostly those still supporting it are too busy dancing to the music of government to hear or see the tsunami coming their way.

  • paul barker 29th Jul '13 - 3:58pm

    Lets just review what we know about Party Memberships, across Parties.
    A All 3 major parties have seen long-term declines over 6 decades.
    B Of the Big 3 the Tories have come off worst, losing at least 96%, from 3.4 Million to 130,000.
    C Theres an extra hit for being in Government. Labour lost 60% from 1997 to 2009, from 410,000 to 150,000. Note that most of the fall was in the first 2 terms when Blair was God & the Economy was booming. It seems to be Goverment itself thats the problem, the rate of leaving declined steadily from a peak in 1998.
    Obviously lots of Labour members preferred opposition. That has no relevance for us of course.
    D UKIP membership has boomed, hitting 30,000. This reminds me of a similar boom in Green Party membership in the late 1980s, peaking at 20,000 in June 1990. It was an utter disaster. Jenny Jones has often said it was the worst thing ever to happen to the Greens. The boom was followed by a decade of falling membership down to 4,000 in the end.
    The problem was essentially that The Party didnt know what to do with the new members, it will be interesting to see if UKIP do any better.

  • Dominic Curran 30th Jul '13 - 10:47am

    @ Stephen Tall “Erm, how can it be “unconvincing spin” when I headlined in big, bold letters that party membership is down 34% since 2010? Clearly being in government has hit Lib Dem membership, and hit it hard. I don’t think anyone can read what I’ve written and come to an alternative conclusion! ”

    The spin is because you suggest that it is a continuation of a long term decline. Yes it is, in that the graph has been going down for seven years (and was fairly stable for a few years before that, suggesting that it isn’t irrevocable), but that suggests that you are happy to put that down to factors outside of coalition. The reality, as you say in your comment, although not the article, is that much of the post-2010 drop hasn’t just happened during the coalition, but because of it.

    My worry is that LibDems (at least those that are left on the ever smaller island as the water rises) see this and go ‘oh well, we used to be an asterisk in the opinon polls, we fall and rise, and this is another fall’. That is a very libdemmy and utterly fatalistic and tragic response. The other two parties would see such a fall and radically re-think their approach. We appear to just supinely express gratitiude that we need more than one taxi for our MPs (and I have yet to see any evidence of people in Government at all worried about our loss of ‘market share’).

    New Labour lost members as it carried on in the 97-2010 years, and now look at it – a hollowed out shell of a party, bereft of ideas, policies and any sense of energy. The libdems aren’t just losing figures on a balance sheet and annual income, although that is part of the problem, they are losing the lifeblood of what makes (made?) the party in the first place. I hasten to add that I don’t mean me, but rather all the talented people I know who supported, contibuted, and worked for the party in the past who have now moved on, as Clegg has led the party away from them. Just as long term unemployment loses people from the active economy in the future, so losing swathes of members and activists (and funders, and councillors) will be felt for many years to come, undermining the party’s chance for a recovery for, i would guess, at least a decade, if not two.

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