45,455

Things continue to look up on the Liberal Democrat membership front. During the first 3 months of this year, there’s been a net gain of 775 members,  bringing us past the 45,000 milestone to the figure you see in the headline.

This is the eighth consecutive quarter in which we have made gains, which is outstanding given our positioning in the polls and the fact that we are in government.

So why are we growing in membership? Well, for a start, we may be concentrating our campaigning in our held seats but we have made it a key priority to give all local parties an incentive for recruiting members. The more their membership grows, the bigger the percentage return for them.

What’s interesting is that these new members are not confined to areas where we are strong. 

Credit must also go to Members and Supporters Manager Austin Rathe under whose leadership these increases have taken place. Not only was he a prime architect of the incentive scheme, he’s reformed the technology as well. When he first took on the role 3 years ago, he got on with making a quirky and interesting series of databases fit for the 21st century. There were some teething problems with the new membership database last year, but it’s showing its worth now. One of the things that’s changed is that it’s so much easier to join online and to set up a direct debit online which you couldn’t do before

These figures do help to confound the prevailing narrative that we are all doomed.

It would be remiss to do a post about membership and not point you in the direction of how to join, which you can do here. Why would you join? Well, you get to make policy. Ordinary members have contributed many of the measures in the manifesto. The new Carers’ Bonus idea came from a party member who went along to a manifesto roadshow in, I think, Somerset. You get a chance to develop policy. If you have a particular expertise, you can apply to join policy working groups to formulate the new liberal agenda for dealing with the challenges of the modern world. You also get to vote for the people who run the party, from the committees to the leader and president.

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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37 Comments

  • Liberal Neil 11th Apr '15 - 3:42pm

    Delighted to report that OxWAb is currently at 572 and aiming to hit 600 before polling day 🙂

    Our latest recruitment technique is to ask the people phoning up asking for Garden Posters.

  • According to another article in LDV Liberal Democrats have knocked on one million doors since Christmas.
    So at least one million people seen and just 775 new members have been signed up.
    Do the maths.

    I encourage everybody who shares our aims and values to join the Liberal Democrats. We need a growing and active membership to participate in rebuilding the party.
    We have a long way to go to get back to the Liberal Democrat membership numbers of ten years ago.
    At the rate of growth recorded in this article (say 4,000 growth in a year) I estimate it would take us more than fifteen years just to get back to the number of members we had at the time of the last leadership election.
    We need to do better than that.

    I am not criticising anyone in Austin Rathe’s team or anyone who is actively joining up new members. The reality is with a political party that membership goes up rapidly when the message from the top of the party hits a chord with the voters. We know that in Scotland over the last six months one party has increased its membership to over 100,000. That’s quite an achievement for a party that only operates in 59 constituencies.

    I look forward to our party having in excess of 100,000 members in 59 constituencies.
    This will not be achieved by a membership team (however brilliant they might be) nor by new techniques in recruitment, it will only be achieved by pitching the Liberal Democrat appeal in such a way that those people who are likely to join a party with beliefs like ours are motivated and inspired to join. That is a job involving political leadership.

  • Philip Thomas 11th Apr '15 - 5:58pm

    Come on John, you must know that most of those doors knocked on will have been answered “out”.

  • 1 million doors canvassed = more than 1 million people seen John? You must share with the rest of us your secret for not finding anyone out!

  • Yes if the figure was a million doors knocked on and nobody answered the door it would have bee a huge waste of time.

    Do we still print ‘out slips’ to drop through the letter box when nobody is at home — inviting people to help, put up a poster, join the party?

    I know I am out of date and everything nowadays is about feeding a software programme from Illinois — so perhaps that basic bit of the door-knocking routine has fallen by the wayside?

    Perhaps I misread the earlier article. So tell me — how many people answered the door ?

  • Austin Rathe 11th Apr '15 - 7:56pm

    I feel compelled to point out that the 775 is the net increase, not the total number of new members in the quarter (which is much higher).

    We now have, on average, five times as many people joining the party each month than we did two years ago. I don’t think anyone can credibly claim that is bad news.

  • Simon McGrath 11th Apr '15 - 7:58pm

    @Austin – Tilley and @Caractacus’ regard anything at all as bad news. We could get 330 MPs elected and they would be complaining it wasn’t 350 !

  • @Austin Rathe 11th Apr ’15 – 7:56pm

    “I feel compelled to point out that the 775 is the net increase, not the total number of new members in the quarter (which is much higher).

    We now have, on average, five times as many people joining the party each month than we did two years ago. I don’t think anyone can credibly claim that is bad news.”

    That does beg the question – how many are leaving?

  • Tony Greaves 11th Apr '15 - 8:42pm

    The turnover figure would be interesting but I suppose it’s secret. The real reason for this small and very hard won increase is that local parties at last get a fairly sensible incentive to sign up members. The much-vaunted central membership system (much-vaunted at the time of the merger 25 years ago) has not been a success for much of that time. But the current level of membership is still derisory really and John Tilley is right – we will get a big membership again if and when people want to join because of what we stand for.

  • Maggie Smith 11th Apr '15 - 9:11pm

    @Caracatus.

    I’ll take a pop at explaining it for you, assuming I’m allowed to on here what with the witch hunts in other posts. Anyway the explanation.

    Way way back in 2010 enthusiastically embracing the opportunity to join a coalition government with the Conservative party (the merits of that actual decision aside) after many many years out of power. The Liberal Democrats were keen to show how much of a part of the coalition they were. On that aspect I can’t blame them. The problem was the eagerness and frequency of the Lib Dem spokespersons early in the coalition government, quite often they were the only ones delivering the bad news. That stuck, gained traction.

    The other thing that I’m sure many people will have observed is the reluctance of your ministers to break the collective responsibility convention, while at the same time the Conservatives, especially the leadership have not wasted any time hijacking Lib Dem policies and through constant implication and indeed outright statement claimed them as their own.

    So while one should commend the Lib Dem members of the government for their adherence to protocol one should also see that it has put more than their fair share of the responsibility for unpopular policies on them while giving them far less than their fair share of credit for the finer policies made during this term. All these things have added up to exacerbate the problem.

    You were competing with and partnered with the Conservatives on the understanding that you both had one hand tied behind your back, unfortunately they never really tied their hand. Had you been less principled you would have disengaged sooner, unfortunately the Tory party are not quite so honorable.

    Noble but naive.

  • Quite a few of those new members in the last quarter will be people joining in order to qualify as Local Council candidates!

  • Stephen Hesketh 11th Apr '15 - 9:49pm

    Simon McGrath 11th Apr ’15 – 7:58pm
    “@Austin – Tilley and @Caractacus’ regard anything at all as bad news. We could get 330 MPs elected and they would be complaining it wasn’t 350 !”

    330 MP’s?
    When Charles Kennedy was leader we had 62 MPs.
    When Nick Clegg was elected as leader he said he would double this.
    Instead, following Clegg’s first GE campaign, the number of MPs fell to 57.
    Today, just weeks away from his second and final campaign, we are looking at say 25-35 MPs from perhaps just 10-15% of the vote.

    Simon, Clegg’s predicted doubling of MPs is looking rather closer to a halving to me.

    Now no doubt Corporatist economic neo-feudalist types would like to spin this as being a success for economic liberalism but I must wonder what our polling and membership figures would look like had ordinary Social Liberal members not been working in their own or nearby constituencies in an attempt to save this party from oblivion and to recruit new members. These same ordinary members will reclaim Liberalism after the forthcoming GE.

    Attack common sense Preamble Liberals such as John Tilley and Caractacus if you must but they always strike me as presenting a much clearer analysis of our predicament and how we got here than certain others I could mention.

  • Stephen Hesketh 11th Apr '15 - 9:56pm

    Tim13 11th Apr ’15 – 9:13pm
    “Quite a few of those new members in the last quarter will be people joining in order to qualify as Local Council candidates!”

    And hopefully many former members rejoining so as not to miss out on electing Nick Clegg’s successor 🙂

  • Philip Thomas 11th Apr '15 - 10:18pm

    We have also been doing much more canvassing this quarter (the election campaign began in January), and one of our canvass objectives is to sign up members.

  • Peter Watson 11th Apr '15 - 10:28pm

    @Stephen Hesketh “Corporatist economic neo-feudalist types would like to spin this as being a success for economic liberalism”
    I seem to recall a Lib Dem Voice article that spun this as an improvement in efficiency in terms of votes per seat.

  • I have an invisible local candidate and an invisible local party. I predict 8,800 votes, 18%, will evaporate to 2,000 or so because no-one seems to care, all too busy with target seats 20 miles away when there used to be a Lib Dem stronghold next door. My rejoining has nothing to do with any local canvassing or party input but more from a concern that the party I have a habit of voting for might actually disappear if I and others like me didn’t do a little bit more than voting, e.g. like adding 1 to the membership count and a membership fee to the coffers.

    To be fair the Tory is invisible too and obsessed only with bin collections, which he hasn’t twigged is a local council matter and not exactly a critical issue there either. He has, however, updated his website to make mention of income tax cuts since the Conservatives came to power. You would have thought vicars might have a little more integrity and give credit to the Lib Dems for that. Anyway, his whole campaign centres on bins and a Lib Dem achievement, plus a note for the Jewish vote that he is a Friend of Israel and if elected will continue to support Israel. You couldn’t make it up.

    I haven’t got so much as a poster to put in the window, but then neither have the Tory supporters, and I haven’t noticed a Labour one even just down the road where the councillors live.

    Anyway I’m a rejoined member due to panic but it is despite not because of any local input. I suspect there are tens of thousands of potential members sitting in abandoned constituencies. I also suspect that the abandonment factor is likely to be a prime cause of the loss of vote share. Don’t get me wrong, party survival now depends on a strategy of abandoning many / most constituencies but it should never have been allowed to get in that state. If you don’t communicate with voters they forget you exist which explains 8-9% national support. It also explains why membership is up if all the campaigning work is going into just 10% of the seats. Where you talk to people they join and they vote. Where you walk away from people, they will walk away from the party.

  • Tsar Nicholas 12th Apr '15 - 5:54am

    It’s worth pointing out that party membership in the mid-1950s, when we were down to just five seats in the House of Commons, was 300,000.

  • Philip Thomas 12th Apr '15 - 8:45am

    Stevan, that is the tragedy of FPTP is it not? Most of the seats in the country are foregone conclusions, so there is less activity in those seats.

  • Philip Thomas 12th Apr '15 - 9:18am

    @Caractacus The only poll that really matters is on May 7th, but there have been recent polls with our ratings in double figures.

  • Nick Collins 12th Apr '15 - 10:25am

    @ Philip Thomas ” The only poll that really matters is on May 7th”

    I was wondering how soon I would hear that one: a traditional harbinger of spring, like the sound of the first cuckoo. It’s the traditional cry of whichever party is trailing in the polls

  • Nick Collins 12th Apr '15 - 10:27am

    Sorry about using the word “traditional” in two consecutive sentences. I meant to say “perenniel” in the second.

  • peter tyzack 12th Apr '15 - 11:39am

    I am with Nick Collins, but for a slightly different reason. I am amazed and alarmed at how intelligent friends and colleagues will so readily rely on the pollsters, when we all know that THEY only publish the poll results that favour their own political flavour; or worse, they structure the questions to suit the media outlet that is paying for it.
    Yes, you can believe me, I have been a respondee to three different national pollsters over time, and stopped responding to each when they repeatedly failed to offer the response choice that I wanted to give. In each case the questioning would not continue until I gave one of their answers. In one case I was able to write the stories that their questions seemed designed to produce the evidence for.!
    So, all polls are suspect unless they are produced by a scientifically objective monitoring company, which is not reliant on funding from a press/media company or other potentially vested interest.
    As for the ‘poll on may 7th’, we already know that FPTP produces a twisted result, and that our system of funding for political parties delivers the spoils to the parties with the biggest pockets, so it is VITAL that any post election negotiations we take part in must have political reform as a red-line.

  • The Party must be in great shape. I am not a member, indeed I have never joined any Party, but felt sufficiently impressed with the LibDem positions on personal freedoms and economic fairness that I would volunteer to help the local parties campaign by delivering leaflets etc

    I understand my seat is not a target but was surprised to be offered one date which I couldn’t make and then thanked for getting in contact. Having just retired I had time on my hands which I thought could be put to good use

    The reality of ruthless targeting is that opportunities to build party support for the future are overlooked and indiduals like me are in effect being told not to bother. Which is exactly what I plan now to do!!!

  • Stephen Hesketh 12th Apr '15 - 2:19pm

    David 12th Apr ’15 – 12:25pm

    David, I am sorry the party has treated your approach to become involved in this way.

    In our defence I hope you will understand that in many constituencies the party has been left much reduced and demoralised by electoral loses, by the intentional failure to distinguish our economic fairness and personal and social freedom selves from the Conservatives in coalition and these resulting in a loss in experienced active members.

    Unfortunately this is all a direct result of the party leader and his circle not valuing the traditional values of the party, or its members and voters.

  • Philip Thomas 12th Apr '15 - 2:34pm

    Stephen, not to comment on the party leadership point you make, but I think going into coalition with the Tories was always going to lose us some supporters.
    David, I realise you may not be interested in non-local campaigning, but I have found the national party’s general election campaign much more active in terms of suggestions of things for me to do than my constituency party. I would also recommend checking out near-by constituencies. I don’t live in Ealing Central and Acton constituency (it is about 5 minutes from my front door) and it isn’t a central party target seat- but the local party is actively campaigning there and has successfully recruited me to help them.

  • Stephen Hesketh “330 MP’s?
    When Charles Kennedy was leader we had 62 MPs.
    When Nick Clegg was elected as leader he said he would double this.
    Instead, following Clegg’s first GE campaign, the number of MPs fell to 57.”

    When Charles Kennedy was leader we did not spend enough time building up the party to challenge the incumbent labour government in 2005, so that when the time came for them to be kicked out in 2010 we were too far behind in our Labour-facing seats to reap any benefits. It was clear that we were going to struggle to take Tory seats at a time when they were going to be on the rise, yet too many in the party were focused only on fighting Tories and cuddling up to Labour.

  • David Evans 12th Apr '15 - 3:03pm

    Philip, It is not true that going into coalition was always going to lose us supporters. It was a great opportunity for Nick to show what Lib Dems can do in government, by having the courage to be different. Sadly, although Nick talked about it, he failed to understand how vital it was from the very start, and he blew the chance in the first six months. We hoped he would learn and tried to help (e.g. the vote at Gateshead against NHS reorganisation, and two votes against Secret Courts) but rather than change he just dug in ever deeper. A tragedy for the country and a disaster for the party and its values.

  • Philip Thomas 12th Apr '15 - 3:21pm

    There could have been a net gain in supporters, but there were always going to be some people who ceased supporting us. I think some people left right after the agreement was signed, for example.

  • Stephen Hesketh 12th Apr '15 - 3:31pm

    Tabman 12th Apr ’15 – 2:40pm
    “When Charles Kennedy was leader we did not spend enough time building up the party to challenge the incumbent labour government in 2005, so that when the time came for them to be kicked out in 2010 we were too far behind in our Labour-facing seats to reap any benefits. It was clear that we were going to struggle to take Tory seats at a time when they were going to be on the rise, yet too many in the party were focused only on fighting Tories and cuddling up to Labour.”

    1) Under Charles Kennedy’s leadership, at a time of Labour government, Lib Dem MP’s increased from 42 to 62.
    2) Charles Kennedy resigned as leader on 7 January 2006.
    3) I will not repeat the reports which circulated around the undermining of Ming Campbell but Nick Clegg was elected leader in December 2007.
    4) The 2010 General Election was held on 6 May 2010.

    In spite of you suggesting that Charles Kennedy had not done sufficient to build up the party’s challenge to Labour, he seems to have been somewhat more successful at it than Clegg when Labour had become one of the least popular governments of recent times.

    Being as Labour were so weak in 2010 what sense would it have made to focus our attacks on them when the Tories were actually more likely to pose a threat to us?

    My main contention (and touching on Philip’s point) is that yes, coalition was indeed always going to damage us but what leader worth his salt would not recognise and be mindful of this and act accordingly?

    Clegg and his inner circle have badly let down this party and the wider, longer term interests and values of Liberalism.

  • Just in case it is something which gains currency because it has not been corrected, Tsar Nicholas’s assertion that the Liberal Party had 300,000 members in the 1950s is rubbish.

  • Tabman 12th Apr ’15 – 2:40pm

    As Stephen Hesketh has pointed out you seem to have an eccentric version of the party’s progress under Charles Kennedy.

    Can I assume you did not join the party until recently? Your version of events does not seem to be born out by the facts. perhaps you saw things from a different perspective at the time?
    The facts show cnsiderable success for the party when CK was leader eg the number of councillors elected, the size of the membership, the number of parliamentary byelections won.
    On this last point you might like to check the fact of when the party last won a parliamentary from another party.
    When checking don’t bother looking at the years since December 2007.

  • tonyhill 12th Apr ’15 – 8:16pm
    …..rubbish.

    tony,
    According to this recent report from Parliament,
    http://www.parliament.uk/Templates/BriefingPapers/Pages/BPPdfDownload.aspx?bp-id=sn05125

    Tsar Nicholas’s assertion that the Liberal Party had 300,000 members in the 1950s seems not too far from the truth.
    But perhaps His Tsarness ouldyou reveal his source?

  • http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/vote2005/html/gainsandlosses_ld.stm

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/election2010/results/targets/p_ld.stm

    As you will note far too many of our 2010 target seats were Tory, and understandably few of them fell. Our top 30 or 40 seats after a third labour term needed to be labour seats and given how far behind them we were starting in 2001 we needed two terms of work to make them winnable. That’s how we won conservative seats in 1997 – by 2-3 terms of work to make them ripe for taking when the cycle turned against the Tories.

    As soon as labour won in 1997 we needed to be preparing a 2-3 term strategy for when the tied turned against them. Yet in 2001 and 2005 the main thrust of attack was still againSt the Tories. Not enough was done to prepare the ground and the 3 years nick had was not enough time to make up for the preceeding 10.

  • Re party membership in the 50’s. NO, 300,000, that is totally incorrect. Indeed in 1955 we could only fight 109 seats!
    I well recall 1962, just post the Orpington by election when there was a big Liberal surge. There was a great announcement that the party had just got 100,000 members a post war record!.

  • theakes 13th Apr ’15 – 9:46am
    “….in 1955 we could only fight 109 seats!”

    Theakes, that will be a matter of record but does not necessarily rule out a membership of 300,000 at a time when The Conservatives had a membership of 3,000,000.

    Are you just going on personal recollection/impression ? The report from The Parliamentary Library says this —

    Liberal Democrat Party and predecessors

    Patrick Seyd and Paul Whiteley have estimated that the Liberal Party had over 243,000 members in 1960.

    They estimate the combined membership of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party to have been approximately 145,000 in 1983 and 138,000 in 1987 although in 1988 the newly created Liberal Democrat Party reported its membership to be much lower at about 80,000.

    The Liberal Democrats claimed about 100,000 members in the early 1990s, falling to around 70,000 in the early 2000s. Membership showed a sharp fall after the 2010 General Election, from 65,000 in 2010 to about 49,000 in 2011. As of April 2014 the Party claimed around 44,000 members.

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