Liberal Democrats end year with historic membership growth – but we must keep up the good work

The Liberal Democrats ended 2013 with 43,451 members, nearly 1000 more than we had at the start of the year.

This is historic for two reasons. Firstly, we’re the only party in recent history to increase their membership during a year in Government. Secondly, the party’s membership has dropped every year for the last decade (excluding a couple of bumps before general elections), so getting back to a position of growth in the middle of the electoral cycle is a significant achievement.

Underlying this headline is some more good news. The party’s retention of members is now just under 90%, which is comparable to other leading membership organisations, and we are recruiting new members at twice the rate we were a year ago.

We’ve achieved this through a combination of enormous hard work from a fantastically talented team at party HQ, a real show of faith from the various party committees and senior management who have allowed us to make some significant changes to how we reward local parties for membership growth, and of course the efforts of the hundreds of campaigners across the country who have recruited and renewed thousands of members.

Of course there is more to do, the party’s membership is still lower than we want it to be. However we are now growing, the party is getting stronger every month and if we build on this momentum then that extra capacity will make a real difference to our prospects in 2015.

If you want to join us, you can do so here.

* Austin Rathe is a party activist who was the Head of Member and Supporter Development at Liberal Democrats HQ in London until November 2015

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  • Erlend Watson 8th Jan '14 - 11:53am

    Are there any particular groups that should be credited (I already know Liberal Youth had a good Autumn)?

    In some ways I would also like to know where and how we are failing but agree that putting this on generally public websites is not sensible.

  • “Firstly, we’re the only party in recent history to increase their membership during a year in Government.”

    Unless “recent history” means “since 1997” you don’t actually know that, because there are no official figures for the national membership of the Conservative Party.

  • Liberal Neil 8th Jan '14 - 12:35pm

    Austin – as I said to you the other day, bloody well done 🙂

    Erlend – without giving away lots of details I think it’s fair to say that Liberal Youth certain played a part, and the growth also strongly reflects growing and focused activity in the held and strategic seats. (Though not exclusively) It is worth noting that growth has taken place across a range of seats and areas and in Labour facing as well as Tory facing seats.

  • Liberal Neil 8th Jan '14 - 2:00pm

    Chris – you are correct that we don’t have accurate annual figures for the period before PPEERA required political parties to publish their membership figures. However we do know that Conservative Party membership dropped from around 1.2m in 1979 to around 400K in 1997 and that every set of figures published during that period was lower than the previous one. So apart from the fact that I would say ‘recent history’ and ‘since 1997’ are reasonably close in the context of Austin’s article, the available evidence preceding 1997 that we do have suggests it’s probably true further back too.

  • Neil

    But Austin Rathe made a very precise claim about the change in membership over a particular calendar year – not about longer-term trends. After all, the longer-term trend in Lib Dem membership is still a very steep decline. There’s no evidence that Tory membership didn’t buck the trend in individual years, just as Lib Dem membership did last year.

  • Cadan ap Tomos 8th Jan '14 - 4:41pm

    The amount that Liberal Youth has contributed to membership growth last year is something that, I think, needs to be applauded by HQ – much more so than has been done already. As Erlend and Liberal Neil have noted, LY did play a very important part – the recruitment achieved during the freshers campaign this year was monumental.

  • Sarah Whitebread 8th Jan '14 - 4:43pm

    Bravo Austin! Your commitment and enthusiasm for this work over the past year has paid massive dividends. Thank you for keeping us motivated! It was great to be able to report a growing local (as well as national) membership at our local party exec meeting last week. Extremely encouraging stuff. Here’s hoping we keep the momentum going in 2014.

  • Foregone Conclusion 8th Jan '14 - 5:48pm

    I think that Austin deserves a lot of the credit here. There has been a noticeable step-change in our membership efforts on his watch. Congratulations to him, and all the folks at the Membership team!

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Jan '14 - 6:06pm

    Would it be good news to sign up 1,000 fascists? How do we know? What quality controls do we have? If money is what the party wants then ask for donations, but members have the power to influence and so quality control is imperative to prevent entryism.

    The emphasis needs to change completely towards both quality and quantity of members.

  • Peter Watson 8th Jan '14 - 6:19pm

    “Firstly, we’re the only party in recent history to increase their membership during a year in Government.”
    I’m sure that the SNP would have something to say about this claim! (

  • Austin Rathe 8th Jan '14 - 6:20pm


    I am happy to place on record for all (and google!) to see the party’s gratitude towards Liberal Youth – the effort across the country was indeed exceptional and demonstrated once again what we can achieve with some properly directed effort.


  • Chris Manners 8th Jan '14 - 7:38pm

    What a ridiculous statistic. It’s far less important than the much bigger falls that precede it. Dead cat bounce.

    As Chris says, there’s no way you can beyond 1997. And even if you could, it would hardly be comparable because there are two governing parties now, which makes this event rather more likely.

    Are there no free memberships or free renewals included?

    Having said all this, I see Cheltenham Tories have chosen the former planning chair from Hammersmith and Fulham Council. I hope your membership holds up there and you can help Martin Horwood hold the seat.

  • In 2013, the Lib Dems and UKIP were the only two parties that increased their membership. In fact, I believe UKIP started the year on 19,500 members and finished on 32,500. I am convinced that we Lib Dems gained our new members because so many people disapprove of the two main political parties and have a dismal opinion of mainstream politicians. Given that UKIP receives very little media coverage and has hardly any followers other than a few fruitcakes and clowns who for some reason do not like the EU, I am sure their growth will fizzle out and I do not think we Lib Dems need to worry about a little healthy competition from that quarter. IMHO; as long as we Lib Dems keep plugging away with our core message of greater involvement with the EU, I am confident we will achieve some very helpful results in the May 2014 elections.

  • Max Wilkinson 8th Jan '14 - 9:39pm


    “Given that UKIP receives very little media coverage…”

    You must direct me to this media. The media I see is awash with Farage propaganda.

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