Liberal Democrat membership grows by over 500 in first quarter of 2014

Lib Dems winning hereLiberal Democrat membership hit 44,000 in the first quarter of 2014, a rise of more than 1500 since the beginning of 2013. Parties in government tend not to increase their membership and last year’s results for the Liberal Democrats were the first time in recent history that this had been done.

This is in no small part down to new financial incentives to local parties if they increase their membership. If they have more members, they get more money to spend on their local campaigns. That means that they are more inclined to put more effort into membership recruitment and retention. And, of course, having more people around makes everything else easier. The aim is to end up with a virtuous cycle of increasing membership leading to increased campaigning and so on.

The party’s official statement on the membership figures says:

This is great news and a further sign that the feel-good factor is well and truly back in the Liberal Democrats.

As a party we are on the front foot, making the case confidently that only the Liberal Democrats can build a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.

We are campaigning hard in the European elections as the Party of IN. We are the only party that will stand up for British jobs and our place in Europe – and in Nick Clegg we have the only party leader prepared to go out and make that case publicly.

We are proud that we have a record of delivery to champion in Government, including cutting taxes for working people by £800 a year; creating 1.6m new apprenticeships and investing in schools with the £2.5bn Pupil Premium and free school meals for infants.

And we are also showing that we have curbed the worst excesses of the Conservative Party, stopping them from allowing bosses to fire staff at will; giving inheritance tax cuts to millionaires; or allowing the Government to snoop on your emails.

Next time, could the spokesperson please ensure that they put some Scotland and Wales stuff in they remarks? The Pupil Premium doesn’t apply in Scotland. However, Willie Rennie has been successful in persuading the Scottish Government to significantly expand childcare and Kirsty Williams is campaigning on NHS nursing levels. It wouldn’t have taken too much effort to have included a short sentence on these.

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  • Wish they’d hurry up and send me my membership pack. I joined on the 31st of January and still haven’t had anything through. Contacted party HQ and everything.

  • Does this include the ‘free’ membership sent to lapsed members without their consent, as reported on this site by Paul in Twickenham ?

    If what Paul says is happening is happening on a wide scale, how can anybody trust these numbers ?

    How do the numbers stack up when compared to the membership in 2009/10 ?

  • ‘MartinB – I don’t understand your point. Many Associations/Organisations offer inducements to retain hard won members.So long as the individual concerned is aware of what’s going on, and has the opportunity to decline (and there’s no suggestion that didn’t happen),then were’s the harm.? At the end of the day if someone decides ,for whatever reason to remain in,then they should be counted as such.

  • Nick Collins 2nd Apr '14 - 3:36pm

    I would not trust any figures coming out of Membership Department. I think their database is somewhat inaccurate.

    My evidence?

    I deliberately allowed my membership to lapse in October 2011.

    A few minutes after the close of your Autumn Conference in 2013,I received a telephone call from someone who said that he was calling from the Liberal Democrats who were calling “all our members and supporters”. When I advised him that I was no longer either a member or supporter and had ceased to be so two years earlier, he apologised and said that he would ensure that my details were removed from the database so that I would not be called again.

    A few months later I received another call from the Liberal Democrats. This time the caller advised me that “our records show that you once gave a donation to the Liberal Democrats; as such you are entitled to membership”. She seemed nonplussed when I advised her that I had been an active member and an officer of my Local Party for many years prior to making the decision to cease my membership of the Party in 2011, that I had made no donation to the Party since and that I had absolutely no wish to rejoin.

    From these two telephone conversations, I conclude that Liberal Democrat Membership Department is as chaotic and inefficient now as it was when I was a Local Party Officer and that any figures issued by that source should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

  • Nick Collins 2nd Apr '14 - 4:18pm

    @ Dean. W. The process which Paul in Twickenham described sounded rather like inertial selling to me.

  • There certainly seem to be some issues around procedures for free memberships.

    This needs proper clarification .

  • Peter Watson 2nd Apr '14 - 5:27pm

    How much of the rise in membership was due to members who allowed their membership to expire being automatically given a new free membership?
    And at the back end of last year referred to in the comments thread of this article e.g. “Which makes you wonder how many of these new members have been given free memberships which they dont want.”(

  • @Nick Collins – As far as I’m aware “inertia selling”,involves sending out goods which were not requested and then demanding payment for said goods. There’s no suggestion that has ever taken place.

  • @DeanW

    I think what they meant is that Paul from Twickenham claimed that he was sent a free membership offer after he deliberately let his lapse and would have had to actively write in and refuse it. That means he would have had to act to stop something he did not instigate from happening. In his case payment was waived, presumably as part of the membership drive we’ve been hearing so much about.
    The post above from Peter Watson links to the article with Paul’s comment under it.

    Maybe more people can post if they’ve had similar experiences.

  • David Evans 2nd Apr '14 - 5:50pm

    @Dean.W. More of an Inertia Giveaway? 🙂

  • Paul In Twickenham 2nd Apr '14 - 5:50pm

    Here’s a brief account of what happened to me. I allowed my membership to lapse (after 30 years). Got a letter saying “You haven’t renewed. Maybe it was an oversight on your part? We’re giving you free membership for a year unless you write (no telephone or online option) to this address quoting this 16-digit reference number to say you don’t want it”.

    Crucially in the context of this story, the membership card I’ve just received says “Member since December 2013”. I find it hard to believe that this has only happened to me. There is someone who writes regularly on LDV whose name was on the letter sent to me. If he’d like to comment, perhaps that would be helpful.

  • Who was that Paul ?

  • Nick Collins 2nd Apr '14 - 6:20pm

    Do lapsed members who have been given free membership have the same voting rights in internal party elections and selection of candidates as paid up members, or does the party now have two classes of member?

  • Austin Rathe 2nd Apr '14 - 6:40pm

    So, as much as I love a good conspiracy theory, I’m afraid I have to put this one to bed.

    This all stems back to an administrative issue we discovered last year.

    It came to light that it was possible, due to our processes as the time, for someone to attempt to renew their membership but for this to processed as a donation instead. This was because we outsource the processing of the renewal mailings. 99% of the time this is fine but if anyone does anything out of the ordinary, for example one member of a couple returns a cheque for £24 with a note saying “this is also for my husband’s membership” or they post in a cheque but didn’t include the renewal slip it would not be processed correctly. They would bank the cheque for us however so this would be recorded as a donation.

    This came to light when Bob Russell approached me at conference and asked me to investigate why his wife’s membership hadn’t been renewed (he had sent a cheque for both).

    Obviously this was a somewhat frustrating discovery.

    We investigated this and found 648 people who could have been affected. Essentially these were people who had sent donations of over £12 at or around the time their memberships were due but had been lapsed as those had been treated as donations.

    We decided that we should re-instate the memberships unless people chose not to. I wrote to all these affected people in late November explaining the situation and inviting them to contact me of they did not wish their membership to be re-instated. About 40 did, and the rest of the memberships were re-instated at the end of the year (although we excluded them for the purposes of the local party incentive scheme).

    So, ***nobody was given a “free” membership***, but we did give those people the year we believed they had paid for. I have had to bust this myth several times since, and not just on LDV.

    Now of course some of those people would have chosen for their memberships to lapse and intended to give donations instead. This was why I wrote in advance & anyone who contacted us was left as a lapsed member. The only alternative was to leave these people (most of whom believed they were still members) disenfranchised and unable to received the benefits of the membership they had paid for.

    We of course changed the way we deal with renewals to prevent this situation occurring.

    I hope that all makes sense.

    Austin Rathe
    Head of Members and Supporters

  • Paul In Twickenham 2nd Apr '14 - 6:48pm

    @Sandy – I’d rather leave it for that person to identify himself. My ward is St. Margaret’s in Twickenham. He could check out “who called Paul in St. Margaret’s was offered free membership renewal in December?”. I’d imagine that’s a set of 1.

  • Paul In Twickenham 2nd Apr '14 - 9:20pm

    @Austin – thank you for the clarification.

  • John Barrett 2nd Apr '14 - 9:38pm

    To answer Martin’s question which asks how a membership of 44,000 compares to our membership in 2010. The answer is that it is down by 20,000 from 64,000 four years ago.

  • David Foster 2nd Apr '14 - 9:59pm

    How does Paul’s version of events reconcile with Austin’s?

  • Austin, of course those errors to which you refer have been going on for years. People have been pointing it out for years. Why does it “suddenly come to light” because an MP points it out. In response to the Paul in Twickenham v Austin Rathe (how DO you pronounce your surname, by the way?) I will gently bring up the issue of those who actively resign, by letter, from the Party in the middle of their subscription year. These people are normally counted as members until their subs lapse, which may be 9 or even 12 months later. No wonder membership numbers are bigger than might be expected!

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 2nd Apr '14 - 11:46pm

    Tim, I’ll let Austin respond to rest, but his name is pronounced Wraith, which is a Scots word for ghost. Not that there is anything ghostly about Austin, of course.

  • Richard Dean 3rd Apr '14 - 5:00pm

    At this rate, assuming the 2010-2014 loss is an inconsequential blip, I guess it will take something like a couple of millennia to get to the magical “critical mass” where we might have a chance of winning an election.

  • Simon Banks 3rd Apr '14 - 5:28pm

    So we’re being told in the debate over replacing local parties’ role in electing conference reps with OMOV that it’s reflecting the fact that three-quarters of people joining the Liberal Democrats do it for national reasons (implying the local parties had little to do with it), but also, admittedly by different people, that inducements to local parties to recruit have a lot to do with increased numbers joining. OK, people can join for national reasons but as a result of local recruitment initiatives – but that would still show the connection with the local party was important.

  • Austin Rathe 4th Apr '14 - 5:59pm


    It was the first time it was pointed out to me so I addressed it (I had only been in the job a few weeks). If anyone had made me aware of it earlier I’d have dealt with it.

    Also, people who resign are removed from the membership total the moment their resignation is processed. I can’t comment on how things were done in the past, but I will be very clear that what you’re describing isn’t the case now.

    And you can pronounce my surname however you like!

  • Paul In Twickenham 4th Apr '14 - 6:58pm

    @Austin – this makes some sense in that I had a monthly standing order for many years and cancelled it, certainly at least a year ago, and I think rather more like 18 months ago. I can be certain that I didn’t give the party any money at all for at least six months before or at any time after the renewal date for my membership, which expired in September 2013.

    Obviously you erred on the side of caution/generosity in making this offer as it was sent to about one in every 65 members. I did nothing to decline the offer because your letter said “send me a letter quoting this reference number”. The other curiosity is the fact that the new membership card I have received says “Member since December 2013”. What’s that all about?

    Anyway, I can’t get worked up about it. I hope and confidently expect that one day in the not too distant future that many people (myself included) will feel able to rejoin.

  • Austin Rathe 5th Apr '14 - 2:42am


    Just to correct one important point – this wasn’t an “offer” at all. Everyone we contacted had given a donation either within one month before or three months after their renewal date (which is the window during which the renewal mailings were in the field and people would have been paying for their memberships).

    You suggest we sent this to members, which of course we didn’t, the whole point being that these people’s memberships had lapsed and they were therefore not members when we discovered the problem. The party has several hundred thousand former members, so the proportion of those people who were affected is much, much, much lower than 1 in 65.

  • Thanks Caron and Austin. I am very glad to hear that you are processing resignations immediately – one of the problems we out in the sticks have had from the beginning of the Lib Dems and the national membership administration was that we were not believed when we informed HQ of a change in somebody’s membership, death, resignation etc.

    Considering the recent rise in membership, could that be linked to the rise in numbers of constituencies selecting PPCs, as although the rules are that if you have lapsed, and rejoin, you have to wait a year to requalify for a vote in a PPC selection, people do not necessarily understand this (unless, of course, you tell me this rule has changed very recently!)

  • Paul In Twickenham 5th Apr '14 - 8:21am

    @Austin – if this was only to people whose memberships had very recently lapsed then something must have gone wrong then because I recall being phoned by our local branch membership secretary (well over a year ago) and being asked if I had deliberately allowed my membership to lapse. So I don’t get the “donation window” thing unless you are saying that because my partner *did* make a payment that you chose to jointly attribute that to me?

    You are playing with statistics a little here. If the people who were approached had only lapsed very recently then they are not part of “hundreds of thousands” of former members dating back to the formation of the party, they were part of the set of 43,000 members less than a year ago. More interestingly, it sounds like you are saying that all 640 people who did not actively decline this offer were treated (as I was) as new members, receiving “welcome packs” and cards with new membership numbers? Are those 640 treated as part of the “new member” numbers mentioned in recent press releases?

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