Saturday 19 January 2013

Has the fall in party membership finally ended?

News reaches Liberator of the Liberal Democrat membership figures for 2012.

Membership of the federal party (i.e. the whole of the UK) was only 42,501 at the end of December 2012, down 9.2% from 46,810 at the end of December 2011 (and not 48,934 as the party’s annual report for 2011 originally claimed). The renewal rate has remained at about 75-80% throughout the year.

This drop is bad, but not as bad as in 2011, when membership fell by 25% over the year. That fall wiped out the gains from the 2010 election ‘Cleggmania’ – and then some.

However, the good news is that the month-on-month decline in membership appeared to end in the autumn. Membership fell to an all-time low of 41,925 in September 2012, but rose by a few hundred each month for the remainder of the year.

Membership of all political parties in Britain has been in slow decline since the high point of the 1950s. Following the merger of 1988, there was a catastrophic fall in membership for the ‘Social and Liberal Democrats’ (as the Liberal Democrats were then named), as many former Liberal and SDP members failed to renew. However, membership picked up during the 1992 general election campaign and peaked at about 102,000 that year. It has been in steady decline ever since, but never suffered such a sharp drop as it did in 2011.

2012’s figures, or at least those for the final quarter, suggest that the fall in membership is bottoming out. But the gains are modest so far and any claims of a ‘revival’ should be treated with suspicion.

The figures also suggest that the coalition has done its worst and that, if the party wants to rebuild membership, it must now tackle the longer-term issues of political disengagement, which were analysed by the Power Inquiry in 2006 (full report and executive summary).

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