2 Aug 2012

Party accounts show extent of Lib Dem membership slump

Accounts for the political parties published today by the Electoral Commission show an astonishing fall in membership for the Liberal Democrats.

At the end of 2011 the party had just 48,934 members, compared with 65,038 at the end of 2010, a drop of 24.8 per cent.

Has any British party ever experienced such a fall in membership in the space of just twelve months?

At the end of 2009 the Lib Dems had 58,768 members, which suggests the party got a considerable boost following ‘Cleggmania’ and the 2010 TV debates. But the huge loss in 2011 did a lot more than simply wipe out the gains of 2010.

This is the lowest membership figure in the 23-year history of the Liberal Democrats, and less than half the peak of 101,768 Lib Dem members recorded in 1992.

´╗┐´╗┐Miliband bounce

Labour, in contrast, can boast an increase in membership, but not much. Just 39 members in fact. At the end of 2010 Labour had 193,261 members, compared with 193,300 a year later.

This rather suggests that if there ever was a “Miliband bounce” it has now come to an end. And the 39 figure is something of a contrast to Harriet Harman’s big boast at the 2011 party conference that Labour had gained 65,000 new members since the 2010 election.

Maybe that number did join, but the figures suggest that either the gains were mostly in 2010, or that tens of thousands of people left the party as well.

In any case, a gain of just 39 members hardly suggests a party in great shape to win an outright majority in an election. It contrasts with figures of more than 400,000 Labour Party members in the late 1990s after Tony Blair became leader.


The Conservatives haven’t included a membership figure in their published accounts – not that they are legally required to.

But come on, David Cameron, you believe in transparency these days, so perhaps you can tell us.

John Strafford of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy tells me that the party co-chairman Lord (Andrew) Feldman reported last October a membership figure of 177,000, but Strafford estimates the number has probably dropped to 130,000 in the last year.

If true, that actually would be a drop of more than a quarter.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) saw a highly impressive 24 per cent rise in membership during 2011, from 16,232 to 20,139. And the SNP tell me their membership grew by another 16 per cent in the first six months of this year, with 23,376 members at the end of June.

UKIP’s membership rose by almost 11 per cent during 2011 – from 15,535 at the end of 2010 to 17,184 a year later.

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