political

Tim Farron wants 100,000 Lib Dem members by next general election. Is he wise?

Party leadership candidate wants much bigger party membership. What’s not to like?

It’s great that a leadership candidate is talking about rebuilding the party’s organisational strength, and that it is high up his list of priorities.

Yet there are two problems with the target of restoring the party to a membership of 100,000.

First, is it really achievable? Taking an issue, throwing out a large numerical number and talking about it with morale-raising enthusiasm is one of Tim’s great skills. As with his house building target (which I have doubts about – see Comfort food for the liberal soul: Tim Farron’s William Beveridge Memorial Lecture), what’s not clear is whether there’s really the hard thought and clear plans behind the number which make the number achievable.

Having a target isn’t what we need; it’s hitting in – and the history of Simon Hughes’s target for membership as President, or Nick Clegg’s target for the number of MPs as leader isn’t a happy precedent for such targets.

The real test will be whether Tim follows up the talk of a plan with sufficient detail to make it a convincing plan.

Second, I fear it may drown out a related and important topic: what should the party do with its non-member strong supporters and helpers? The person who puts up a poster every election; the couple who regularly come to local party social events; or the donor who hasn’t joined. The party’s traditional answer – and the likely answer in pursuit of 100,000 members – is “ask them to join”.

That’s an ok answer, but only an ok answer because there are such people in huge numbers who persistently decide not to join. That’s part of a wider trend across parties and countries.

We shouldn’t only be thinking about growing the party’s membership, we should also think about a registered supporters scheme to deepen our links with supporters who don’t want to join. That should be an essential part of building a bigger core vote for the party – which is always going to be bigger than our membership and so for whom simply saying “join us” is never going to be enough.

I’ve asked Tim what he thinks on these two wider points – and will post up his thoughts when I get them.

UPDATE: And here they are.

I plan to lay out a detailed plan about how we can rebuild our party from the grassroots up in the next few weeks.

But a key part of that plan is boosting our membership. I am making a key plank of my campaign boosting our party membership to 100,000 by 2020. This is ambitious but deliverable.

I have a strong track record in this area. While I was Party President party membership grew and I intend to build on that should I be elected leader.

But Mark is right that party membership is not the be all and end all. We need to be more than a political party, we need to be a political movement. That means finding people who will work with us in the interests of our country regardless of party affiliation. We will lead in the defence of human rights, membership of the EU and fair votes and invite people to join with us as members, supporters or maybe just those sharing commons values and beliefs.

We need to rejuvenate our party and our identity and that why this has to be a priority.

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