I’ve no idea who the person in this photograph is, but if you want to capture in one image who the new Liberal Democrat members post-general election are, he pretty much epitomises them. Young-ish, white male in a middle class professional job.
There are many exceptions to this, of course, but that broad generalisation captures both an opportunity and a necessity that arrises from the make-up of the new members, 51% of whom are under 35.
The opportunity: the wave of new membership is bubbling over with the sorts of skills that are vital to running voluntary organisations with hundreds of different teams around the country.
To give a mundane example: the post of local party treasurer. Often it is held by the same person for years and years because, thank you, they’re willing to do it. Amongst the new members are many with the skills to do that job too – spreading the load and possibly also bringing in some new ideas.
So there is a huge opportunity to make sure new members aren’t just invited to events and become extra bodies at socials, policy discussions or campaign days – but also are the people helping organise them.
And the necessity: diversity. The party survey data I’ve seen has the new members down as 57% male, 38% female and 5% rather not say / do not identify with a binary gender. Compared to the existing membership of 54% male that’s not awful, but it is a nudge in the wrong direction compared to the population overall, which is of course majority female.
On race and ethnicity things are more complicated and I’m not an expert on the different ways of categorising this perspective. But it’s not as bad as some stories doing the rounds indicate.
Overall, 83% of new members surveyed ticked English / Scottish / Welsh / Irish and 9% did not answer or chose ‘rather not say’. So 8.5% picked another option* or – excluding the did not answer / rather not say categories – 9%.
As with gender, that’s not in line with the wider population, and so highlights the need for the party to broaden its recruitment (especially when you also consider the diversity issue in the bias towards middle classes).
All the more so given that the group of people in the population who shares our values is actually skewed towards female and non-white – as David Howarth and I explored in our pamphlet on a new strategy for the Liberal Democrats.
* The full list of those in the 8.5% is African, White and Black African, Arab, White and Asian, Bangladeshi, Caribbean, White and Black Caribbean, Chinese, Gypsy/Irish Traveller, Indian, Pakistani and Other.