English Party moves to axe most successful Liberal Democrat membership initiative
If you don’t count ‘get massacred in an election’ as a membership initiative, then the most successful initiative in the history of the party to get Liberal Democrat membership growing has been the recent financial incentive scheme.
The combination of clear thresholds and simple funding rules (get your membership up and you get a chunk of money, don’t and you don’t) meant that even though it was launched at a tough time for growing party membership, it helped turn around a long-term decline in local party membership activity.
Not only did the scheme help the party to a long period of sustained membership growth, the financial payments were available to all local parties and even the smallest and weakest could earn local party income through it. The result was a largely undocumented but very helpful infusion of cash into the party’s grassroots organisations.
Of course, the cash that ended up in local party pockets, incentivising membership work, didn’t come from trees but from the party centrally. All the calculations I’ve come across are that the short-term cash cost to the party centrally is a sensible investment, as the cash cost to the party centrally of getting an extra member in the first year is more than balanced out by the future extra income from that member. Which means the deficit caused in the English Party accounts this year isn’t a financial hole but a sensible investment in the party’s future.
Investing in the short-term for long-term prosperity… almost like the party’s approach to economics.
Save that now the party centrally, or more precisely the English Finance and Administration Committee (EFAC), has taken a leaf out of George Osborne’s book in its aversion to deficits and decided to axe nearly all of the funding for this membership scheme in England in 2016. Its proposed English Liberal Democrats budget for next year removes nearly all the financing for the membership incentive scheme.
That would be a questionable move at any time, but even more so in the context of a party leader set on a target of 100,000 members and the far from trivial matter of having to get next year first-time renewals – which are always the hardest – from the big surge of 2015 new members.Cue widespread controversy within the acronym-laden parts of the party bureaucracy.
All of which will come to a vote at the English Council later this month, the one which will also debate the controversial English strategy review (the one that has big impacts on Scotland and Wales, but without consultation).
For the English Party to run a deficit again next year would be a sensible investment in the party’s overall long-term health, and it would be a deficit based on putting more money into our grassroots and growing our membership.
Moreover, it would be a deficit easily financed, because the sharing of bank accounts, and so cash balances, across the English and Federal parties means it wouldn’t require borrowing from a bank.
Changing EFAC’s decision is the smart move to make, and the small number of party members who make up the English Council have their chance to do just that at their next meeting.