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…
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.
Cue widespread consternation in the party and it’s brilliant to hear that the scheme has now been rescued.
New Lib Dem membership incentive scheme
The Federal Executive (FE) convened a group representing the different interests in this and they have agreed this new scheme, which covers England, Scotland and Wales:
- Net growth of between 1 and 10 members will qualify local parties to receive 18% of all their membership subscription fees paid during that quarter.
- Net growth of more than 10 members will qualify local parties to receive 33% of all their membership subscription fees paid during that quarter.
These percentages are slightly lower than for the previous scheme, which were 20% and 40%. However, the growth in party membership and hence subscription fee income means that most local parties will receive more money overall from the new scheme.
The key element in this new scheme, as in the previous one, is the unlocking of a large sum of money for getting over the threshold. Simply getting to a net gain of one member from a net no change unlocks 18% of all membership subscriptions, so it provides a really strong incentive to get to just plus one. The second tier then provides another really strong incentive to get to just plus ten if a local party can.
Of course, the absence of any third tier slightly disincentives further membership growth beyond that. But that’s actually worked out well, because what it has meant in practice is encouraging sustained membership growth, quarter after quarter. As with dieting, long-term success comes from regular progress rather than binging followed by relapse.
So all in all, excellent news – and a good example of the FE listening to widespread concerns in the party, getting the relevant parties together and finding a solution. Particular credit goes to FE member Neil Fawcett for his central role in making this happen.
Lessons for the English Lib Dems
Some people in the English Party took umbrage at the Federal Executive deciding to get involved about something in the English Party’s budget. But the real lesson is that if the English Party had consulted before deciding*, rather than deciding before consulting, things would have gone much better.
As with its controversial strategy paper, it is striking how little effort the English Party has made to involve regions or members with major decision that will affect them. Something very much for the Governance Review.
* Strictly speaking, ‘before deciding on the draft budget to put to English Council’. Which actually makes things worse, because this wasn’t then followed in between the decision and English Council meeting by English Council members being sent an email setting out this important decision and asking them to consult members in their region, who they represent, before the English Council meeting. Likewise, the round of autumn regional conferences in England has passed with a remarkably minimal mention of either the the membership scheme plans or the strategy paper. While Sal Brinton and FE colleagues have been on a consultation tour around English regions on the Governance Review, the English Party has not been doing anything similar.