Lib Dem leadership contest: what impact will the surge of new members have?

Liberal Democrat membership is now at a record high, having passed 105,480. The party’s press statement talked about membership having ‘passed’ the figure, implying it was now higher though elsewhere this number has been given as the new total. Either way, a total for the end of Friday, i.e. the electorate in the current leadership contest as that was the qualifying cut-off, will get published in due course.

Regardless, we know for sure that there’s been a huge increase in party membership.

What will this influx of new members – 17,000 in the last month (including old members rejoining) – do to the leadership race, now officially confirmed as being between Jo Swinson and Edward Davey?

Lib Dem leadership contest: what's moving party members?

A fascinating set of answers to the question I posted on Twitter and Facebook about what is making party members change their minds in the leadership contest. more

With something like 1 in 6 potential voters being new(-ish) to the party, this would normally reduce the benefits for any candidate who has a long period of party activism and networking to their name. However, in this case, both Jo Swinson and Ed Davey have been around, and working the party membership in different ways, for a long time. There may be an edge for Swinson given her higher media profile and therefore likely higher starting name recognition with the new members, but a contest is a powerful opportunity for Davey to catch up.

More significant is that it is Europe driving this surge in members, and that will put pressure on both to maintain a very firm line against Brexit. Will one of them bid to have a distinctive pro-European line by going beyond the current People’s Vote line and instead start talking more directly about revoking Article 50 and/or how a general election result would be grounds enough for stopping Brexit?

Many have commented on how there doesn’t seem to be that much difference between the candidates so far. Whoever moves first to a different position on Europe could gain both distinctiveness and appeal to members, newer ones in particular.

The influx of new members will also most likely place a premium on effective online campaigning as that’s the best way to reach many people quickly, particularly within the expense limits for this election.

Here’s how the two campaigns compare on Facebook at the moment, with the key column being the last one as it shows how much engagement (comments, likes, etc.) with them there has been in the last week:

Peformance of Swinson and Davey on Facebook - data from Facebook insights

The main thing that can be said about both of them is that for them to have less engagement on Facebook than me in the last week – when they’ve been in full on campaign mode and I’ve been very busy with my day job – is not quite stellar. At least we’re no longer in the situation where I was scoring more than both of them put together. That said, again the edge here looks to be with Swinson as her figures, although less than mine, are double Davey’s.

The pattern looks to be similar on Twitter from slices of the data I’ve looked at – Swinson outperforming Davey in overall levels of wider attention – although tweets from Ed Davey (or his team using his account) do pop up rather more often in relevant threads involving new members from what I’ve seen. Indeed, overall he’s noticeably upped his Twitter game in the last few months.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the influx of new members means that whoever wins they will become leader of a party that is that much larger and stronger. Which is why a good question to keep on posing of them both is: how will you help ensure the party makes the most of its new wave of members?


The 2019 Lib Dem leadership election is being covered by me both in podcast form with Stephen Tall in Never Mind The Bar Charts (subscribe here) and in email newsletter form with Liberal Democrat Newswire (sign up here).

7 responses to “Lib Dem leadership contest: what impact will the surge of new members have?”

  1. I would be amazed if one of them were to pronounce a new policy of revoking A50 without a referendum. No one else in the party establishment is calling for that, it is far too risky.

  2. I think a more interesting question about recent developments is this; Will the party be taken more serious now? Will lobbyists invest more in Lib Dem conference and the party. Will donors who switched to Change UK come back again? Can the party invest more in it’s operations, it’s press team? Could something like Centre Forum re-emerge?

    • That’s a very good point – the boost to the party’s organisation is only about the new members and their own financial and voluntary contributions, but also that potential knock-on in terms of media coverage, commercial income at conference, etc.

  3. I’m one of the new members and have never been a member of any political party previously, so it was quite a big step for me.
    Why did I join? Basically, I have always been in the centre of politics, sometimes agreeing with centre left or right depending on the policy. Most of all it was the LD stance on EU membership that was the catalyst.
    As a member of More United, I helped by campaining for LD in both the Yeovil and Wells constituencies in the 2017 general election.
    Whilst I’m looking forward to the leadership contest at the moment there is very little to distinguish between the two excellent candidates and hope it will become clearer for me over the next few weeks.

  4. Isn’t one implication of the growing membership that the candidates should be making more noise about STV as a firm manifesto commitment for the next GE? Proposing that such constitutional changes should be authorised by referendum would be a hollow joke now, so we should be saying that reality has proved the need and we should get straight on with it after election. For once, I think it could be a real vote winner among both old, new and potential members

  5. Nicholas is right, electoral reform should be a red line in any future negotiation(not another bloody referendum) the evidence is there that it is needed(do we really need any more evidence?), so there is no reason to ‘long-grass’ it by agreeing to a referendum on it, we were mad to agree to that last time, we know our opponents have control of the media..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments and data you submit with them will be handled in line with the privacy and moderation policies.