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?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 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:
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).