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30 December 2013

How the Lib Dems tried to hide the fall in their membership

After membership rose in 2013, the party claims that it has "increased its membership while in power", ignoring the 34% decline since 2010.

By George Eaton

The Lib Dems are busy trumpeting the news that their membership has risen in the last year describing themselves as “the first governing party in recent history to have increased its membership while in power”. But probe a little and that claim turns out to be as misleading as one of their by-election graphs.

Party membership increased by more than 2,000 in the last quarter of the year, resulting in a net increase of 200 for 2013. The Independent describes this as “an achievement not matched by their Conservative coalition partners who have seen steep falls in paid membership since 2010.” But what neither the paper nor the party mentions is that the 200 increase only comes after the Lib Dems suffered the biggest decline of all. As I’ve previously reported, membership fell from 65,038 in 2010 to 42,501 in 2012, a fall of 35% and the lowest annual figure in the party’s 23-year history. An increase of 200 means that the rate of decline is now merely 34%.

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One can hardly blame the Lib Dems for leaping on anything resembling good news, but the facts don’t tell the story they want.

Update: In a response to me on Twitter, the Lib Dem press office says, “To be clear, we’re up 7-800 in total in 2013, inc c2000 in Q4. And yes, 1st governing party to increase members over a year.”

That’s certainly clearer than the original tweet, which was ambiguous at best. Had I not known the figures, I (and many others) would have assumed membership had increased since 2010.