Increasing Party Membership: building on the issues of why people join
4 February 2011 1 Comment
There is much talk at present about Party membership as Labour have claimed many have joined from the Lib Dems while the Lib Dems claim their membership has increased. The fact that Ed Miliband’s campaign to attract Lib Dem members has attracted so few new members is interesting for a number of reasons but it does raise the question of what we can do to recruit more to the party.
Political party activists frequently cite the chiming of their values with a particular political party as a reason for becoming a member of that party. The Lib Dems need to be more specific about what these are to attract more. Fairness and civil liberties were something which people got at the last election. We need more about our values and less about specific policies (2005 & 2010 campaigns focused on a small number of specific policies).
For some, a specific issue led them to join a certain party. This motivation is more pronounced amongst younger participants and the tuition fees issue is one which will hurt the party as a result, but it a lesson to ensure we choose our specific issues with careful consideration. We have a number of other issues which are still distinctive e.g. nuclear, constitutional reform.
For political party activists, family background and heritage are also considered to play a prominent role in motivating people to become involved. Labour and the Conservatives have a huge advantage here due to their history and the part they have played in shaping the country over the last 100 years.
Importantly, political party activists primarily join political parties because of ‘national’ reasons, rather than a desire to change the local community. This is largely because of their desire for greater power and influence in society, and the perceived ability to shape and determine national policy and debate. It is here that the Lib Dems offer a greater attraction than Labour or the Conservatives yet little is heard from Lib Dem spokespeople about this, which may attract some potential members. The Lib Dems have an opportunity now they are in government to show members do have a voice over policy (tuition fees aside).
Other reasons people join political parties are in order to give a specific group a wider ‘voice’. While BME activists also talk of how party membership is partly about being a fully integrated member of UK society. Many see party membership as a form of active citizenship.
When discussing membership whether to people on the street, our friends or in the media it would be a good idea to use these issues as encouragement to people who may then go on to join the party.