Lib Dems suffer plunge in party membership

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Ministers' constituencies show the steepest losses as one fifth of activists quit across the country

One in five members of the Liberal Democrats quit the party last year, with the worst losses in constituencies represented by government ministers, as disaffected activists walked out in protest at the coalition.

An investigation by The Independent on Sunday reveals the Lib Dems' collapse in support in the polls has been matched by a desertion of thousands of members. The exodus – far worse than the usual post-election drop-off – threatens to undermine the party's support base. Officials in one minister's constituency reported "members and supporters not being willing to campaign for the party".

The loss of thousands of members will leave a hole in the party's finances. To join the Lib Dems costs a minimum of £12 a year, or £6 for students, under-25s and those on benefits. The financial accounts of all local parties with an income of more than £25,000 paint a grim picture for the Lib Dems.

Membership of the Scottish Liberal Democrats has shrunk by 26 per cent. Craig Harrow, convenor of the party, said campaign teams were "devastated" by last year's results in the Holyrood elections, with MSPs "swept from office on a tsunami for the SNP".

The trebling of university tuition fees to £9,000 appears to have hit the party particularly hard, with Liberal Youth, the party's student wing, seeing more than half its 6,000 members quit in 2011.

Over the same period, Labour Students rose eight per cent to 6,782. Among nine Labour constituency parties to report, there was a net drop of just one per cent. Labour said it will not comment on national membership figures until they are published later this year. A survey of 100 Conservative associations reveals an average drop of seven per cent of members in the last 12 months. David Cameron's Witney constituency reported a two per cent rise.

Senior Lib Dems had hoped that entering the coalition would persuade voters they were a credible party of government, but ministers' constituencies have suffered some of the steepest losses in support. The treasurer's report in Somerton and Frome, where minister David Heath is MP, stated that in some areas "there was very little canvassing due to members and supporters not being willing to campaign for the party". The party lost "key campaigners who disagree with coalition politics and they were missed".

Argyle and Bute, where Alan Reid is MP, reported "a dispiriting year", while in Newcastle there was "a tough situation on the doorstep... due in part to the national economic situation and our party's part in the coalition". Across six regions – East of England, North West, Scotland, South Central, Western Counties and Yorkshire & Humber – there was a drop of 7,693 members in a year, or 23 per cent. Details were not released in other regions.

A Lib Dem spokesman said: "We have never hidden from the fact that our decision to put national interest first and our own party interest aside in order to form a coalition would be difficult. We pay tribute to those members who've stuck it out, braved the doorsteps and stuck with the party. They are the heroes of liberalism and we salute them every day."

At least 21 Tory associations gained members in the last year, though some ministers saw a fall, including Andrew Lansley, down 28 per cent, Philip Hammond, down 24 per cent and Theresa May, whose constituency lost 20 per cent. The party said it had launched initiatives to "attract new members and reconnect with lapsed members".

Additional reporting by Gregor Cubie and Hannah Todd

Falling membership

David Heath The deputy leader of the Commons clung on to his Somerton and Frome seat, but has lost 27 per cent of members who disagree with coalition politics.

Sarah Teather The largest drop in membership came in the Children's Minister's local party in Brent. It saw 42 per cent of activists quit in the space of 12 months.

Nick Clegg The embattled deputy PM and Lib Dem leader saw an 18 per cent drop in membership in his Sheffield Hallam constituency, despite efforts to "build support for the party".

Lynne Featherstone The number of Lib Dem members in Hornsey & Wood Green, represented by the equalities minister, dropped 21 per cent to stand at below 300.

Danny Alexander The Chief Secretary to the Treasury suffered a 14 per cent drop in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strath, blaming "hard decisions" taken by the coalition.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £38,000

£16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued expansion, an ...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£65000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A long-established, tech...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Software Development Project Manager - Kingston Upon Thames

£55000 - £60000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Experienced Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders