This is the second post in a series of New Year resolutions for the Lib Dems. You can read the first one, on diversity, here.
Resolution 2: Keep as many “surge” members as possible
During the week after the General Election 20,000 new members joined the Lib Dems - on the Wednesday after polling day over one third of the party had been a member for less than a week.
It was a remarkable surge. To put it into context, during the “Cleggmania” surge of 2010 we recruited about 8,000 members in a couple of weeks, so 20,000 in just over four days is a whole level higher.
However, we’ll need to be much better at retaining them than we were in 2010 if we’re going to see any long term benefit. In 2011, when the Cleggmania members came to renew, we actually lost 120% of them, in effect almost everyone who had joined the previous year left plus some who had been members for longer. There are factors in our favour this time. Obviously, not being in Government helps, and the party's infrastructure is now much stronger. For example almost all of these new members joined either with a direct debit or a recurring card payment, neither of which we could do online in 2010. We also have a better incentive for local parties to retain members rather than just recruit them, and over the last couple of years the party’s average membership retention has increased significantly. All of these things give us a fighting chance of keeping the majority of the people who joined last May.
But of course we have to do more than just keep members through inertia. We need their energy and enthusiasm as activists and candidates, in developing policy and making their voice heard at every level. To get that we need to reconnect those members with the emotions they felt in May last year. They need to feel how they felt when they saw Nick’s speech, their passion for liberalism and to the feeling they had to do something to defend it.
I mention Nick deliberately because, as uncomfortable as it makes some people feel, his speech on that Friday caused more people to join the Liberal Democrats in one week than had done so in the previous five years. We cannot ignore the role he needs to play in getting them to stay now.
This will all be really, really hard – and it isn't just the responsibility of Party HQ to do it. Members will renew if they feel like the vision they bought into when they joined is being fulfilled, and as much as the national party can help that, the real difference will come from local teams making sure that those new members are engaged in a way that makes them feel like they’re at the heart of the party, and not like some group of suspicious newcomers.