Overheard on the Westminster grapevine are encouraging figures about the growth of Labour Party membership since the 2010 General Election. It might suit some to buff-up the leadership of Ed Miliband with a shiny five-figure number. But viewed from the grassroots, that figure (65,000 according to an internal document 'leaked' to The Times and reproduced here http://bit.ly/wM8RJw), should be treated with caution. My best guess is that it is a gross figure (sic) and does not take account of resignations or lapses.
What is lamentable is that Labour Party senior officials know what total membership is nationally, by parliamentary constituency and administrative regional or branch in real time. That information is then used for internal political purposes, but rarely, if ever, as a legitimate performance indicator.
Past experience has been that the Labour Party will not publish that data. The best we can hope for is a national figure for 31 December 2011 in late July as part of the Statement of Accounts required by the Electoral Commission. That will be followed by CLP membership data for the same date as part of the Annual Conference Decision Book after the event in October/November ie 10 to 11 months later.
My own consituency had no new members in the last month. Nearly 10% are in arrears, therefore in the absence of fresh recruits or rejoiners, net membership already falling locally will continue to do so. This is not a surprise to me in view of the so-called Refounding Labour fiasco. Worse, the Party's so-called policy making process, Partnership into Power, has been shut to ordinary members for over 15 years. But the powers that be blunder on blindly, unwilling to look at the evidence staring them in the face that the Party on the ground is still too small and inadequately organised to ensure victory at the next Westminster elections.
Consolations, if that is what they are, come from fellow members who understand without prompting, for example, that annual accounts need to be prepared for forthcoming annual general meetings. My own branch treasurer delivered his draft for audit on the first working day after the end of the financial year. I think I should propose him for a Merit Award. Another branch chair, who is emigrating at the end of the month, has been ringing round members encouraging attendence at his 'retirement' AGM and as a result has two candidates to take his place requiring an election. Imagine!
Now that I have got papers away to branch secretaries for our CLP AGM on 28 February (yes, two months away) and my own branch members for our AGM next week, it is time to check on those branches in need of rebuilding. In one instance it will be the third year running. But that's what goes with the job of CLP officer if you believe in rebuilding from the electoral ward up. In 2010 we failed to run candidates in every ward for every seat, we don't want that to happen again in 2014.
To succeed we not only need more members willing to campaign, raise funds, contribute their skills and experience, we need wider recognition and support from the leadership for locally-based organisational capacity, collaboration and above all mutual respect and civility.
Happy New Year.