With membership languishing at less than 200,000, a sudden flurry of self-congratulatory comments about Labour Party membership being higher than Cameron's Tories seems mildly absurd.
I'm struggling to find the reason for this obsessing about political party membership. Though I did spot a piece in the Daily Mail newspaper earlier today reporting the loss of members by Britain's right to rule party under David Cameron's leadership - down a third bayed the shires. Lamentably, in the interests of perspective, I have been reminding the Twittersphere, Labour lost over 50% of its members while Tony Blair was Prime Minister. That figure is a crude measure, since the Labour Party along with all other political parties fails to publish churn figures - how many people join and then leave after less than a year, after a year and so on.
What is clear is that there is an opportunity to rekindle the importance of political parties in civic society. Those matters are discussed in two pieces in tomorrow's Guardian newspaper. British democracy in terminal decline, warns report and Local democracy: the future looks bleak for political activism which quotes me in my former capacity as chair of Save the Labour Party, and now secretary of the Labour Democratic Network.
Mass membership political parties are problematic for the political elite of whatever party. Former Deputy Leader John Prescott discovered that first hand. In the mid-1990s when Labour Party membership had risen consistently for a decade, he voiced the idea that membership could reach a million. Don't take my word for it. I came across this reference in the august London Review of Books during desktop research for these bon mots:
A new organisation called Save the Labour Party forced HQ to confess to a figure of 208,000: half as many members as there had been when Blair won the 1997 election, and nowhere near the million members John Prescott used to boast of as being the party’s achievable goal.
What the Guardian correspondent John Harris dropped was my reference to images of former Party leader Tony Blair attending local barbecues encouraging socialising among newly recruited members. What happened as soon as Labour won back power in 1997? The one million member target went up in smoke. But he did report the substance from yours truly:
"Ask yourself: when did you last hear an authentic appeal to be active in political parties?" he says [that's me talking]. "Who was the last great champion of party member? The last voice was John Prescott, who took up the cause of getting one million Labour members. But the Blairites simply shut that down."
So the question today is: has Ed Miliband the courage to revive the idea of a million member party?