York Lib Dems deny ‘buying’ members to become largest in country

York Lib Dems deny ‘buying’ members, by subsidising membership costs, to ensure they become the largest student group in the country.

Money paid to the Liberal Democrats to subsidise their membership costs could lead to an unprecedented increase in their national standing at a student group. Elaine Bagshaw, Chair of Liberal Youth, said that the group could “get anything they wanted to vote for” at the twice-annual Liberal Youth conference if they all attended.

Offering free membership at Freshers’ Fayre radically increased the number of people who joined the society by a factor of ten. Madeleine Kirk is the Lib Dem candidate for the new constituency of York Outer, which contains the University and almost all of the students at York. A press release from her office boasted that “the York University branch is now the biggest Lib Dem student in the country after 115 new party members were recruited in just one day.”

Previous years have seen roughly 10 members overall. “It was not done with the intention of giving a [national] boost [to York]”, said Kirk, “but it was totally a local initiative. It certainly wasn’t bribery.”

Councillor Tom Holvey, who was on the Lib Dem stall at Freshers’ Fayre, said however that it would help boost York’s profile nationally with the Lib Dems. “It will definitely give York more kudos”, he said.

The money used came from individual donations from the local party, including councillors and local members. The total amount pledged would have covered the cost of 150 members of the party. Even though Kirk herself did not pledge money, she was aware of the deal and fully supported the donations. All the money pledged has been paid, with the excess “going into the kitty in case we wanted to do something like this again.”

Julian Sturdy, Conservative candidate for York Outer, said that the motives for local party involvement involvement were clear. “We have a general election round the corner and, being realistic, they were probably doing it for election purposes. If they’re not breaking any rules, then it’s up to them.”

“Essentially the groups are campus political organisations, and I believe that they should not be influenced by Parliamentary candidates or other outside organisations. I’m really a side role to the campus Conservatives: As a Parliamentary candidate, I shouldn’t be seeking to take over. But”, he added, “if she [Kirk] did give money, then it’s entirely up to her what she wants to do.”

The agreement to donate the money was reached between Craig Martin, Lib Dem chair at the university, and a number of local councillors last summer over an end-of-term BBQ.

Martin calls the money ‘sponsorship’, saying “we have never had enough members. I was always having to treble numbers when telling people how many we had, just to make us look like a worthwhile party. We decided to try this.”

“It is the best thing in the world for me to come into a society that was about to die and completely turn it around.”

22 comments

  1. 23 Oct ’09 at 3:53 pm

    Michael D'Cruze

    While this may look like “bending” the rules to an outsider, realistically what this represents is the Lib Dems as a whole showing a strong interest in getting students involved in politics as early as possible. They should be praised for this and the other political societies on campus should really look at having their respective national parties fund them in the same way.
    Offering free membership is certainly a good way to pull in a large number of members, but having said that I certainly wouldn’t put my name down on a Tory mailing list simply because it was free.

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  2. Labour, Tories, Greens, UKIP etc… can all subsidise student involvement if they wish as well. As said above this seems to be a sensible initiative to increase participation.

    In the past few years the Lib Dems have been a fairly under-active group on campus despite many student friendly policies and labour’s collapse. I’m fairly sure those in charge of York Uni Lib Dems thought they needed to change strategy, and this one seems quite sensible. For your £4 labour or tory membership fee you don’t actually get anything. Same can be said for stop the war, UAF, socialists, NGS and the rest of the political societies – non members can go to all their events for free.

    I don’t think people are going to join a political society just because it’s free anyway – it’s just encouraging people with liberal views to get more involved. People with other views clearly aren’t going to join the liberal democrats, whether it’s free or not. If the BNP were offering free membership, do you think hundreds of students would sign up ‘just ‘cos it’s free?’ I doubt it.

    Of course we’ll just have to wait and see how many of the 115 turn up to events to guage whether they will all be active members or just people signing up like any other mailing list.

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  3. As one of those who signed up to the society at the fayre, I thought it was a fantastic initiative. Especially in a General Electionyear , it is crucial that all of the parties are giving students an easy way to get involved in politics, and the Liberal Democrats seem to have got exactly the right tone here. The Tory and Labour stands were dead compared to the Liberal Democrat stand – which is a clear sign that despite all the negative press students and young people are really keen to get involved in politics when people are ready to take them serious.

    Kudos to Craig Martin to thinking of this idea and I for one will be going to the first Lib Dem event tonight, at 7pm in D/104.

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  4. The students union has had a policy to push societies to seek outside funding and sponsorship for several years in order to reduce costs. This is no surprise to me whatsoever. After all it makes sense that societies with close ties to national organisations should seek to take advantages of this.

    Political party societies on campus have always been more costly than other societies on campus because you have to pay the minimum £4 membership and pay to join the political party too. I think it’s only fair that the national parties contribute towards the cost of joining. Maybe the Conservative and Labour societies should think about making the same deal as well.

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  5. 23 Oct ’09 at 8:00 pm

    Labour supporter

    “Martin calls the money ‘sponsorship’, saying “we have never had enough members. I was always having to treble numbers when telling people how many we had, just to make us look like a worthwhile party”

    This is 1) hilarious and 2) tells you all you need to know about Lib Dems

    In response to everyone saying that the other societies should do this too, that’s fine, except the national Labour Party *has no money*. Why should those with extra funding get an unfair advantage, exactly? Doesn’t seem like a very progressive attitude, frankly, but I suppose asking for some consistency from the LDs is asking a bit much.

    “In the past few years the Lib Dems have been a fairly under-active group on campus despite many student friendly policies and labour’s collapse”

    So getting a load of people signed up on paper is going to change that? If they weren’t going to join anyway, it’s not like those members will be active; this is just a cynical move to boost numbers so the Chair does not have to *lie* about membership any more. Also, re. those “student friendly policies”, I’m assuming you’ve heard that Clegg has dropped their opposition to fees?

    “For your £4 labour or tory membership fee you don’t actually get anything”

    Well, I’d naturally disagree, but there are practical benefits not available to non-members, most importantly the ability to vote on Labour/Tory Party policy and candidates!

    “Political party societies on campus have always been more costly than other societies on campus because you have to pay the minimum £4 membership and pay to join the political party too.”

    You need to get your facts straight. I don’t know about the Tories, but the £4 to join Labour Club get’s you membership of: York Uni Labour Club (obviously), Labour Students (ie. the group currently in control of NUS), the local Constituency Party (which has very good student involvement), and of course the national Party, at no extra cost. FACT

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  6. 23 Oct ’09 at 9:03 pm

    Labour supporter

    Please excuse the typos

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  7. The main reason the Labour party has no money is due to the amount of debt the party it’s self has racked up, somewhere around £12 million.

    About the embarrssing membership numbers, your right it does say something about the party. It also says a lot about the party when the Lib Dems won across campus in the European elections by some way. This is the main reason for offering this free membership, there is a lot of supporters of us on campus but no drive to get involved with the society.

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  8. @Labour supporter – Can confirm that giving the York Tories £4 includes National membership and local constituency membership as well as saving you money on any of our ticketed events and balls. It also enables you to vote or stand in the committee elections later this term.

    On the subject of the story: this seems to be a fairly pointless action. While it could increase participation it seems unlikely. As “A Democrat” points out you can come to any of the Lib/Lab/Con events for free and I think the same applies for most other political societies. Having membership as well is only for those who have more of an interest and want to participate to a greater extent. Not something everyone needs.

    From Madeline Kirk’s perspective it is clear that getting people to campaign for her is her main objective. Aside from the ethical concerns of paying for this I can’t really see it working. If someone is not prepared to stump up £4 for membership I can’t see them getting out of bed at 8am on a rainy Saturday morning to go and knock on doors in the pouring rain. Still it is her money and if it all it does is generate her some publicity and make her and Craig Martin feel better about themselves then I’m sure she will consider it well spent.

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  9. 23 Oct ’09 at 11:53 pm

    Labour supporter

    Craig – this is a very odd argument. So Labour has no money because it has debt? Typical LD logic. Maybe Labour is in debt because it has no money lol? Anyway, the point stands, a true progressive would not rely on an unfair financial advantage, and considering that Labour Club at least cannot afford to do this, that’s what it is

    Also, using what numbers did the LDs win on campus? Nouse reported that Labour and Greens were leading the exit polls, followed by the Tories (nouse.co.uk/2009/06/09/bnp-win-in-yorkshire-despite-campus-anti-fascist-drive), and there is no offical breakdown by electoral wards. Which suggests your just making stuff up (and, based on your dubious barcharts and election materials, isn’t exactly new)

    “This is the main reason for offering this free membership, there is a lot of supporters of us on campus but no drive to get involved with the society”

    This made me laugh, that’s a very “liberal” interpretation of support indeed!!

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  10. Wow, this is a bit of an aggressive campaign “Labour Supporter”. I don’t really get your argument though, to be honest. Surely if Liberal Democrat members in York want to encourage student participation in politics by sponsoring free membership, this is a good thing, no? Just because your party is bankrupt shouldn’t stop Lib Dem members supporting their student society.

    Craig has shown very clearly that he is committed to building the York Liberal Democrat society, and the turnout for the event in Derwent last night is testament to how people are keen to get involved. Phil Willis MP last night was very complementary of the efforts of Liberal Youth in our Freshers activities across the country and it seems we’ve signed up more members than ever before in our history, right across the country.

    I hope the Labour and Conservative Parties follow the inspired move by Craig to make the membership free. I certainly know that because of the Student Loan disaster, I was almost at my overdraft limit last Saturday, and I know many others in my position. Martin’s move to make membership free opened up politics to many who may not have considered it, particularly because of finance. Making politics more accessible to everyone is the responsibility of politicians of whatever colour, especially at a time of falling turnout and falling party membership. It is notable that the fastest growing group within the Liberal Democrats is Liberal Youth, the party’s youth wing – and this is thanks to people like Craig.

    The Lib Dem society in York is now not only the biggest in country, but also saw more sign-ups than Labour and the Tories combined in York. Students are fed up with Labour and show no enthusiasm for the Tories. I know that I am in the society which is making massive strides forward and as Elaine Bagshaw mentioned, this will give York University Liberal Democrats a real chance to make their voice heard at Liberal Youth conference which is coming up in November. It is an exciting time to be in the York University Lib Dems, and I feel the best is yet to come.

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  11. @Laboursupporter – when I referred to student friendly policies i was referring mainly to the policy on tuition fees. The LDs still oppose the level of fees that labour has introduced and will increase if it wins the next election. A publication on fees is due before the next election and I won’t try and second guess the party’s intentions but i expect there to be a commitment to more affordable university education, either free or by means of a more progressive repayment plan such as a graduate tax. But we shall see. In addition i’d imagine LD policies on foreign policy, ID cards, civil liberties, trident, green issues would all attract strong support among students, although it does not seem to be the case at York.

    It’s not an unfair financial advantage at all. The unwaged get discounted membership to all parties, including the labour party. Who says that party membership has to cost anything? Membership fees and revenue raising are an internal matter for each party.

    At the end of the day we’re talking about 4 quid. As Ralph says, a £4 discount isn’t going to be the reason why people campaign every week and why people will spend a lot of their free time doing clerical work, leafleting and other essential jobs for nothing.

    As for York Lib dems being ‘the biggest in the country’ and the influence which they might gain from it, may I take this opportunity to remind everyone we’re talking about student politics. And nobody cares about student politics. The influence of a large campus society isn’t felt at all outside the society itself.

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  12. 24 Oct ’09 at 8:27 pm

    Labour supporter

    “Wow, this is a bit of an aggressive campaign”

    If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the blogosphere

    “Phil Willis MP last night was very complementary of the efforts of Liberal Youth”

    I know, a Lib Dem MP praising the Lib Dem youth organisation. Stop press!

    “The Lib Dem society in York is now not only the biggest in country, but also saw more sign-ups than Labour and the Tories combined in York”

    Because you offered free membership!! This is like talking to a wall. Also, nice to know you know the exact membership numbers of Labour/Tories (especially considering that, due to online signups etc, I doubt even the Lab/Tory Chairs even know the exact numbers yet!)

    “Students are fed up with Labour and show no enthusiasm for the Tories”

    Nice to know you speak for ALL STUDENTS there Alan. Never mind that, as said before, Labour did the best on campus at the last election AND Comres, Populus, ICM and Ipsos-Mori all show Labour leading in the 18-24 bracket. You’re not just making all this up, are you?

    “when I referred to student friendly policies i was referring mainly to the policy on tuition fees. The LDs still oppose the level of fees that labour has introduced and will increase if it wins the next election. A publication on fees is due before the next election and I won’t try and second guess the party’s intentions”

    Oh dear, someone hasn’t been reading the news. The LDs have dropped their opposition to fees, and have announced nothing in regard to replacing/lowering them (or anything much at all, for that matter). The Labour Party’s current policy is NOT to raise fees, as it is waiting for the result of its own policy review

    “In addition i’d imagine LD policies on foreign policy, ID cards, civil liberties, trident, green issues would all attract strong support among students”

    See above comments on polling among young people

    At the end of the day ladies and gents, Labour cannot afford to do something which clearly gave the LDs a massive boost, while their motivation seems to be about getting numbers on paper rather than real student involvement, as shown by Craig’s admitting to telling blatant LIES about their size (which you’ve all conveniently glossed over)

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  13. Nonsense – the party haven’t dropped their opposition to tuition fees. A speech at conference doesn’t equate to a policy commitment.

    From the party’s policy section on the website, accessed 25/10/09:

    “We will scrap tuition fees for all students taking their first degrees saving them almost £10,000 each.”

    Sounds like a policy to me. It was discussed at the conference whether this was a realistic aim in times of recession but it is STILL party policy to scrap tuition fees for undergraduates. This, along with all policies, will of course be under review as a manifesto for the 2010 election is drawn up. Yet as someone who follows the conference season and the news in a great amount of depth, I expect a commitment to free tuition to remain, or if this is seen as unfeasable due to the national debt, a commitment to linking the amount paid back to the ability to pay.

    Student politics is a topic i know far less about, so won’t wade into the ‘how many members have you got?’ debate because I simply don’t care. I go to LD, Lab and Con events if they interest me. Membership lists aren’t an indication of wider support. I haven’t heard any of the lies you refer to about membership size, but it’s a non-issue. A society can have 500 members but if only 10 of them regularly turn out then it’s not going to be as effective as a society of 35 who all regularly turn out to canvas and campaign.

    In York the most student-populated wards are held by Lib Dems (Heslington) and Labour (Hull Road, Heworth). I’d suggest actual election results are the best indication of wider support.

    As for York having a greater voice at liberal youth conference, i doubt this will have any effect on anything. Youth organisations aren’t listened to, aren’t taken seriously and due to the yearly turnover of officers, rarely get through an agenda and therefore can’t change anything. Youth politics tends to revolve around vague idealism in all parties, much like the majority of NUS conference motions.

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  14. I am the chair of ChemSoc, and we decided to offer free membership this year, and got close to 200 people signing up at Fresher’s Fair, for what ostensibly is a fairly specialist academic based society…

    Just goes to show, student’s love free things! ;)

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  15. 25 Oct ’09 at 7:36 pm

    Labour supporter

    “A speech at conference doesn’t equate to a policy commitment.”

    Haha, whatever dude. The leader of the party made it as clear as any politician does that fees are here to stay (though, of course, they shouldn’t be)

    “Student politics is a topic i know far less about, so won’t wade into the ‘how many members have you got?’ debate because I simply don’t care. I go to LD, Lab and Con events if they interest me”

    Lol, fair play!

    “I haven’t heard any of the lies you refer to about membership size, but it’s a non-issue.”

    Ok, then maybe READ the article:

    ‘Martin calls the money ‘sponsorship’, saying “we have never had enough members. I was always having to treble numbers when telling people how many we had, just to make us look like a worthwhile party”‘

    I think it tells you something about the LD’s motivations

    “In York the most student-populated wards are held by Lib Dems (Heslington) and Labour (Hull Road, Heworth). I’d suggest actual election results are the best indication of wider support.”

    Ok, I tell you what, let’s compare. Labour has:

    A national lead among young people, according to every major political pollster (today)
    A lead in the exit poll of campus ballot box at last election (4 months ago)
    The NUS leadership (6 months ago)
    Hull Road ward (year and a half ago)

    LDs have:

    Heslington ward (year and a half ago)
    LDs telling themselves they are the party of students (time immemorial)

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  16. Surely it’s also against YUSU rules?

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  17. 25 Oct ’09 at 11:58 pm

    Labour supporter

    Anon – it’s not; as the LDs take no YUSU grant (cos clearly they can afford not to have to), they don’t have to charge membership

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  18. @Anon – the Lib Dems do not have a YUSU grant so is probably allowed although this does in itself raise questions about why they would want more members on the books if not to increase their grant.

    Their freshers event really shows how pointless it all was. I don’t know about the Labour event but the LDs pulled in a much smaller crowd than the Tories and even the brand new Freedom Association. As A. Democrat suggests getting more members is irrelevant unless they actually come to events or go out campaigning.

    Sounds like a waste of money to me but as I said it is Kirk’s (and other’s) to spend as they wish.

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  19. Labour supporter, I can more than handle the heat, and don’t need to hide behind a pseudonym to give my views. I certainly know that the Tories and Labour combined (using even the most optimistic of Tory and Labour estimates) were so far behind the Lib Dems at the fayre, they would have needed a massive push to have overtaken them through online sign-ups.

    Unlike your party, Labour supporter, the Liberal Democrat party leader doesn’t dictate policy to members – all policy must be approved by Lib Dem conference, and at the most recent conference in Bournemouth conference voted to reaffirm the Lib Dem commitment to the tuition fee policy. Whilst organisations like the NUS are too busy pandering to the Labour government and refusing to oppose tuition fees, the Liberal Democrats and in particular, the youth and student wing of the Liberal Democrats, Liberal Youth, have been solid in their position that tuition fees need to go.

    With regards to the Liberal Democrats being the true home for students, you really need to check your sources, Labour Supporter. Just a quick google search turns up http://www.opinionpanel.co.uk/clientUpload/pdf/TheStudentVotebyProfessorPaulWhiteley.pdf, a key quote from a leading opinion pollster is “students are significantly more likely to vote for the Liberal Democrats than for the Conservatives or for Labour.” Indeed, their polling clearly shows Labour in 3rd place. What’s even more striking is that this poll covers up to January 2008, and whilst slightly out of date, the Lib Dems have doubled their support nationally in this time, so it is likely this report will understate Lib Dem support. Also note http://www.opinionpanel.co.uk/clientupload/pdf/doesthestudentvotecount.pdf (same website, different author) which backs up these figures and suggests that the Liberal Democrats gained 42% of the student vote at the last General Election. Indeed, at the last General Election, the Liberal Democrats won seats in Cardiff, Oxford and Birmingham thanks to the student vote and it is places like York Outer and Liverpool Waivertree where this is a real possibility in 2010.

    This support has been reflected in the massive success of York University Liberal Democrats, and I hope York will use their influence to come to Liberal Youth conference and have a real say on the future direction of this country. Liberal Youth got 2 policy motions into the Lib Dem policy book at conference in September, it could be York students who have the deciding vote on which policies get in, in the Spring.

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  20. LMAO!

    If this is the only way the Lib Dems can get members, I really feel sorry for them.

    Labour and Tories on campus regularly get 60+ and 70+ members respectively signing up at freshers fair annually and paying a membership fee. You have to wonder how committed their members will be if they weren’t prepared to pay a couple of quid to sign up.

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  21. 27 Oct ’09 at 2:47 am

    Labour supporter

    “I … don’t need to hide behind a pseudonym to give my views”

    Oh cry me a river. Tell it to the webmaster

    “the Liberal Democrat party leader doesn’t dictate policy to members – all policy must be approved by Lib Dem conference, and at the most recent conference in Bournemouth conference voted to reaffirm the Lib Dem commitment to the tuition fee policy”

    Actually, no party conference can be legally binding on any politician, and at the end of the day mate, your leadership has made it pretty clear which way they’ll vote come the day.

    “Whilst organisations like the NUS are too busy pandering to the Labour government and refusing to oppose tuition fees”

    Er, NUS pretty clearly opposes tuition fees!!

    Re. your report on student voting, as I said, every single major opinion pollster is showing Labour ahead of the Libs Dems in this group, which rather trumps dated studies

    “the massive success of York University Liberal Democrats”

    Yup, absoultely nothing to do with the free membership. It’s pretty pointless having an argument with someone this delusional…

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  22. This story has actually been picked up by political blogger Tory Bear:

    http://www.torybear.com/2009/10/lib-dem-ppc-in-bribery-scandal.html

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