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Sunday, 14 April, 2002, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
'Labour membership fight gets personal'
Man on mobile phone
'I just called to say we love you...'
Backbench Labour MPs have been ordered to make personal telephone calls to people thinking of leaving the party to beg them to stay, it has been reported.

Party membership
Labour - 280,000
Conservative - 318,000
Liberal Democrat - 73,000
The move is the latest attempt to halt a steady fall in party membership.

According to a memo leaked to a Sunday newspaper, MPs have also been set a target of writing eight letters a week to constituency party members.

Labour's membership - which reached a peak of more than 400,000 before the 1997 general election - has been falling steadily in recent years.

A Labour Party spokeswoman said she was "not aware" of a memo telling MPs to call party members.

She said the party's most recent figures - quoted in an interview with general secretary David Triesman in the Financial Times - showed membership had actually grown by "a few thousand" in recent months.

'Disillusioned'

Labour membership is thought to currently stand at about 280,000 - down 10% since last year's general election and close to 1991's all-time low of 261,000.

Party members are reported to be disillusioned with centralisation of power and a perceived lack of input from ordinary members on policy.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, which printed details from the leaked memo, the problem is particularly acute among younger members, many of whom leave the party after a year or two.

David Triesman
Triesman: 'disillusionment partly to blame'
The newspaper claims the average age of a Labour member is now 50.

The problem could impact on next month's local election campaign, when Labour attempts to motivate activists to mount an effective campaign on the doorstep.

Falling membership could also add to Labour's cash crisis, with the party facing debts of 10m and a decline in donations from the trade unions.

'Drifting away'

Labour initially put falling membership down to a change in the method of paying subscriptions, which it said weeded out dormant members.

But it is now sufficiently alarmed to have come up with a series of initiatives aimed at reversing the decline.

Mr Triesman recently admitted falling membership was partly down to "disillusionment."

He said many people had joined the party in the mid 1990s in an effort to oust the Tories and had "drifted away" again.

Tory membership

Party chairman Charles Clarke is thought to be considering different forms of membership, to allow people to choose their level of involvement.

The Conservative Party membership claims to have 318,000 members.

The Liberal Democrats have 73,000 members, although they claim to be the only one of the three main parties with increasing membership.

See also:

11 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Labour's local election warning
28 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Labour membership down 10%
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