Monday 2 February 2009

Fabian membership hits 35 year peak

A warm welcome to the 209 new members who joined the Fabian Society in January: 135 of whom joined the Society in signing up for or attending January's New Year Conference.

As a result, Fabian national membership now stands at a 35 year high: it is over 20% higher than when Labour came to office in May 1997. It may also surprise people to hear that membership is now double what it was when Clement Attlee left office in 1951. This is a very positive if parochial glimmer amidst much gloomy discussion about political participation in general, and in the Labour party in particular. We enter this, our 125th year, with confidence. I think it does show an appetite for political ideas and values, perhaps above all for engaging where intelligent and open debate, and disagreement in a fraternal spirit of mutual respect, is valued.

So thank you to all Fabian members for their support in making our work possible - and invite new members to join us too. The current total of 6286 national members is not quite the all time high. We remain a net gain of 46 new members short of the 1973 peak of 6332 national members. Why not add your voice to our debates and help us make it!

Thanks to some fascinating information from Giles Wright, our excellent and unsung membership officer, I can offer some interesting and perhaps counterintuitive information from the historic membership records.

Firstly, Fabian membership has, historically, fallen during periods when Labour is in office, but has not done so this time. There were 5093 members at the end of April 1997, as Labour came to office on May 1st, compared to 6286 today. By contrast, there were 4425 national members on 31st March 1945 (and 5089 a year later; almost exactly the May 1997 figure) but this dropped to 3018 by 1951, when Labour left office, sinking further to 2465 by 1956.

Secondly, the historic figures show that the Society has never been an enormously large organisation in terms of membership but we have a very good claim to have punched its weight, and more, in thinking and rethinking the political left. Some fluctuations in membership relate to political events. For example, the formation of the SDP in 1981 had a significant effect. (Shirley Williams, a former General Secretary, was Chair at the time). The annual totals show that national membership was 3757 in June 1980, falling to 3502 a year later and 3138 in June 1982, again curiously leaving membership almost exactly half of what it is today.

And thank you too to everybody who volunteers time to the Fabian Society - particularly in the local societies, Young Fabians and Fabian Women's Network - so giving the Society a reach and range of grassroots and voluntary activity which no other think-tank can match.

(One footnote which local Fabians might find useful: the national membership does not include those who are members of one of our 65 Fabian local societies without being national members. This is fairly common. Tecords are kept locally and have not been compiled and cross-checked with the national list. There was a tally in 1945, finding 2998 local only members. Our rough current estimate is 1000 local only members - which would average around 15 per group, though some have many more and others fewer).

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