Even Labour Party doesn’t know real membership numbers

A Labour insider writes:

Your piece on the Labour Party membership covers over some even more complicated issues:

The true number of Labour Party members is likely to remain hidden with even Fraser House likely to have problems unraveling membership numbers in real terms. Last week Richard Harman at Politik suggested that real membership numbers of the Labour Party had slipped beneath 5,000 people, making the party numerically smaller than the Greens. 

But this is complicated.

According to the Labour Party Constitution:

The Party shall consist of members of Labour Electorate Committees or members of branches (ordinary and special), members of affiliates and supporters of the Party.”

Note there that branches can be “ordinary and special”. ¬†So at the grassroots level there are two forms of branches that make up the party. “Ordinary Branches” are made up of members on a geographic basis, such as your suburb or town. Membership is based on where you live. There are also “Special Branches” which are based on who you are. On this the constitution says:

b. Special Branch: This shall consist of at least ten (10) financial members of the Party who wish to be constituted to deal with special community interests such as the following;
ii) Women’s Branch: This shall consist of at least ten (10) women fifteen (15) years of age or over who qualify for membership in accordance with Rule 6.
iii) University Branch (and others of a similar nature): This shall consist of at least ten (10) persons, who shall be members of the institution and who qualify for membership in accordance with Rule 6.
iv) Youth Branch: This shall consist of at least ten persons, between the ages of fifteen (15) and twenty-five (25) years, who qualify for membership in accordance with Rule 6.
v) Maori Branch: This shall consist of at least ten (10) members of the Maori race, fifteen (15) years of age or over, who qualify for membership in accordance with Rule 6.
vi) Pacific Islands Branch: This shall consist of at least ten (10) members of the Pacific Island
races, fifteen (15) years of age or over, who qualify for membership in accordance with Rule 6.
vii) Industrial Branch

So how does this relate to membership numbers?

An individual person can be a member of ONE ordinary branch and ONE special branch (note if you’re a white male over the age of 25 your options are limited).

It is understood there are more sector groups than those mentioned above although their position is uncertain from an immediate reading of the constitution. Special branches may also include rural, rainbow and others.

17) No person shall be a member of more than one (1) General Branch of the Party or more than one (1) Branch constituted to deal with identical special community interests (e.g. two (2) Youth Branches, two (2) Industrial Branches), provided that at the time of first joining the Party or upon annual renewal, a member shall elect and designate no more than two (2) branches at which they will exercise their voting rights.

So essentially one person can be a member of the Labour Party twice if they tick the right boxes. It will also give them two votes as ordinary voting Labour Party members.

It is important to note this excludes affiliates. Affiliates are members of affiliated unions that are collectively members of the Labour Party. Potentially, for example, a woman could be an ordinary branch member, a women’s branch member and by proxy a member by reason of her union. Unions though are protective of their membership lists and it is understood that at the local level only non-affiliated member lists are provided to the Labour Electorate Committees.

Now all we have demonstrated so far is that individuals just get to belong to two branches and vote twice if they tick the right boxes.

But, being Labour, it is more complicated than that.

Electorate secretaries and treasurers are regularly sent updated membership lists for their electorate in Excel format. This shows the electorate officers who is financial and non-financial, and who under the constitution can officially vote or not.

Rather than maintain membership data for one person on one line, a person is given essentially two memberships for each branch they are a member of (ordinary and special). So if the list was printed out it would look like this:


The above example is only two real people but you’ll notice four names and four different membership numbers. When citing the electorate’s membership numbers this will also count as four members.

So what most people call “members” and what Labour calls “members” are two different things. One would suspect when trying to talk up their numbers, the party’s General Secretary talks of ordinary, special and affiliates all added together even though many will actually just be the same people. Sometimes they’ll concede and take out affiliates (an affiliate might not even vote Labour but is a proxy member purely by choice of union) but then they’re still left with grossly swelled numbers.

What we actually need is a total of real members as they appear on the electoral role. But since the party’s databases are in such a mess and one real person can be a member two times with two different membership numbers one wonders if even Fraser House knows the real number.

Oh dear it sounds dreadfully like Labour has no real idea as to how many members they actually have.

It sounds like we need to have comprehensive audits completed of political party membership lists. Perhaps we could also change the law to allow only natural persons to be members of political parties and abolish affiliate memberships.


– tipline


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  • Crowgirl

    Labour: can’t do an Excel spreadsheet to work out total membership, but wants to run the country.

    • Whafe

      So so true Crowgirl…
      Most would say, Mmmm I cant determine a basic task as to know what membership is, this in itself would mean there is no way I have the ability to run the country…
      Alas though, Labour are the self righteous and deluded whom no more than the vast majority of New Zealander’s whom voted that way…
      Mediocrity, the new great… NOT

    • I wouldn’t be surprised to see their alternative budget written in crayon

      • benniedawg

        You are crediting them with the ability to use something that has resulted from an advance in technological process, which is a long bow to draw. More likely it will be scribbled on a rock with a piece of charcoal.

  • Markmywords

    maybe this is how they will be able to spend one tax dollar three times

  • Left Right Out

    Wow… so Martin Martyn could be a member 4 times over……… he has found utopia

  • Rick H

    I am willing to bet that half of the “members” they believe they have, do not even know they are members.
    Every person who is a member of any “Union” is automatically a “Labour Party Member”
    My partner hates Labour, but as she works in “Aged Care”, she believes she was almost forced to join the union.
    She gets sent in the mail nice colourful pamphlets from the union, the contents of which is basically nothing other than a rant about “we must change the government”.

  • Caprice

    If Labours internal polling is correct, and each of those voters was an ordinary/special and affiliate member, they could exceed the population of the country and still lose the next election!

  • stephen2d

    This is why Labour thinks there is a “missing million” voters, they count their voters and members four times!

  • niggly

    I thought Labour reportedly had a massive membership uptake when they changed the rules around 3 or 4 years ago to give the activists and Unions greater voting rights (and diminished the Labour Caucus’ voting power), which then propelled Cunliffe into the leadership?

    So where are all these so called activists (and Unionists) now? Or does this prove (yet again) that the noisy activists make the most noise but drive away far greater numbers of Labour’s “middle NZ” voters?

    If so, how many times before Labour stops shooting itself in the foot pandering to the hard-left activist base and Unions, who clearly aren’t delivering?

  • Simon P

    SB is probably considered a member, she gets all the Little spam.

  • andrewo

    Labour: The party that spouts equality has apartheid in it’s membership structure

  • Totara

    There’s an opportunity for somebody to really shaft Labour here.

    In 2013, Trevor Mallard contacted the Attorney-General about The Peter Dunne party (i.e. United Future) as not having 500 bona fide members (which includes name, address, evidence of paid membership fees, member authorisation to record such data). This is all required under Section 63 of the New Zealand Electoral Act (1993). Consequently, Peter Dunne ended up forfeiting $100,000 for parliamentary party leader operational funding.

    I don’t think that Peter Dunne has the guts to return the same favour to Labour.

    But a Whale Oiler might??

  • Wheninrome

    I have always believed as a tax paying property owning member of society that I should have two votes, I have been following the wrong party!!!!

  • Effluent

    I should think that their membership accounts would disclose something close to the true story, but there’s very little chance of them seeing the light of day. My guess is that they’re effectively flat broke, and that is what will actually kill the party, as they cannot indefinitely maintain the fiction that they are a serious political organisation without any visible means of support.

  • Curly1952

    So that’s why Martin/Martyn is on the electoral roll twice huh? He’s a member of labour twice so therefore I am allowed to vote twice. Take away the double dipper labour might be looking for 1.7m people not 1m.

  • So basically when counting actual people who are members of the Labour party, excluding affiliates, the number could be between 1/2 and 2/3 of the number of members on record.

    We’ll assume their figures they’re giving are not incliding affiliate union members (359,782 – http://www.societies.govt.nz/cms/registered-unions/annual-return-membership-reports/2015 )
    Which would be why Politik was saying that it could easily be 2500 (i.e. if less than Green’s who are at 5000)

  • Bartman

    This tangled mess of a solution to a simple problem optimises Labour’s efforts at everything – but most importantly policy. Who could be bothered reading all of the article content above? Better things to do with my time – but it did leave a residual message – Labour are the party of over-complication and obfuscation – essentially a reflection of the non-real world experience people who lead the party. When real people with real life experience outside teaching & unions populate Labour hierarchy we might see positive changes to this and other important process such as the leadership love-off. We’ll be waiting a while I suspect.

    Edit: spelling