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.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.