If political parties are to increase public participation in them, it might not be via actual membership. Already many of the parties are attempting to recruit voters into the category of ‘supporter’. [Read more below]
For example, in 1992 the Labour Party announced the creation of a ‘Labour Supporters Club’, which was to be a group distinct from the general party membership and one without the usual democratic membership rights. Trotter argued that this development signalled that the leadership was content for the organisational structure to remain ‘reserved for a select group of ideologically homogeneous and organisationally effective cadres’ and therefore the conflicts inherent in a mass party could be avoided (Trotter, 1992a: p.15).
Like other elements of party development, this follows the North American model of weak party organisations connected with organised supporters rather than ‘members’. Other techniques and gimmicks will, no doubt, be introduced to increase membership.
The American idea of ‘the primary’ election, for example, might be legislated for, to increase participation in the parties. Increasingly parties and politicians are also building up large databases of email recipients for their email newsletters. Interestingly, Richard Prebble once claimed to have 30,000 subscribers to his weekly email newsletter. Most of these people are probably not party members, but such ‘supporters’ are a possible future substitute for members.