Explaining the pro-Corbyn surge in Labour’s membership

By Monica Poletti, Tim Bale and Paul Webb

In the course of a year and a half, Labour Party membership has increased massively. The number of full members has moved from 190,000 in May 2015 to 515,000 in July 2016 – an influx of 325,000 new members. In this article we explore how we can explain the pro-Corbyn surge in this growth.

As part of our ESRC-funded Party Members Project (PMP), we fielded a first survey with existing Labour members in May 2015 and a second one with post-election members in May 2016.  We now know that at the most recent leadership election those who were members before May 2015 voted predominantly for Owen Smith, whereas the new members opted mainly for Jeremy Corbyn. This prompts a key question: in what respects did the ‘new’ members differ from the ‘old’ members?

In order to find out, we compare these two groups: older members (pre-GE2015) and newer members (who joined after May 2015 but before January 2016 and were therefore eligible to vote in the leadership election).  A number of features stand out: gender; left-wing identity; social liberalism; campaign activism; feelings about the leadership; and the possibility that the ranks of the newer members, and those that support Jeremy Corbyn, may have been swollen by what we call ‘educated left-behinds’ – people who, given their qualifications, might have been expecting to earn more than they currently do.

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