Jezza’s Bezzas: Labour’s New Members

By Tim Bale

Labour is in crisis. Whoever stands in the next leadership contest will have to face its grassroots members, large numbers of whom joined the party to help elect Jeremy Corbyn in 2015.

With the help of YouGov and as part of an ESRC-funded project on UK party membership in the twenty-first century, we (Professor Tim Bale and Dr Monica Poletti (Queen Mary University of London) and Professor Paul Webb (University of Sussex)) have conducted a new survey of Labour’s new members, fielded just after the May 2016 local, devolved and mayoral elections.

We have surveyed 2,026 members and registered supporters of the Labour Party who joined it after the May 2015 general election. This includes 876 people who joined as full members, 280 who initially joined as £3 registered supporters but then upgraded their membership (ie 1,156 full members in total) plus 870 people who are just registered supporters. Tables are available on request.

So what do they look like – and how do they compare with those members the team surveyed back in May 2015, the vast majority of whom were members when Ed Miliband was leader?

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The Green Surge and how it changed the membership of the Party

By Monica Poletti and James Dennison

Between 2010 and 2015, the Green Party went from being an afterthought in British politics to an established member of the second tier of Britain’s party system. Although their 2015 election result disappointed many, the “Green Surge in membership from late 2014 onwards turned them into the third largest party in England and Wales. Monica Poletti and James Dennison explain the surge did not alter the party’s ideological composition but instead reinforced earlier movements to the left. The Green Surge also created a more balanced membership profile in terms of gender, education and social class. But while most of the party’s members voted for the Greens, one in five of these “surgers” did not, raising questions as to the durability of their membership.

In just seven months, between October 2014 and May 2015, the Green Party’s membership increased from less than 20,000 to over 60,000. The growth is interesting not only because membership figures of all British parties had until then been in decline for decades, but also because a near overnight trebling of any party’s membership would be expected to radically change the profile of its average member. Indeed, many commentators spoke at the time of a shift in the Greens from an environmentalist stance to a leftist or even populist positioning.

Here, we explore if and how the Green Party’s membership was transformed by the Green Surge using data from the ESRC Party Members Project (PMP). Based on 845 Green members surveyed shortly after the 2015 general election, we divide these into three cohorts based on date of joining: before 2010 (12 per cent of those surveyed), between 2010-2013 (15 per cent) and the Green Surge period of 2014-2015 (73 per cent).

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Ideology is in the eye of the beholder: How British party supporters see themselves, their parties, and their rivals

By Tim Bale, Paul Webb and Monica Poletti

Although the number of voters prepared to declare an affinity to a political party has shrunk over the last half century, they still represent a substantial slice of the electorate. Here, Tim Bale, Paul Webb and Monica Poletti show that the gap between where strong supporters of Britain’s top six political parties place themselves ideologically and where they place the parties with which they feel such an affinity is not that big. However, those with strong allegiances to a party often see other parties as being much more extreme than do the supporters of those parties.

If British Election Study figures are anything to go by, those feeling close to the country’s six biggest parties – the Conservatives, Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems, UKIP and the Greens – make up around 15 per cent of the 45, 325,078 people registered to vote in May 2015.  That’s getting on for seven million people.

Just after the general election, and as part of our ESRC-funded project on party membership in the twentieth-first century, in conjunction with YouGov we conducted surveys not only of members of these parties but also of their most enthusiastic supporters who, for whatever reason, weren’t actually members.  The results were fascinating.

We gave the six parties’ biggest fans a scale running from zero (very left-wing) to ten (very right-wing) and asked them to place themselves somewhere along it.  We also asked them to place the party they support on the same scale. Then we asked them some more detailed, ideologically-charged questions, the answers to which allowed us to put together what could be said to be a more objective measure of where they are located on that same scale. We did this by asking them whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statements: “government should redistribute income from the better-off to those who are less well off; big business benefits owners at the expense of workers; ordinary people do not get their fair share of the nation’s wealth; there is one law for the rich and one for the poor; and, management will always try to get the better of employees if it gets the chance.”

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