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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Middle-class university graduates will decide the future of the Labour Party

Three-quarters of Labour Party members are ABC1 voters

By Tim Bale, Monica Poletti, Paul Webb

 

We don’t yet know whether it will be Angela Eagle or Owen Smith, or maybe both of them, who ends up running against Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership.  But what we do know – because we reckon we now know lot about the people who will vote in that ballot – is that any challenger is going to have their work cut out.

We surveyed Labour members just after the 2015 General Election, and then ran a second survey in May this year so we could capture those who joined the party after the election.

Now, for the first time, we’ve put those two surveys together in order to come up with a pen-portrait of those people who, because they were members before the NEC’s February cut-off date, will therefore be eligible to vote over the summer. You can find the more detailed figures here.

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A “bloody difficult woman” – What do the Tory grassroots want from Prime Minister Theresa May?

Paul Webb, University of Sussex; Monica Poletti, Queen Mary University of London, and Tim Bale, Queen Mary University of London

Theresa May has secured her place as Prime Minister and leader of the Conservatives without having to win the direct approval of her party’s membership. The original plan was for her to run against Andrea Leadsom in an election, but the latter pulled out before a vote could take place.

But that doesn’t mean the views of these Tory foot soldiers are irrelevant. Their support is important to the stability and direction of the government that May will lead. They help establish the general mood of the party on issues and set parameters within which the front bench can – or would be wise to – operate.

So while May will be delighted to have easily won the confidence of the majority of her parliamentary colleagues, she will also be aware of the need to keep in touch with the party’s grassroots supporters. She will be particularly aware of this as a former party chairman. But who are the grassroots, what do they believe in, and what qualities do they want from their leaders?

Thanks to the Party Members Project, we are able to shed some light on the matter. In June 2015, we surveyed a sample of 1,193 members of the Tory grassroots, asking a wide variety of questions about their demographic background and their political attitudes.

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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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