The following sample essay on Political Party Membership Decline discusses it in detail, offering basic facts and pros and cons associated with it. To read the essay’s introduction, body and conclusion, scroll down.
The membership of the major political parties has declined alarmingly in recent decades. In the 1950s, Labour had a million members and the Conservatives over two million, but nowadays they have 360,000 and 335,000 respectively. Parties are keen to recruit as many members as possible as they can provide important campaigning and financial support.
There must be some wider reason for this phenomenon, as it did not affect just one party. Political apathy may be one factor, as people lose interest in the political system in general.
Another possible reason could be the dissatisfaction the electorate feel towards the political parties of today. The class and party de-alignment arguments could also be used to explain this contrast with yesteryear- that the changes in the class system have left people unsure about whom their natural representatives are.
The huge increase in floating voters may have something to do with this decline as well. Evans (1997) suggests another possibility, rather than people not participating in politics, this generation has shifted from party politics to supporting pressure groups.
A politically apathetic electorate would have no interest in politics; therefore they would not join political parties. This state of mind has increased dramatically, possibly as a result of the move by the major parties in their stances. Moves, initially, by the Labour Party but subsequently by the Conservatives have left very little distinction between the parties.
As the Labour Party shifted towards the centre under Blair’s early leadership period, so did the Conservatives as a reaction against the Thatcher stereotype.
This might have left the electorate feeling discontented, as there would not be as much political debate from two sides that operate so close to each other in their policies. Political apathy can be measured in a number of ways: party membership, turnout, and public opinion polls, although these are not completely reliable, as people might not vote for certain reasons and not join parties for reasons other than political apathy. Without a change in the attraction of politics and parties, this should not change.
There would need to be more opportunity to get involved in politics than under the current political system, possibly an increase in referenda and initiatives. This might make the electorate more interested in politics, and consequently political parties. Parties and their politicians have also been given a poor image by the media in recent years, which may have resulted in people not supporting the political parties by not joining them. Incidents like the Neil Hamilton saga and the introduction of negative campaigning show politics up to be a dirty business and one that many people don’t want to be a part of.
The political parties have become much more centralised now, with less power allowed to the members, and this has been reflected by the membership figures. The politicians in comparison with the constituency groups now hold much more power and some people may think there is nothing to be gained from joining the parties other than funding something that they are not a part of. Party conferences, formerly a means of allowing the member a real vote, are now seen as a media charade.
The de-centralisation of the main parties would probably considerably increase their membership, as the members would be in a position to have their say and not have their party managed by an elite. Traditionally, Labour has attracted working class support whereas the Conservatives have got their vote from the middle and upper class. However, according to Crewe (1977), following the emergence of an evolved class system, with a smaller working class, the traditional class boundaries have been eliminated with people making rational choices about their vote.
This is the same with whichever party they are going to join, if any. People are not necessarily going to support their class representatives anymore. As these people become more sceptical and objective about the state of the different parties, so have the parties changed their policies to suit most people as opposed to their traditional voters. This has led to a loss of core support, and an increase in the floating vote. There is nothing to suggest that this trend of rational choice voting is going to change.
On the contrary, if de-industrialisation continues, the movement towards rational choice voting would gather pace and membership figures would decrease further. For an election victory, the floating vote is very important but these voters will not join a party and will therefore not donate or participate in political activities. The floating electorate choose their affiliations in the short-term, and are the most objective of the different types of voters.
Their only commitment is to the party that most attracts them with its various factors whose popularity can only be defined by the individual. They will not participate in party activities- such as assistance in election campaigns, donating money, etc. – as they are not members. The increase in this group would explain any change in the party membership. During recent years, the trend has been to support single-issue groups as opposed to broad groups like political parties.
In this pattern, there is a divide, where younger people are interested in these single-issue protest activities whereas the older generation are more dedicated to political party activity. Whereas only 6% of 15-34 year olds describe themselves as ‘very interested in politics’, 73% see themselves as particularly interested in the homeless situation, and similar proportions have concern about disabled rights, animal rights, and increased funding for the NHS. This could suggest that in the future party enrolment will decrease even more as the previous generation of party activists die out.
In conclusion, there are five main reasons for the decline of party membership: an increase in political apathy, due in some considerable way to the move to the centre ground which has disillusioned more partisan support; the distrust surrounding politics, especially showed in the media coverage of sleaze and negative campaigning; the class-dealignment experienced by Britain as a result of de-industrialisation, which has left more people moving to a rational choice model of voting; this having resulted in an increase in floating voters who do not tie themselves down to one political party; and the younger generation’s tendency to be more interested in single-issue politics than the wide spectrum of issues in politics today.
If the following continue as expected, party membership will decrease even further. To stop this movement, parties and the political system will need to change to allow the electorate a bigger role in political decision-making. It should be noted that these conclusions could also be used in the explanation of the decline in the faith of the electorate in the present political system.