Political Parties

Room 1.29, Law & Politics Building
Time Slot: 
Tuesday 27th March 13:30 - 15:00
Panel Chair: 
  • Dr Stephen Thornton (Cardiff University)
Panel Members: 
  • Dr Elodie Fabre (Queen's University Belfast)
  • Dr Sam Power (University of Sussex)
  • Mr Sean Kippin (University of the West of Scotland)

While party membership has almost continually declined in most European democracies over the past forty years, recent changes (such as the emergence of La Republique en Marche in France, or Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the UK Labour Party) have challenged this trend and seen both party memberships and members’ demands for influence increase. This has also affected the way that some political parties organise themselves, campaign and secure funding, with those able to attract more members able to raise funds and campaign volunteers from within their own ranks, while others are forced to turn outside their party for vital resources. In this tumultuous period for political parties, this panel examines the operation of parties in European democracies and considers how these changes have affected the influence and organisation of party members, and how parties raise funds to fight elections.

Elodie Fabre’s paper begins by examining the role of members of French political parties in leadership and candidate selection and policy-making, and considers the extent to which members’ participation can be considered ‘meaningful’ (i.e., influential or decisive) in reaching decisions. It also considers whether innovations used by established parties have been successful in giving members more influence, and whether new parties in French politics tend to be more innovative in encouraging member engagement. Tom Quinn looks at recent changes in the UK Labour Party since 2015, a period in which Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has been accompanied by a trebling of the party membership and a dramatic change in its character and composition. The paper considers the impact of these changes for intra-party democracy and for the relationship between the party’s membership and its elected representatives.

Sam Power’s paper focusses on party finance, and particularly on the tricky issue of reliably measuring their income. He proposes a cyclical approach to measuring party income, and finds stark differences in the centrality of party members to different parties’ financial income, with left-leaning and insurgent parties being more dependent upon members for money than their opponents. This in turn implies that the changing nature of party memberships in some European political parties could have substantial implications for the financial resources and organisation of their campaigns.