• The changing nature of activist engagement within the Conservative Party: A review of Susan Scarrow’s task-orientated approach to party membership

      Low, Mark (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013-04-29)
      Scarrow highlighted two questions concerning party members: The level of engagement required and the extent to which this occurred within formal party structures. She proposed a task – rather than a people-orientated interpretation. Her framework is applied here to the British Conservative Party. A qualitative research design was adopted, which focused on the views and behaviour of local activists. This permitted an understanding of how the party organisation actually functioned. The findings revealed notable deficiencies in activity levels, member skills, member attitudes towards performance improvement and local managerial capacity. This meant reduced fitness for purpose. Hence, a shrinking of activists’ responsibilities and a simplification of their role has occurred, thereby changing the nature of engagement, but equally modifying the nature of political voluntarism. Increasing emphasis is being placed upon developing networks of supporters, with the implication that there has been a movement towards the American model of party organisation, but with the continuation of membership parties in a looser form. As such, the findings also reveal how the party is managing its declining membership organisation. Overall, Scarrow’s task-orientated approach was found to be apposite for the purpose of measuring local activist engagement.