Parliamentary candidate selection in the Conservative Party: The meaning of reform for party members and membership parties
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AbstractParliamentary candidate selection reform was fundamental to the Conservative Party’s organisational renewal, but local autonomy was always a potential obstacle. In the context of a falling membership, the leadership took action. Hence, this article addresses three questions. Firstly, it examines how power was utilised for the purpose of dismantling local autonomy in parliamentary candidate selection. Secondly, it discusses the implications of reform for party members. Thirdly, it assesses what the research findings mean for the notion of ‘membership party’ and the models that purport to explain party organisation. A qualitative research design was adopted that focused upon local activists and officials. The conclusion points towards a network approach to party organisation that projects local identity as the emerging organisational model. The research also provides an insight into how the Conservative Party leadership is managing its declining membership base.
CitationParliamentary candidate selection in the Conservative Party: The meaning of reform for party members and membership parties 2014, 9 (4):401 British Politics
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The changing nature of activist engagement within the Conservative Party: A review of Susan Scarrow’s task-orientated approach to party membershipLow, 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.
An elite’s response to democracy: how the Conservative Party adapted to extensions of the franchise; and coped with ensuing political repercussions 1867-1914.Durham, Martin; Raymond, Graham J. (University of Wolverhampton, 2008)This thesis investigates how the Conservative party coped with the far-reaching effects of democratic reform between 1867 and 1914. It analyses the performance of successive party leaders through their exploitation of high politics; and how ideology influenced their policy, and decision making. It also examines how the party’s organization was periodically revised to manage changing political circumstances. The relationships between these three elements, high politics, ideology, and organization are then analysed to explain the Conservative party’s appeal for electoral support during the period of study. The respective contributions made by the three elements to the party’s electoral performance are considered in relation to each other. Using this approach the thesis explains how the Conservative party managed to improve upon its dismal electoral record between 1832 and 1874; how it achieved electoral dominance between 1886 and 1906; and why its electoral fortunes declined so dramatically thereafter. The conclusions reached are threefold. Firstly, the importance attached to high politics by the Peterhouse school of thought may, in some respects, be exaggerated, certainly regarding elections. High politics, by its very nature seeks to exert influence at a level far removed from the mass electorate. Political rhetoric has obvious uses during elections, not least in the field of extra-parliamentary speech-making. But in the absence of any reliable indicators of what the electorate actually felt or desired, the effectiveness of political rhetoric could not be gauged a priori. The results of political manoeuvring at the highest levels may have been apparent to voters, but was of little concern to them. At worst, they were ignorant of it, and at best, ambivalent to it. Secondly, party leaders, whether knowingly or unknowingly, exploited the flexibility of Conservative ideology in their quest for votes. However, the core concepts of that ideology remained inviolable, only contingent values were successfully subjected to re-appraisal and revision to attract the voters. When ideological core values were misunderstood or misinterpreted the party suffered accordingly. Thirdly, the value of the Conservative party’s organization has been underestimated. High politics and ideology may have combined to produce a Conservative message for the voters, but the appeal of that message was unknowable. On the other hand, the party’s organization, when empowered to do so, adroitly and effectively utilized all the tools available to them to manage and maximize all potential Conservative support. Organization may be viewed as a make-weight, but like all make-weights it possessed the power to tip the electoral scales one way or the other.
Séance Sitters, Ghost Hunters, Spiritualists, and Theosophists: Esoteric Belief and Practice in the British Parliamentary Labour Party, c1929–51Gildart, Keith (Oxford University Press, 2017-10-25)This article explores esoteric identities and cultures in the British Parliamentary Labour Party c1929–51. The historiography of the Labour Party has tended to overemphasize the one-dimensional nature of ideological affiliation and identity amongst Labour Members of Parliament in this period along the lines of a rather simplistic left/right dichotomy. Moreover, some historians have suggested that after 1918 particular socialist traditions and currents had become marginalized or dissolved once the party had developed a clearly defined constitution and the experience of political power. The argument presented here is that a range of esoteric identities remained a feature of labour culture through to the general election of 1951 and beyond. Three currents highlight the complexity and fluidity of specific strands of labour/socialist identity; in particular, spiritualism, theosophy and belief in the supernormal and the fantastic. Spiritualism and esotericism attracted a range of Labour MPs and shaped their reaction to contemporary political problems and the purpose and direction of working-class politics. An examination of such individuals and beliefs raises some new questions and challenges existing assumptions relating to labour identities in mid-twentieth century Britain. Socialist spiritualists, ghost hunters, and theosophists viewed political identity, mobilization and practice as an activity that drew as much on the personal, the spiritual and ‘other-worldly’ as it did on the economic, social and material basis of society.