Something Is Rotten Within Britain's Main Political Parties

Mick Hall laments the decline of the mass party system. Mick Hall is Marxist blogger @ Organized Rage.

To understand the torrent of opposition and excreta that the Blairites, Tories and mainstream media have been targeting Jeremy Corbyn with, you first have to look at the trajectory of political parties in the UK since 1994 after the then LP leader John Smith's untimely death.

When Blair became prime minister in 1997, the LP membership stood at approximately 400,000 individual party members. By the time he and then his successor Gordon Brown left office in 2010, membership had fallen to 156,205. It is not an exaggeration to claim during this period the LP leadership deliberately filleted the party of its internal democracy to such an extent it became impossible for the membership to hold the leadership to account. The annual conference became a US presidential style political jamboree designed to show off the party leader and his leadership clique in the best light.

What was once a vibrant mass party with active branches in every corner of the UK, with party policy being decided by the membership at local, regional and annual conferences. The Blairites reduced it to a hollow shell of its former self, with its strategy, tactics, and policy being decided by a small elite leadership sitting on a sofa in the office of the party leader.

The Conservative Party was little different. In 2005 the Tories had 258,239 members. By the beginning of 2010 When Cameron came to power the membership had fallen to 177,000. By 2015 that number had almost halved to approximately 100,000.

Since David Cameron's became the party leader it has hemorrhaged 190,000 members. Yet there has been no massive membership recruitment drives, and certainly no criticism of the party leader. Could it be the low membership numbers is just what neoliberal politicians like Cameron and before him Blair intended? When Tories claim to be Blairites it is not an idol boast.

A larger membership means more party activists demanding their right to have a say about party policy and democratic accountability. Independent minded thinkers whose views do not tally with the leadership are difficult for today's leaderships to manage. One only has to look at how Cameron followed in Blair's footsteps and stuffed the top tier of the Tory Party* with like minded upper middle class clones to understand the last thing the neoliberals need is an active party membership with rights. ('Lord' Feldman the Tory party chair is an example)

What exists in the UK are not democratic mass parties but hollow bodies which are run along the lines of a sect. In a very astute article columnist Aditya Chakrabortty pointed this out when he wrote:

What you have [in the UK] is a democracy in which the three main parties pose as representatives of the popular will even while commanding less popular enthusiasm than at any point in postwar history.

Everyone knows about the decline of the mass party – civil servants bemoan the trend, columnists come up with ideas for re-engaging public interest (Smartphones as mobile ballot boxes! Strictly Come Voting!). What hardly ever gets discussed, however, is what implications this has for the way our country is run.

Quoiting the social scientist Peter Mair from his book Ruling the Void Aditya continues:

The age of party democracy has passed. Although the parties themselves remain, they have become so disconnected from the wider society, and pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present form.

In Britain today the neoliberal elites who lead the mainstream political parties have lost all interest in supporting and nurturing mass membership parties.

Understandably the general public, sensing this, have lost their interest in joining these parties. What is the point of joining the LP or Tories if your treated like a nodding dog who is only taken for a walk every five years? Besides, folk understand the only real deference between the two is over who gets to sit in the driving seat, a neoliberal Tory of a neoliberial Blairite.

As Aditya writes:

Mass engagement in politics had allowed the public greater say, however imperfect, over how their countries were to be run and in whose interest. It is no accident that the golden age of mass parties in Britain was also the golden age of the Keynesian welfare state.

As I have said many times on this blog we have a neoliberal political elite which are totally divorced in background, education and profession from the people they are meant to be representing. Who on leaving office are increasingly rewarded financially by big business, the banks and media oligarchs who run the British economy in their own interest.

Cometh the hour Cometh the man?

These people believed they were unassailable, having shackled the system in their own image, then out of the blue came a political meteorite named Jeremy, a modest and decent man. A political Chauncey Gardiner who unlike the elites spoke the same language as the common man.

Corbyn is dangerous to the elites for a number of reasons; he is against the unnecessary foreign wars which they all support, austerity, and the dismantling of the Welfare State. Privatising the NHS and slicing it off into ever smaller cuts making it all the easier to sell off to the vulture capitalists. And crime of crimes, Corbyn sees housing as a public right which should be provided by the state for those who have need of it, a service available to all.

Most of all he epitomises in human form there is another way of governing, a real alternative to the neoliberal semi fascistic road.

If you add in his wish to empower the LP membership by democratize the party, it's not difficult to see how he poses a real threat to the elites who are the ruling class of our age. Corbyn is not only offering a real alternative to their destructive policies, but his views are gradually gaining traction with the masses. As leader of the Labour Party he has a platform which cannot be entirely ignored by the mainstream media, no matter how much the Murdoch's of this world wish to silence him.

As another political scientist Henry Farrell wrote on Crooked Timber:

Corbyn will face relentless opposition from the elites that have replaced the masses as the main source of human resources for parties and politicians.

U.K. businesses and especially the financial elite of London’s city are vehemently opposed to Corbyn’s leadership and political project, which potentially destabilizes the consensus that they see as essential to Britain’s and their own prosperity.

It's clear the political and corporate elites like the system the way it is, and have resources, including those of the state they will use to keep it unchanged, and to hell with the damage they do to the nation and it's people. Their whole ethos is based on their own self interest. They do not care which party is in power as a long as it's led by men and women who believe in their outdated and destructive values and views.

Only a mass democratic awakening in the UK will defeat these creatures. It will be for the people to decide whether they wish to live in a nation in which a political elite manipulate the system for the advantage of the few. Or in a nation which is open and democratic in which equality reigns.

The Labour Party now has 370,658 members, of these 183,658 joined since May when Corbyn began his victorious leadership campaign. Which surely shows increasing numbers of people have had enough of the neoliberal mumbo-jumbo, they're sick of the lies and sleight of hand. Another world is possible.

* 'Lord' Feldman the Tory party chair is an example of this type of manipulation)


  1. I dont get the math : 177000 (NUMBERS IN 2010)-100000 (NUMBERS IN 2015) = 77000 not 190000 you say in "
    Since David Cameron's became the party leader it has hemorrhaged 190,000 members".

    Is this the fabled Mickmatics?

  2. My mistake Tories lost approximately that number of members between 2005 when Cameron became party leader, and 2015. I imagine given the average age of Tory members many must has died or gone to a living death as a Ukip member. Either way Cameron has hemorrhaged members. It is strange really because the media portrays Cameron as a modern 21st century leader and Corbyn as a 1960s retread, yet people, especially the young have been flocking to join the LP.

  3. You havent been 'cutting and pasting' to create your work have you Mick?
    The media portrayal of Cameron is not strange in the general context of 1) Their previous summations of political trends/figures 2) Their reason for existing. It isnt to disseminate the news (primarily at least).

    Its not just the UK where this young membership/old leader is taking place.Perhaps because of single parent families in the West, young people are looking for kindly,fatherly figures? Corbyn is definately someone I wouldnt feel uncomfortable bathing me, but Cameron.....eurgh!