1st Edition

Footsoldiers: Political Party Membership in the 21st Century

By Tim Bale, Paul Webb, Monica Poletti Copyright 2020
    216 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    216 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This accessible, rigorously researched and highly revealing book lifts the lid on political party membership. It represents the first in-depth study of six of the UK's biggest parties – Labour, the Conservatives, the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, UK Independence Party and the Greens – carried out simultaneously, thereby providing invaluable new insights into members' social characteristics, attitudes, activities and campaigning, reasons for joining and leaving, and views on how their parties should be run and who should represent them. In short, at a time of great pressure on, and change across parties, this book helps us discover not only what members want out of their parties but what parties want out of their members.

    This text is essential reading for those interested in political parties, party membership, elections and campaigning, representation, and political participation, be they scholars and students of British and comparative politics, or politicians, journalists and party members – in short, anyone who cares about the future of representative democracy.

    1. Introduction

    2. Party Members: What we think we already know

    3. Who are the Members?

    4. What do Party Members Think?

    5. The Supply Side: Why do people join parties?

    6. What do Members do for Their Parties – and Why?

    7. What do Members Think of Their Parties and How They Operate?

    8. Quitting: Why members leave their parties

    9. The Demand Side: How parties see membership

    10. Conclusion: The parliamentary/extra-parliamentary balancing act


    Tim Bale is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London, UK.

    Paul Webb is Professor of Politics at the University of Sussex, UK.

    Monica Poletti is a Social Researcher in the UK Civil Service, following a Research Fellowship at Queen Mary University of London, UK.

    "When so many say the UK’s political system is broken, who are the party members who effectively choose who become our Prime Ministers? In this vital book the authors draw on the latest comprehensive research to dig down to the grassroots where politics is shaped for all of us. It will confirm some prejudices. It will shock as well." - Adam Boulton, All Out Politics, Sky News.

    "Are the current political parties fit for purpose? Who joins, why they join and where the balance of power lies are all explored in this thoroughly researched and acutely observed new book." - Sam Coates, Deputy Political Editor, Sky News.

    "We hear far too much about the generals. Footsoldiers tells you everything you wanted to know about British party politics’ poor bloody infantry. It busts myth after myth after myth, taking a subject you thought you knew all about and shows why you are completely wrong." - Philip Cowley, author of The British General Election of 2017.

    "It’s a brilliant analysis of current trends and the authors’ conclusions should be read by anyone who wants to understand why some parties are increasing their memberships while others are on a seemingly never-ending decline." - Iain Dale, LBC Radio Presenter.

    "Footsoldiers shines a light on the little platoons of citizens whose voluntary contributions of time, resources and energy, giving up their evenings and weekends to doorstep canvassing and branch meetings, keep our political parties functioning day to day. The authors exploit an impressive mass of data on the memberships of six parties to paint a clear and vivid picture of democracy's volunteer corps - who they are, what motivates them, and how they serve and shape our political parties. Vital reading for anyone interested in the inner workings and health of British party democracy." - Rob Ford, Manchester University, UK, and co-author of Revolt on the Right.

    "This is a book that needs to be read by anyone who is interested in the future of representative democracy in the United Kingdom. At a time when political parties are under siege, Webb, Bale and Poletti offer an unparalleled study of UK party members and supporters across the political spectrum. Why do people join parties? Who are they and what do they do? What motivates them and why do they leave? Answering these important questions through new survey and interview data, this book provides a timely and original analysis of the role of members in modern party organisations. Highlighting the challenges that parties face in recruiting members that reflect the general population and satisfying their demands once they join, the authors show that maintaining a vibrant and engaged base of supporters is no easy task for modern parties." - Anika Gauja, University of Sydney, Australia.

    "Party memberships are the seed beds of political leadership and this is a brilliantly well-timed drill down into who they are, why they join and how they affect our politics. We talk about activists and party members but desperately needed an up to date study on exactly who they are, why they join and with what effects. Here it is, assembled by the best academics in the business. Whether it is Labour grassroots and the Corbyn story, Tory grassroots shaping Brexit or the smaller party memberships surging and shrinking, our politics has rarely been more influenced by the activist base. This book is essential reading for all who want to understand what underpins our political parties and where the memberships might take them."Gary Gibbon, Political Editor, Channel 4 News, UK.

    "If you want to understand British politics, you need to understand party members. And if you want to understand party members, you absolutely need to read this book. Party members have enormous influence on Britain’s political parties. They are influential in some of the most important twists and turns in Brexit, in the changes and divisions in our major political parties, in who – ultimately – becomes Prime Minister. Footsoldiers is vital reading for understanding British democracy. For the first time we comprehensively see just how different the people who become members of different political parties are from the electorate those parties seek to represent."Jane Green, University of Oxford, UK.

    "A fascinating, timely, and accessibly written book. Using original data from repeated surveys of party members, it tackles head on the crisis facing political parties via a detailed examination of the people who make them tick – their members. Required reading for anyone interested in contemporary politics, and particularly the fraught party politics of the UK."Anand Menon, King’s College London, UK.

    "This is a brilliantly insightful study. If you think you already know all about why people join parties, why they get active and what they think of the organisation they’ve joined, then either you are (a) fooling yourself, or (b) one of the book’s authors. For the rest of us interested in how politics really works, it’s a must read."Mark Pack, Editor, Liberal Democrat Newswire.

    "This is the perfect guide to the activist (and not-so-active) party members who are shaping our politics today. The team behind it combine academic rigour and down-to-earth common sense, and are well-known for helping provide clarity on the confusion that mires our politics." - George Parker, Political Editor, Financial Times.

    "Bale, Webb and Poletti are the leading authorities on what has been happening to membership of our political parties and who the members are. Which means they're the leading authorities on those who are bossing our confused and anxious MPs. This book is for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of why our politics has become so dysfunctional." - Robert Peston, Political Editor, ITV.

    "Want to get inside the head of a political activist? This is your guide. We hear so much about party membership numbers and the store that leaders put by them. But who are these members? What are their social characteristics and why have they joined? How long do they stay? And crucially what influence do they really have on the choices made by those at the top of their chosen political homes? Footsoldiers seeks to provide the answers in a lively and accessible way – with enough data, anecdotes and cool hard facts backed up by the most up to date research to satisfy the voracious political reader, the student, the activist or the journalist. In these turbulent political times I am sure it will become a well-thumbed indispensable guide." - Carolyn Quinn, Host of BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour.

    "At a time of seismic change in British politics this forensically researched and illuminating book is a must read. Every page shines light on the UK's parties while exploring the historic implications of their epic fragilities and precarious strengths." - Steve Richards, Writer and Broadcaster.

    "Footsoldiers is an indispensable guide to the demographics of Labour members and their policy positions, plus their motivations for joining in the first place and how likely they are to rip up their membership cards. Full of compelling data presented in an accessible way, this is a must-read for anyone interested in the Labour Party and where it's going next." - Sienna Rodgers, Editor, LabourList.

    "This timely study is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the opportunities and challenges of making UK party politics more grassroots oriented. Presenting evidence from surveys of members, supporters and representatives of six UK parties, it illuminates the ideals and aims that inspire today’s British citizens to get involved in – and to drop out of – party politics." - Susan Scarrow, University of Houston, USA, and author of Beyond Party Members.

    "This is a fascinating study of an essential topic, by the leading experts in the field. Dispelling myths about the nature and function of the political parties, and shedding light on the reality of party politics in 21st Century Britain, is a valuable service for anyone hoping to understand what's happening at every level of our politics. Whether you love them or loathe them, the fate of major and insurgent parties is bound up with the future of our country, and this book lifts the lid on how they work." - Mark Wallace, Executive Editor, ConservativeHome

    "Clear-sighted and concise, this invaluable study shines a forensic light on an area of modern politics that gets all too little attention. With party members playing an increasingly assertive role, from deselections of MPs to shaping policy on Brexit and even picking Prime Ministers, a thoroughly researched analysis like this is well overdue." - Paul Waugh, Political Editor, HuffPost UK.