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Recent Articles

Never mind about Parliament, Hazel: what about actually giving real power to real people?

by Stephen Tall     November 9, 2008 at 2:30 pm

Forget Hazel Blears’ ill-considered assault on ‘nihilistic’ blogging, in her speech to the Hansard Society this week: let’s consider instead her attack on politicians who live on ‘Planet Politics’:

… there is a trend towards politics being seen as a career move rather than call to public service. Increasingly we have seen a ‘transmission belt’ from university activist, MPs’ researcher, think-tank staffer, Special Adviser, to Member of Parliament, and ultimately to the front bench. Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of those jobs, but it is deeply unhealthy for our political class to be drawn from narrowing social base and range of experience.

Few people will disagree with her analysis. Indeed, ‘The Rise of the Career Politician’ (Peter Riddell, 1993) and ‘The Triumph of the Political Class’ (Peter Oborne, 1997) has been the subject of two (very different) books. Much of the hand-wringing, as ever when hands are wrung, is overwrought: a narrow political class is not a modern political phenomenon. It’s simply that the narrow class which dominates politics has changed over time. continue reading… »

Is the era of mass membership parties over?

by Stephen Tall     July 31, 2008 at 4:22 pm

The news in today’s Telegraph that the Labour party’s membership is now at its lowest in a hundred years is a stark wake-up call for the governing party (and doubtless will in the well-worn cliché of tired journalistic prose “add to the pressure on the Prime Minister”). From 400,000 at the height of Tony Blair’s popularity to just 177,000 today – that’s some drop.

But let’s put to one side the tribal nonsense for a moment – not least because what’s happening to Labour is reflected more widely.

One of the (perhaps fortunately) ignored stories of the last leadership election was the realisation of how far the Lib Dems’ membership has dipped in the last decade. When the post-merger party was formed, in 1988, the Lib Dems had just over 80,000 members, reaching a high of over 100,000 by 1994. We were hit hard by the Blair effect – by 1999, membership was down by one-fifth, at almost 83,000 – and it has kept falling ever since: 72,000 by 2006, and just 64,000 today. (Figures available here).

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