A mystery at the heart of British politics

There’s an odd role-reversal between the Conservative and Labour Parties when you look at their internal politics.

The Conservative Party is the one whose reputation is of a ruthless desire to win, and hence a flexibility in its views which change as circumstances alter. (It’s often forgotten, for example, how even the Conservative Party of 1979 demonstrated this with its election-winning moderate pitch.)

Yet despite David Cameron’s desire to stop his party banging on about Europe, it’s very much what they still keep on banging on about. Indeed, despite the Conservative Party also being the one with the reputation for top down control, deference to its leader and minimal internal democracy (and hence how stand-out the 1951 conference rebellion over housing is), Cameron and his successors have much of the time very much not been in control of their party over Europe. Leaderships may have wished to change the mood and focus in the party but they’ve failed.

Yet by contrast, the Labour Party – with its much greater internal democracy – has shown a remarkable shift since 2019. The party that Jeremy Corbyn left to his successor was meant to have been a party in which Corbynites had taken control of the key parts of the machinery, introduced rule changes to solidify the power of activists and backed by a vibrant network of grassroots campaign organisations.

However, not only did the Corbynite not win the next leadership election, but subsequent internal elections and conference ballots has seen a massive move away from the Corbynite agenda or their ability to win internal elections.

While the Brexiter Conservative grassroots are still very much a power, the Corbynite Labour grassroots have melted away. It’s the Labour grassroots, not the Conservative ones, which are showing the greater deference to their leader and the greater willingness to change course in line with their wishes.

Which is an odd, and so far largely unexplained, role reversal.

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One response to “A mystery at the heart of British politics”

  1. Maybe it is better to think about group think than deference.

    Adoration of Liz Truss persists in the Tory party, ignoring that her policies were dismissed by bankers leading her to her demise. Leaders sacked Liz Truss but members still want the party to pursue crazy ideas. Most Conservative Party members didn’t vote for Rishi Sunak, they didn’t vote against Liz Truss and, in demographic terms, they haven’t changed much. That is a long term problem for the Tories.

    Labour’s Corbyn years resembled a mini 1968 culture war. Very noisy for a short time. It ended, like the first one, because its demands were unrealistic and it quickly became clear that many revolutionary leaders were unpleasant people.

    If you intend to foment revolution, pick nice allies.

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