It's official: Conservatives are the oldest and strangest party activists

The latest and largest survey of party members has an intriguing set of revelations.

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Queen Mary’s Mile End Institute have released their latest (and largest) survey of party members and as ever it reveals a great deal, confirming some perceptions and confounding others. Here what I think the most interesting findings.

Labour’s new members aren’t particularly young

As I’ve written before, one of the biggest and most enduring myths about the people who have joined Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is that they are young: they’re not. The average age of a Labour party member is 53 – the average age in the United Kingdom is 40, a thirteen-year gap.  (The youngest political party is actually the Liberal Democras, at 52, while the SNP’s members have a year on Labour’s at 54.)

One of the very common analytical mistakes – including, I think, in some of the Conservative attempts to win over Labour voters since June 2017 – is to equate new Labour members under Jeremy Corbyn with new Labour voters under Corbyn. They have some demographic commonalities – social liberalism, more likely to have a degree than average – but the differences are equally important.

(Strikingly, the best part of the country as far as Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader in 2016 were the North West and West Midlands, and his worst were London and Scotland. His poorest performing demographic were Labour members under 25. This is an almost exact inversion of his strongest performances in the country at large throughout his leadership and particularly in the election of 2017.)

The biggest “Corbyn effect” on Labour’s internal politics is around women joining

There is one exception to that: women. Labour did better among women than men at the general election and Jeremy Corbyn also did better among women than men in both his Labour leadership elections.

Although men are still over-represented in the Labour party membership compared to the country at large – 53 per cent of Labour members are men, making them the least unrepresentative party as far as gender goes – that is a significant fall in the gap between the gender balance of the country and the Labour party membership.                                                                                                                                                 

Conservative members aren’t as old as you think

The average Conservative is commonly reported to either be old enough to have attended a victory party for Benjamin Disraeli or to have bagged a front seat on the Ark – actually although they are the oldest and 44 per cent of them are over 65, the average age of a Conservative member is 57, not much older than the opposition parties. (29 per cent of Labour members are over 65, 30 per cent ofLiberal Democrats, and 32 per cent of SNP members)

Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP have more in common than divides them

From attitudes to austerity – believed to have gone too far by majorities of all three parties – to the type of Brexit – stay in the customs union and single market please – to social attitudes, from the death penalty, the three party memberships broadly agree on these issues. There are some margin of error differences between Labour and the SNP and the Liberal Democrats are a touch more liberal, unsurprisingly enough.

That commonality could be particularly important after the next election, as any formal Liberal Democrat co-operation with other parties has to pass the Liberal Democrat membership.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.