Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
4 January 2018

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.

By Stephen Bush

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.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

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.                                                                                                                                                 

Content from our partners
Transport is the core of levelling up
The forgotten crisis: How businesses can boost biodiversity
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery

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.