Ask The Expert: ‘Revolting Peasants’? Labour’s changing membership: who they are and what they want

In our latest ESRC-sponsored Ask The Expert seminar, Tim Bale, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London, presented evidence on Labour’s party membership and how it has changed following the 2015 General Election.

Corbyn supporters are often characterised as being young and from London

Hypotheses on the demographic characteristics of the Labour members voting for Corbyn in the 2015 Labour leadership election often describe them as relatively young – certainly more so than Labour voters more broadly – and as disproportionately from London. New Labour members are also often characterised as joining in such numbers as to vastly outnumber older members. There has, however, been little direct evidence on the characteristics of the members joining the Labour party since Ed Miliband stepped down – members who contributed to an overwhelming majority for Corbyn in the Labour leadership election.

Professor Bale presented evidence from a YouGov poll of Labour party members. His research compared ‘old’ party members – those who had joined the Labour party before the 2015 General Election – with ‘new’ members who had joined after the General Election. The data on ‘new’ members shows the characteristics of those who joined between the 2015 General Election and December 2015.

Survey data suggests that new Labour party members are actually of the same average age as older members, and no more likely to live in London

Contrary to the hypothesis that new party members make up an overwhelming majority of the Labour membership, as of December 2015 at least, the majority (52%) of members had joined prior to the 2015 General Election. The party membership may well have changed since December 2015, however, and so more recent estimates may be different.

Furthermore, demographic similarities and differences between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ members do not fit with the hypothesis of new members being predominantly young and from London. The mean age of both old and new party members is 51. Socio-economic characteristics are also similar: 75% of new members are in the ABC1 socio-economic group, compared to 76% of old members; and 58% of new members are graduates, compared to 56% of old members. Strikingly the proportion of members from London is almost identical, making up 15% of new members and 16% of old members.

There are two demographic characteristics that demonstrate differences, however. New members are slightly more likely to come from the south of England outside London, at 34% to 30%. They are also considerably more likely to be female, with a 52%/48% female/male split for new members, compared to a 38%/62% split for old members.

Old and new members are also similarly ‘left-wing’ on views of the state and market

A comparison of old and new members’ political views also show a great deal of similarity with respect to opinions on the ‘state’ and ‘market’, and contrast strongly with the views of voters more broadly. Both old and new Labour members have fairly left-wing views. For instance, old and new members are respectively 91% and 94% in favour of redistribution, compared with just 53% of voters in general.

When asked whether they agree that ordinary people don’t get a fair share of the nation’s wealth, the vast majority (94% and 96%) of old and new Labour members agree, compared to just 72% of voters in general. Similarly, when asked whether they agree that management tries to get the better of employees, 92% and 96% of old and new voters agree, compared to just 69% of voters in general.

But newer Labour members appear to be more socially liberal

New Labour members do appear, however, to be considerably more socially liberal than older members. 27% of old members are in favour of stiffer prison sentences, compared to just 16% of new members – and 75% of voters. 40% of old members agree that education should be about teaching children to obey authority, compared to just 23% of new members – and 77% of voters. Just 16% of new members agree that censorship of films and magazines is necessary to uphold moral standards, compared to 21% of older members, and 53% of voters more broadly.

New and old members also value leader qualities differently

New and old Labour party members also have different views on what they want to see in a party leader. Several characteristics are valued much more by new than older members. These include being in touch with ordinary people (67% to 49%), and having strong political beliefs (49% to 32%). However, many other characteristics are valued more strongly by older members, including: being a good communicator (50% to 35%); appealing to the average voter (39% to 25%); the ability to unite the nation (34% to 26%); and the ability to unite the party (27% to 13%).

Click here for the full presentation.

Listen to a recording here the event here:

More information on Professor Bale’s research can be found at:


Twitter: @ESRCPtyMembers

Facebook: ESRC Party Members Project



Ask the Expert is the SMF’s lunchtime seminar series, run in partnership with the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC).

Building on from the success of Chalk + Talk, the SMF Ask the Expert series brings the best policy output from the world of academia into the heart of Westminster.

This series of events is aligned with current government consultations and parliamentary inquiries, giving policymakers the opportunity to engage with experts in those policy areas.

To suggest a subject for a future Ask The Expert event, please contact the SMF’s events officer Hannah Murphy via


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