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Leftism exhausted: the organisational constraints to ideological change in the British Labour party, 2010-2020

Kiefel, Max (2022) Leftism exhausted: the organisational constraints to ideological change in the British Labour party, 2010-2020. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004535


Why are left parties in a state of crisis? Existing explanations tend to explain this outcome through exogenous processes, like de-industrialisation and the expansion of education, that have re-aligned the structure of party competition by reducing demand for left parties. By implication, there is little that left parties can do in response. However, I argue that left parties’ historical growth and survival was contingent on their capacity to adapt to exogenous pressures. I synthesise articulation theory with an organisational approach to party politics, which provides me with the conceptual tools to identify a process whereby a party responds to a critical juncture that disarticulates its social bloc through ideological re-orientation. This is contingent on the emergence of new types of actors within a party’s power structure who provide new interpretations on the party’s social relations. This new internal dynamic must be institutionalised and legitimised across the party organisation. This process updates the party’s orientation and provides it with the relevant ideas to articulate a new social bloc. However, I argue that the way in which left parties cartelised in the 1990s creates in-built constraints that are centred on the hegemonic dominance of electoral professional elites, which prevents this process of orientation from unfolding. I apply this argument to the case of the British Labour party in the period 2010-2020. This is an important case as Labour was one of the few parties to attempt an avowed shift from a cartel organisational structure and Third Way orientation. I show that the cartel power structure enabled pre-existing elites to stymie both Ed Miliband’s reformist attempt at re-orientation, and Jeremy Corbyn’s more radical shift. The thesis is significant as it challenges behaviouralist accounts of left party decline. My findings have implications for our understanding of the place of mainstream parties in contemporary party systems and opens up questions over whether de-cartelisation is possible.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2022 Max Kiefel
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN101 Great Britain
Sets: Departments > Government
Supervisor: Hopkin, Jonathan

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