Does Jeremy Corbyn's Surprise Victory Reveal Something Deeper about our Parties?



This book explains why Jeremy Corbyn now leads Labour. Its author died in 2011.
The Washington Post


Writing on The Washington Post's Monkey Cage political blog, Henry Farrell attempts to place the recent election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Britain's Labour Party in a broader context.

Building on Peter Mair's 2013 book Ruling the Void and the work of other political scientists, Farrell argues that Corbyn's surprise victory is a reflection of an increasing disconnect between the leaders and the rank and file members of the major parties in advanced democracies. 

Mair's book looked at political parties across Europe and found two consistent trends:

  1. Party elites have less interest in gaining the support of their rank & file members because the majority of their funding and other resources come from the government and representatives of special interests
  2. Citizens have drifted away from the major parties as electoral turnout has dropped and swing voting has increased.

Farrell argues party leaders have become 'more interested in their role as part of the government than in representing their voters'. In the case of the Labour Party, its leaders 'have become part of Britain's political elite, well integrated with the state, and relatively friendly to the financial sector'. 

Corbyn's election and the surge in party membership that enabled it can be seen as a rejection of these trends. Whether it signals a durable shift in the focus of the major parties is entirely uncertain. 

Farrell notes that the old mass membership parties of the early and mid-20th century were based on institutions that effectively no longer exist. He predicts that Corbyn will face 'relentless opposition from the elites that have replaced the masses as the main source of resources for parties and politicians'.


Thumbnail image: Claudia Gabriela Marques Vieira , Flickr





Henry Farrell

George Washington University

Published Date
September 14, 2015