Department of Politics

Party Members in the UK

Paul Webb’s research on the party members in the UK has provided the contemporary baseline for public knowledge and debate about the demographics, attitudes and activities of party members in Britain today: figures from the Party Members Project ( which he co-directed have become ‘the facts’ used by the media and by politicians themselves, as well as by other researchers, academic and non-academic.

Political parties are an integral component of the UK system of representative democracy. They help select party leaders – including prime ministers – and candidates for elective office, they help run those candidates’ election campaigns, they play formal and informal roles in shaping public policy, and they provide organizational resources for parties. It is therefore no surprise that the media, politically engaged citizens and even the parties themselves seek accurate and detailed information about who the members are, why they join and leave parties, what they think, and exactly what they do for the parties. 

The significance of the Party Members Project (PMP)’s impact has been most sdirectly apprent for two direct beneficiary groups: first, political journalists, who have reported the findings directly, using them to inform their own political analysis, and who have commissioned work by Webb and his PMP Tim Bale (Queen Mary University London); and second, political parties, whose staff have sought to understand the findings and apply them to their membership and electoral strategies. Each of these is a conduit to the wider public. The impact of this research can be demonstrated by (1) the very large readerships and viewerships of the media sources (including social media) using PMP findings, and (2) the leading party politicians and national officers who acknowledge the impact of the research.

Since the project’s inception, the team has authored 47 published articles for the media (including articles written for The Times, The Observer, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The Financial Times, The New Statesman, The Huffington Post, The Monkey Cage, Prospect and Political Insight magazines, and various blogs), while at least 60 articles referencing PMP findings have been published in a wide range of national and overseas media outlets. Webb and Bale have also made more than 20 broadcast media appearances on BBC News, Sky News, Radio 4, LBC and the BBC Parliament Channel, including an episode of BBC Parliament Channel’s Booktalk dedicated to Webb and Bale’s book Footsoldiers: Political Party Members in the 21st Century (Routledge 2019).

Political parties have used Webb’s research to inform their understanding, policy and practice. This was deliberately facilitated through a number of activities and presentations to the parties, and one substantial non-technical report that summarised many of key findings for distribution to all MPs (as well as major media outlets) – Grassroots. The PMP team has disseminated key findings to Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Green Party of England & Wales (GPEW) in face-to-face briefings and presentations to head office professionals. In addition, presentations have been delivered to the annual conferences of the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green parties and UKIP, to the London Liberal Democrats’ annual conference, and to public events organised by the Electoral Reform Society, and the Social Market Foundation.