In this post Professor Tim Bale takes a closer look at Labour's "£3 supporters". The article is based on his research with colleagues in the Party Members Project and is co-authored by Professor Paul Webb, University of Sussex, and Dr Monica Poletti, QMUL.
Forces on both sides of the Jeremy Corbyn debate are apparently trying to make the most of the 48-hour window within which anyone can register as a supporter of the Labour Party and have a vote in the impending leadership election. Both pro and anti-Corbyn campaigners are hitting the phones and the streets to convince people to pay £25, either to get the current leader out, or keep him in.
The committed Corbynistas of Momentum are apparently doing their best to re-establish contact with people who joined as registered supporters during the last leadership contest at the bargain price of just £3. The aim is to get as many Corbyn backers as possible to pay the increased fee of £25. That way, Momentum hopes, they will deliver another victory for Labour’s sitting leader.
The battle for these £3 supporters is so intense because so little is known about who they are and why they signed up last time. Were they hardline Corbynistas, hard-up party loyalists, or simply troublemakers willing to fork out a few quid to troll Labour? And, just as importantly, what might they do this time?
We surveyed nearly 900 of them a couple of months ago in May 2016, so we thought it would be interesting to take a look at what sort of people they are. Why did they take that cheaper, lower-commitment option rather than going the whole hog and becoming full members of the Labour Party? The answer to this question may, perhaps, tell us something about the £25 supporters who might be clamouring to sign up for a vote now – and whether their interest is good or bad news for Corbyn.
The first thing to say about the £3 supporters is that they weren’t very different from those who joined Labour as full members after the 2015 general election. Although they were slightly more likely to be male rather than female than those who went the whole hog, some 74 per cent fell into the ABC1 category (roughly middle or upper class) and 56 per cent of them were graduates. That’s very similar proportions to full members.
Since they were, on average, 51-years-old, they were also around the same age as the full members. In other words, although high social grade does not necessarily always equate with high social income, the majority of those people are not going to find it too difficult to pay the £25 required to express their support and vote for the leader again.
Interestingly, those who joined as supporters (and remained as such without upgrading, as it were) were slightly less likely to belong to a trade union (17 per cent) than those who joined as members (23 per cent). They were also less likely, ironically enough, to consider themselves members of Momentum (three per cent) than those who joined as full members (nine per cent). That suggests that Momentum’s ability to get them to pay up again to save Corbyn may be rather more limited than some imagine.
Another difference between those who registered as supporters after the general election and those who joined as full members is that the former were less likely to have voted Labour in 2015 (64 per vent versus 72 per cent) and more likely to have voted Green (19 per cent versus 13 per cent). One reason why they chose a lower level of commitment may well have been because, quite simply, they felt less partisan loyalty toward Labour in the first place. Or maybe they just felt less politically engaged than those who chose to join as full members. Whether Corbyn has upped that level of engagement enough to see them take up the same offer but at a much higher price will be interesting to see.
It is also true – although here we are talking about very fine differences of degree – that those who registered as £3 supporters were ever so slightly less left wing, socially liberal and pro-immigration than those who joined the party as full members.
But, like those full members, this means they were still very left-wing, very socially liberal and very pro-immigration compared with most voters – even most Labour voters. So all in all, if they can be persuaded to re-register to vote in this election – or if the people who register for the first time today and tomorrow are anything like them – that’s likely to favour those hoping to keep Corbyn rather than ditch him.
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