The Labour Party and the Labour Left : party transformation and the decline of factionalism 1979-97
This Thesis examines the relationship between the organisational and ideological transformation of the Labour Party, and the decline of intra-party factionalism by the groups of the Labour Left during the period from 1979 to 1997. Two central questions are considered. First, whether the fragmentation and decline of the Left during this period can best be understood by examining the interplay between organisational and ideological factors at both the party and individual group levels. Second, whether 'New Labour' continues to exhibit some of the key traits of attitudinal dissent among its grassroots membership, despite the lack of an organisational apparatus within which sub-groups of activists could challenge the centralising tendencies of party leaders and influence the direction of party policy. Labour's ideological and organisational transformation had a number of important consequences for the prevalence of intra-party factionalism. The organisational reforms meant that Labour ceased to represent Duverger's 'branch-mass' type of party. Furthermore, party leaders regained centralised control over members and activists through the resurgence of Michels' 'iron law of oligarchy'. The depth of Labour's ideological transformation also reinforced the narrowing of the ideological gap between (radical) grassroots members and ordinary (moderate) voters, such that May's 'law of curvilinear disparity' appeared extinct inside Blair's New Labour. Labour's transformation had a remarkably fragmenting effect at the group-level. The Labour Left was a collection of various groupings, each of which displayed different structural properties and ideological characteristics. There was no single organisational form of Labour Left factionalism, nor was their any common sense of ideological purpose. The processes of party transformation would act only to further the Left's fragmentation and cement its decline. However, it would be premature to talk of New Labour as a party free from dissent. Despite the dissolution of the Labour Left, New Labour's grassroots membership has retained some of the principal features of factionalism. Using data from original survey research among party members, it is suggested that New Labour has encouraged new types of 'objective' and 'subjective' factionalism. The kind of factionalism typified by the Labour Left of the 1970s and 1980s may have disappeared, but we should not preclude the growth of new dimensions of conflict between party leaders and grassroots members.