The Party Members
It is perhaps one of the great mysteries of British political science that party members have not been examined more closely. Prior to the early 1990s there were only a few studies, most of which were of the case study type. For a long period of time, sweeping statements about the type of person who joined a political party were made without any real evidence to support these claims. Assumptions were maintained and even party policies pursued, mindful of the membership that parties thought they had. Such views had their academic origins, at least, in three key works. As early as the turn of the century when the modern party system was in its infancy, Ostrogorski expressed concern that the development of mass-party organisations would compromise the political judgement of leaders and MPs, whom he feared could become beholden to the unaccountable extra-parliamentary organisations (McKenzie, 1955:8–9). Secondly, Michels suggested that the opposite may be true; that in fact, organisations such as political parties were subject to an iron law of oligarchy, whereby power tended to reside with a small elite at the head of an organisation, in spite of any mass democratic conventions that might exist (McKenzie, 1955:15–17). For Michels, then, the role of the party member was a minor one.
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