The Changing Social Basis of Party Support

Anthony F. Heath, Roger M. Jowell and John K. Curtice

in The Rise of New Labour

Published in print April 2001 | ISBN: 9780199245116
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599453 | DOI:
 The Changing Social Basis of Party Support

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The key questions in the seventh chapter of the book are related to the changes in the social basis of support for the parties in the British political spectrum in the period 1979–1997 and whether these changes can be described as processes of class dealignment or class realignment. The authors conclude that, from 1979–1997 there has been continuity in the Conservatives’ social basis of support and that almost all variations in Conservative support (apart from the regional one) took the form of swings that affected all social groups alike. There was also continuity in the image of the Conservative party in terms of the groups it represented—in 1997, the Conservatives continued to be seen as a highly sectional party concerned with the interests of the social groups that constituted its traditional core. This was not the case with the Labour party—in 1997, New Labour had very substantially reduced its sectional character, was no longer distinctively associated with any particular social group, and it had successfully become a catchall party. There was a change not only in the image of New Labour but also in the character of Labour's voters—under Tony Blair New Labour's moves towards the centre, involved larger than expected electoral gains in the salariat than among Labour's traditional sources of support in the working class. However, despite these changes Heath, Jowell, and Curtice conclude that even under New Labour the usual pattern of party support continued—it was simply muted. This gives support to the thesis of class realignment according to which the changes in the social bases of party support are due to particular groups shifting their support from one party towards a different one and not due to a blurring of class boundaries and a weakening of the social cleavages (class dealignment).

Keywords: catchall party; class dealignment; class realignment; Conservatives; New Labour; social basis of voting; social cleavages; the salariat; the working class; traditional core voters

Chapter.  11750 words. 

Subjects: UK Politics

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