Political participation: a comparative study of the Labour parties and Conservative associations of two Scottish constituencies
Wood, Susanne M.
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In this dissertation, two local political parties are considered. These are, the Labour parties and Conservative Associations in two neighbouring constituencies of a Scottish city. We have called the two constituencies, Twilight and Expansion and as their names suggest, they were selected on the basis of contrasting social and political characteristics. The dissertation looks at what goes on within local parties and three factors are seen to be related to this: firstly, the quantity and quality of available resources; secondly. the efforts made by the parties to Mobilise these resources; and thirdly, the use to which the parties put those resources which are recruited. These three factors are seen to be influenced by two others: firstly, structural conditions in the environment, that is, its cleavages and divisions, and the particular social characteristics of the constituency in which the party operates; and secondly, the network of relationships linking party members to people in situations outside the local party, the particular features which concern being a) the extensiveness of these links, b) the expectations surrounding these relationships and c) the types of groups and quasi-groups Involved in the network. Chapter one places the study in the context of research in political sociology, and then considers in detail the methods of approach and data-collecting techniques used. It is emphasised that the approach is fundamentally comparative and that direct observation and detailed interviewing were the principal methods used to collect the data. The methodological orientation is considered in the final section of "this chapter, the two principal features being a) the use of the * action-approach * and b) an emphasis on the importance of understanding the relationship between a unit and its environment when explaining its activity. The main concepts and terms used in the analysis are defined. Chapter two looks at the environment of the four parties, describing the socio-economic and political background and. presenting an analysis of the crucial structural features discerned by the observer and the manifest patterns of activity seen in the local political arena. In chapter three, we turn in more detail to the local parties themsolves, to see to what extent the environmental features out¬ lined in chapter two affect patterns of party activity. The characteristics of party members are analysed and comparisons made between Labour and Conservative, general and active members, and those in the two contrasting constituencies. It is shown that structural divisions within the city ani constituencies are reflected in the characteristics of party members. The chapter is introduced by a statement of the hypotheses guiding the research, which derived from a consideration of the relevant literature. The social character¬ istics of party members are compared j differences ait's observed in patterns of recruitment of Conservative and Labour members, and of general and aetive members, which point to differences in the kind of commitment shown by members to the party and to differences in the way party activity is connected with activity in other areas of social life. Differences between Labour and Conservative activists in their perceptions of society and politics are described. Statistical measures of patterns of activity within the four parties are presented, which point to differences in the range and character of the activity of party members. This leads on to chapter four, which looks in detail at what goes on within the four parties, considering the nature and exstent of the resources available to them and the uses to which these are put. A system-effectiveness model of a local political party is presented initially and the four parties are considered in the light of itj it is concluded that only one of these parties can be said to be effective when compared with the model and the principal explanation for this rests with differences between the parties in the recruitment of resources. It is seen that the parties mobilise their resources In different ways, which can be explained partly by reference to the constraints placed on the® by their constitution and partly by reference to the nature of the expectations surrounding the role of party member. The findings of the three main chapters are related, to each other in the conclusion. The nature of participation in local political parties is considered, to see to what extent party members can be said to * represent* elements within the social structure of their locality or of the wider social system. The concept of 1 representa¬ tiveness* is discussed and the activity of local parties viewed in th© light of this* Labour and Conservative parties differ firstly in th© type of groups and quasi-groupg with which they are connected, and secondly in the nature of this link; this affects the way in which they may be said to represent these groups. Fundamentally, however, it is stressed that the effectiveness of the parties in representing any interest depends on the quantity and quality of the resources recruited, which depends in turn on features of the constituency in which they are located and the priority given to the recruitment of means. Thus it is important to consider the way in which resources are mobilised, and this relates to the degree of co: mitiaent exhibited by a member to the party. We conclude by relating these factors to the structure of relationships within the party, the persistence and continuity of factions over time and the techniques used by the parties to arrive at decisions. In the appendix, background information relevant to the study is provided, with tables derived from analysis of the interviews. Other information on the methods used in the study are presented there.