Identity politics and party-building: Evidence from the British Labour Party

22nd November 2023 @ 12:30 pm – 2:00 pm
Sala Triaria, Villa Schifanoia
Alessandra Caldini

A new field of research in European politics seeks to explain how, why, and to what effect political parties draw upon appeals to social groups in their electoral materials. In this work, far right parties emerge as outliers, being relatively less likely to combine group appeals with policy offers and more likely to mount negative, anti-outgroup appeals. While some suggest this strategy may be unique to the far right party family, an alternate explanation is proposed: that these parties use group appeals differently because they are outsider parties, newer and less organisationally consolidated than their competition. In this paper, a developmental theory of party strategy is introduced, linking parties’ campaign appeals to processes of party-building and consolidation. Starting from a novel framework of three core ‘challenges’ party-building, in this lecture it is explained why outsiders are incentivised to adopt rhetorical strategies that emphasise group conflict, a tendency which is attenuated as they consolidate and shift their goals towards expansion. This theory is tested with a mixed-methods study of the early British Labour Party, combining an archival case study with quantitative analysis of two sources of text data: general election manifestos and a new corpus of local election addresses. This study showed that in early years, the Labour Party chiefly emphasised appeals to and against class-based outgroups, a strategy that helped the party to gain a foothold. As Labour consolidated and sought to expand its coalition, it adjusted its strategies in predictable ways: broadening the range of ingroups to which it appealed, reducing its use of outgroup appeals, and placing greater relative emphasis on appeals to policy and competence.

Speaker: Alex Mierke Zatwarnicki